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Hair, for the most part, grows. That’s its main thing. Even after death it has been reported to continue. Nothing can stop our proteinaceous friend. It’s on a mission and it wants to cover your legs, your arms, your armpits, your face and anywhere else that suits its overall jam. Hair exists to keep us warm, inform us of our state of health and we can even use it to attract sexual partners. The most skilled of hair owners can invite sexual interactions with one raised eyebrow alone.
This fact of growth, of course, applies to both the male and female of the species. As a young, small person (also known as a child) I developed dark ‘terminal hairs,’ as they’re creepily referred to in the medical profession, in all the usual spots from around the age of 12. They really just seemed to appear overnight like some sort of puberty metamorphosis.
However, after its initial appearance in all the expected areas (legs, armpits, pubic triangle), my hair began to branch out. It continued to grow well past the places I had seen it reach on the bodies’ of the female cast of Friends. Jennifer Aniston as an entity was just so shiny and smooth whereas my legs looked like a man’s beard. My eyebrows expanded to the sides of my face, hair grew from my vagina right down my inner crotch and thighs, my leg hair grew down onto the surface of my feet and one or two thick hairs even sprung from my toes.
My hair was dark, coarse and particularly, at least in my head, noticeable. During my awkward adolescence I found the fact of my hair mortifying and there was no one in my life or in the media who was purporting anything that disagreed with this belief. Hairiness was associated with being unclean, an evil witch, an unpleasant older relative or some type of circus freak. Hairlessness was associated with attractiveness, femininity, superiority, wealth and even being a goddess.
But when you’re 13, have little money to pay for removal products, and are growing hair at the rate of some kind of pubic Rapunzel, it would have been nice for someone to have said, you know what, who gives a shit, it’s your hair, nobody else should get a say in what you do with it. Save your money, be rich, hairy and cool instead.
In a cold country like Ireland, it is easy to cover your legs, feet, vagina (in fact, it is widely advised, usually by law, to keep your vagina covered most of the time in most countries, as far as I know) without any passing comment. My secondary school uniform consisted of a skirt with knee high socks. One day I caught a glimpse of the small section of leg skin that was exposed in the mirror and saw dark hairs growing, like I had been petting the cat with them. I wore tights everyday afterwards.
The face, however, was another matter. Overall, there is a lot of emphasis in our culture placed on the appearance of female facial hair growth. Negative judgement ensues from hair that grows in certain areas on a female face. When I was a teenager the seriousness of my own facial hair ‘problem’ was greatly exaggerated in my mind. I was convinced (despite the widely available kits that were marketed specifically to modify these parts) that I was the only girl who couldn’t grow invisible hair on my face, that I was not properly ‘feminine’ and thus acceptable to my peers or society. I once asked my friend in Boots if I had a moustache. She told me I didn’t and I think she genuinely couldn’t see what I could. Nonetheless, I cursed her for her lies and her blondness and purchased a bleaching kit. I remember the intense embarrassment I felt when purchasing it and the great secrecy in which I used it, as if I was hiding some shameful affliction. It was pretty much how I imagine what being a werewolf was like.
Biologically speaking, eyebrows are used to help prevent dust and moisture entering the eye. Have you ever seen a camel’s eyebrows? Theirs is used to block sand from entering their eye holes and as we all know, camels are the deadliest (in the Dublin sense) beasts of the desert. But a woman whose eyebrows have high growth potential in terms of thickness and overall range will be judged negatively if she lets them roam free. I asked a friend about plucking when we were young, and when she told me you have to do it every day, I distinctly remember my own incredulity. “Everyday?! But it’s so boring!” My friend responded, at only 14, as if it was just a fact of life – “Yes, well, that’s just what you have to do.”
On the flipside of this type of attitude I was once told by an eccentric elderly relative that hair is a symbol of female virility, which, at the time made me deeply uncomfortable, but in later years has very much proved to be true (rawr). A woman with a moustache should be able to exist under the same presumptions of acceptability to those who choose to modify their lip hair and should even be admired for doing so. Allowing a person to let hair grow on their face, unimpeded from negative judgement, is not a radical idea.
My overall point is my body, my hair, my rules. Physical appearance can be an intense and deeply personal issue for many people, particularly younger people who are more vulnerable to the conflation of how important it all really is. So telling a woman she has to ‘fix her face’ is not the type of comment to be made lightly, or at all, you creep. Male strength is often reflected in hairiness, if female strength was celebrated more then perhaps we would have more bearded ladies playing the heroes in Hollywood films. Be who you are, grow it out, rip it off, either way you own your own face.