There are two things I never thought I’d do: go bare legged in public without shaving, and wear short shorts.
I did both of these things last weekend, while playing in a roller derby tournament. And I survived. I won’t say there weren’t moments of doubt and self-consciousness, but they were minimal, just minor irritations I could brush away.
For some, this won’t seem like such a big deal. But for me, this is HUGE.
I am hairy. I have squidgy thighs. I have imperfect skin. I learned from an early age that these things were not attractive and they were not okay.
I was a thin teenager, something I learned was a sought after look, something I had to maintain, something others were jealous of. Other girls wanted my bony hips and flat belly and jutting ribs (but not, obviously, my tiny breasts). But, there was always this little bit of squidge at the top of my thighs, the only bit of my legs that touched. I already worried that I had bandy legs, at least two men had suggested one could “drive a truck through them” and a Callanetics book that my sisters and I had told us we should be able to hold a penny between our knees and ankles if we stood with our feet together. My knees and ankles were nowhere near each other, but at the very top of my thighs there was contact. Not much, I actually didn’t experience the joy of chub rub until my forties, but I still knew it should never be displayed to anyone.
I am also pale, my pasty Scottish skin showing off a network of veins and blemishes that my teen magazines would tell me were something to be hidden. I was at a party when I was sixteen, wearing knee length shorts and sitting on the floor next to one of the popular boys, unable to believe I’d been allowed entry to such an event, let alone to have conversation with these people. We were chatting and laughing and then he touched my lower leg and told me I need to start using fake tan.
And, I am hairy. I began shaving before I really had body hair, dragging an old-school razor over my dry shins and armpits. I can remember standing at an outdoor gig, wearing denim shorts, and all I could think about was whether the people behind me could see that I had a bit of stubble on my legs. I fully embraced hair removal, trying shaving and immac and wax and sugar. I would say I preferred smooth skin, that I was doing it for me, that it made me feel better. And actually, that was all true. But I always knew that it was primarily because I wanted to be attractive to other people, specifically, boys and men. And that was simply not possible if any of my naturally growing body hair was visible. And with thick dark hair sprouting out of pretty much all of my body apart from my arms and back, by my late teens I had my work cut out for me.
In my early twenties, I stopped wearing so much make-up and wearing such revealing clothes, and I stopped shaving off my body hair. I was realising my queerness and my feminism. I also had got really, really tired of men’s attitudes towards me. Going out had become exhausting on that level, so I stopped doing that, too. A man I (regretfully) ended up sleeping with noticed my hairy legs sticking out the bottom of my jeans, and informed me that it wasn’t very ladylike of me to not shave. But a girl I dated at around the same time told me she found it really sexy. I felt the same, I felt empowered and in control. But somehow, that feeling was fleeting, and the endless, futile quest for smooth, hairless skin started up again. I lost control and ownership of my body and it was a while before I got it back. Part of this was that tired, tired feeling of being continually judged by others; it seemed easier to just run a razor up my legs and under my arms and over my groin than to have to acknowledge and process those looks and comments.
I am now hairier than I’ve ever been. I haven’t shaved my underarms for about four years, or my groin, nor have I trimmed my very 70s-esque bush. I haven’t been so confident with my legs, I have caved each summer, and may again this year. I won’t wear a sleeveless top at work and wouldn’t wear a skirt without tights without shaving. I’m already the workplace killjoy, I don’t need any more hassle or askance looks off folk. I’m not going to apologise for that. I’m also not going to judge any woman or person for removing their body hair or not. Life is hard, do what you need to do.
I also now have a beard. A fucking BEARD. And I will be honest, I am not ready to embrace that, so tweezers and nail scissors still feel like a necessity. (My natural laziness and inability to look in a mirror properly mean that I rarely do a good job with the plucking but it makes me feel a bit better.)
So I am hairier and bigger* that I’ve ever been in my life. But I’m also forty-three and a member of a bad ass roller derby team and have an amazing girlfriend and am giving fewer and fewer fucks as time ticks on. Looking down and seeing my big thighs and my fuzzy shins made me feel powerful and proud. Those feelings have been a long time coming, and I’m holding on to them this time.
*I am aware that I am not ‘big’ as some might see it. I am not claiming to be fat or to have experienced anywhere near the level of body-shaming that fat women have and do. I fully acknowledge my thin privilege. What I am exploring, on a purely personal level, is how my body has changed shape, and my differing perception of that. I weigh around three stone more than I used to just a few years ago, and a lot of that is to do with an inability to control what I eat, plus age and hormones, but I am also stronger and more muscley than before. I won’t lie and say I haven’t felt crushed by my new weight, and the fact that literally none of my clothes fit me, and how my belly stops me bending over properly, but more and more I enjoy taking up more space.