“Ew! You didn’t shave your legs!”
I looked down at my legs sticking out from beneath denim shorts. The conversation about whether or not love in college was real or could last was stunted, and everyone by then was staring at my legs. I was stuck wondering how the hell to react to this newfound attention. I looked at George’s face, now contorted in disgust as he thought about my legs while he tried to choke down his burger, and with total naivete I questioned aloud, “Since when do black men care about leg hair?” More importantly, I thought to myself, “Am I supposed to care about leg hair?”
“I just think that is so gross!”
“Well, it’s a good thing I’m not fucking you, I guess!”
I’ve had body hair for as long as I can remember. In fact, my mom tells a story about her friend coming to visit her when I was a newborn and commenting that I was the hairiest baby she had ever seen. In grammar school, a boy named Keith taunted me for a week about how hairy my legs were, and I was mortified. There was nothing my nine-year-old self could do about the hair (neither my mother nor any of my aunts shaved), and it was much too hot to wear tights to cover it up. What saved me was that Keith’s mom made a surprise visit to the school because of all the teacher phone calls home, and her emergence in the classroom, complete with full mustache and wielding a belt to teach him a lesson, saved me. When he got started on my legs again the next day, I had a reply. I’d like to say that I was brave enough at nine to take the high road, but I wasn’t: “Well, let’s take all the hair on your mama’s face and all the hair on my legs and let’s see who has more.” Keith’s mom’s mustache kept me from getting picked on about my leg hair, leaving just my thick glasses, skinny frame, and nerdy personality as fuel for tormentors.
I thought about these two incidences from my past as I prepared for my hysterectomy. It’s odd, I know, but somehow, a great deal of my time was spent questioning whether I should shave for the procedure. In my mind, I imagined nurses and doctors standing over my naked, anesthetized frame laughing and pointing at my hairy body. I questioned whether I would be considered a fraud if I shaved because just a week earlier I was at the doctor fully haired in the full view of my gynecologist. I wondered if shaving would somehow sterilize me better or introduce infections into my body. I thought about the itching as the hair grows back and considered the likelihood of that making my recovery worse. In short, I was losing my harried mind!
“What are you doing?” my husband questioned with a goofy grin as I stood Captain Morgan style with one leg up on the tub.
“Nothing,” I replied, a little embarrassed that so much brain space had been taken up with the hairy legs I’ve had my whole life (and that I’d left the damn door unlocked again).
As I stood next to the running shower, trying to figure out my move, I thought about my hairs. (Isn’t the word “hair” with the “s” on the end a little funnier?) The truth is, my leg hair never really bothered me! I don’t get smarter or prettier when I shave, and I don’t have doors closed or opened because of it’s presence (or lack thereof). Sometimes I shave. Sometimes I don’t. And for my hysterectomy, I decided not to do so. I just had way more important things to worry about. Plus, it was still cold outside!