My Hairy Legs and Me

When I was a child my thick hair was a stunner. As the daughter of a dark Latin man and a blonde Eastern European woman, I hit the genetic jackpot and was blessed with a head full of brown springy curls, regularly collecting compliments from adult women who lamented their thinner locks.

Then I entered the double digits and my pending preteen puberty hit me like a ton of bricks. My thick-hair genes became less envy-inducing as they affected various places across my body, causing fuzz to shade my upper lip and cloud the space between my eyebrows. The hair became particularly noticeable on my legs, growing in dark just as I was transitioning into my second year of middle school.

As a gymnast and an athlete, I was thin and small. Being active had kept my development at bay and I was still miles away from needing a bra or getting my first period. Yet my looming adulthood showed every time I had to wear shorts in gym class. I would attempt to hide my legs, changing quickly and scurrying to my spot in the gymnasium, tucking my legs underneath my butt while other girls spread out long, hairless and confident. It only took a few lingering looks and a stray comment to hammer home the fact that having a lot of hair on your legs was not something that was embraced in American teen society.

But I realized that shaving my legs would allow me to regain some small level of control over my rapidly changing body, so I bit the bullet and asked.

I realized the time had come to ask my mother if I could start shaving, but I really didn’t want to ask. It wasn’t that my mother wasn’t understanding, it was just that I knew where the conversation would lead. A former hippie child and an everlasting nonconformist, my mother always encouraged my brother and me to be individuals. I knew she would question my decision to be influenced by the never-subtle preteens around me and I didn’t want to disappoint her or admit I was self-conscious.

What’s more, I knew the conversation would be the first step in moving away from my childhood. It would be the first moment of us both admitting that I was becoming an adult, something I was grappling with myself and wasn’t ready to fully embrace. Between her easy tears and my discomfort in admitting my pending puberty, I had been determined to postpone the conversation as long as possible. But I realized that shaving my legs would allow me to regain some small level of control over my rapidly changing body, so I bit the bullet and asked.

The tears came as I had predicted, as did the reminders that I was still so young and beautiful just as I was, but ultimately my mother agreed to my request. She even offered to guide me through my first time. So I donned a swimsuit and climbed into the half-filled tub, pink Lady Bic at the ready as she warned me about difficult spots on my knees and around my ankles.

Ever my mother, loving and sentimental, she snapped a photograph to commemorate the moment and it remains in a family photo album to this day. Me in the tub, hunched over in a worn out one-piece bathing suit, holding up a disposable razor with an expression that manages to contain equal parts childlike fear, sarcastic teen exasperation, and adult woman triumph. Even without that photograph, I’ll never forget that day. It was a significant moment in my preteen life. Still, I’m glad it exists, slotted in among the pictures of holiday dinners and summer vacations. It reminds me that the girl in that photo is still part of the woman I am today, in both her complexity and her ability to take pleasure in life’s small victories.

This essay originally appeared in the Body issue. Find more inspiring stories from the Body issue here or check out our Photography section.