I was delighted when LilahCello offered to write up her experiences with facial hair as a guest post. I know this is a topic that hits close to home for many Shapelings; we’ve talked about the politics of head hair here before, but facial hair is a subject that occasionally arises in comments and always spurs a lot of interest. Like LilahCello, I’ve had facial hair since I was a teenager — first on my upper lip, then on my chin — and have spent an inordinate amount of energy on trying to hide that fact. Like fat, facial hair is a reminder that “femininity” is not an inevitable consequence of having a female body; instead, it takes a lot of work — and often, a lot of shame.
My (online) name is LilahCello. I am 33 years old, have been married for 12 years, have 2 children, home school the older one, go to school (training to be a philosopher/ethicist), am fat, have rosacea, have facial hair, have a dog, recently lost his brother, love sunsets and the mountains, and so much more. So, that’s about it. Oh, you saw that? That teensy tiny, little admission? The one thing that I still have trouble talking about, even though I can deconstruct any misogynistic television ads, call myself fat publicly, discuss male circumcision (my field of ethical study) in graphic detail, or explain trans issues to my eight year old? Yes, I have facial hair. I do not have PCOS, I have little body hair elsewhere (although I have thick, thick hair on my head and cute hair on my toes), and I have chin hairs. A goatee, of sorts. And I am embarrassed as all hell about it. I don’t even talk about it with my very kind, loving partner of 14 years who has watched me give birth. He has literally watched my body open itself to let our sons enter this world, and I can’t talk to him about some hair on my chin?
It didn’t happen overnight. When I was a teenager, I had a couple of long, stray hairs on my cheeks. No big deal, right? Clip ‘em off and they were not thought of until I noticed them again. Then, one day, I had more hair, this time on my chin. I don’t remember the exact moment that it happened, nor do I remember much of a build-up. I just know that one day, I suddenly had hair where I hadn’t had it before. I mentioned it to a nurse practitioner during an annual exam once and said that I had to shave it off. “Oh! Don’t do that!” No? Don’t get rid of dark hair on my chin the only way I know how? Cutting it with shears was too difficult and didn’t produce the desired degree of invisibleness. I am too chicken-shit (and embarrassed) to get it waxed, and have not had the money to get it lasered off. Besides, I have heard from friends who wax that you have to let it grow out in order for the wax to adhere. No thanks! So now I shave everyday, or at least every other day, if I happen to forget (then notice it at an inconvenient time). I do it on the sly, which is no easy task in a house that is freely naked, co-showering/bathrooming, etc. I know that I will be coming into a little money when my financial aid comes in, and my plan is to go in and have this arch-nemesis laser-ly removed FOREVER! (Let’s hope that I can afford that when the time comes!) But what do I tell my husband when I go? I have a nursing baby, so I can’t be gone for long. I am guessing that there will be some sort of discomfort and redness afterward, so I can’t deny it. I think that my best bet will be to tell him after I have made the appointment.
This is the person with whom I have chosen to spend the rest of my life. I have children with him, we are equal partners in this life, and I can’t tell him this one little thing. I have talked about it with two other people. One friend who has PCOS and is studying to be a doctor, the other is a very open, unashamed woman (who had grabbed and plucked hairs from my face). Other than that, I deal with it in private. Why do we do this? Why are we so ashamed of something that A. we have no control over, and B. is a totally normal place to grow hair?
Because we are women. Women aren’t supposed to have hair on their faces (or their feet or their bellies or their nipples and so on), though many of us do. Some of us assume it is because of our heritage. All of my Italian grandmas and aunts had moustaches. I have a little bit of dark-ish hair over my lip, but not as much as on my chin. Not yet, at least. As you may remember from earlier in my post, I once had no hair on my chin. Women are supposed to be small (FAIL), quiet (FAIL), hairless (FAIL), pretty (possible FAIL), and reserved (FAIL). (Those are fails on my part. I am a loud, proud, fat, average looking, hairy-chinned woman.) Women ought to be dainty and demure, and that sure as hell doesn’t include having facial hair.
So what do we do about this? Bitch magazine had an article about this in their Spring, 2005 Masculinity issue. What struck me about the article was that women were embracing their facial hair. This is absolutely foreign to me. ME! The woman who hates gender constructs (though I willingly, and I’m sure, unwillingly, play into those constructs) was blown away. The same woman who tells her long-haired son, who is often mistaken for a girl, “So what?! Nothing wrong with being a girl or looking like one!” If I had a daughter, I would tell her the same thing if she “looked like a boy.” But I, a woman with facial hair, do everything in my power to pretend that it isn’t an issue.
Having side-tracked the Stop Her Before She Diets Again! thread to talk about this, I found out that many of you struggle with the same problem, and like me, find it very, very difficult to talk about. So, Shapelings, what is your experience with this elephant in the room –- or on our faces, to be more specific? Do you embrace and flaunt it, or do you pretend that it doesn’t exist while you secretly pluck, shave, or thread it away? How do you deal with people who notice? Do they comment on it? What methods of hair removal have you tried? And, more importantly to this Shapeling –- did it work and did it hurt [the most important question to this scaredy-cat (who has had two children with no drugs, one at home, and one preemie in the hospital, so why should she worry about a few plucky pangs -- but -- she -- does!?!)]? I want to know how others feel, and want others to know that they are not alone or abnormal –- something I believed for years.