Thursday, 13 September 2012

GUEST POST: On Body Hair by LJ Maher

This is the third post in my short series on female body hair. I'm pleased to welcome LJ Maher as today's guest blogger.

LJ Maher is a PhD student at the School for English Communications and Performance Studies at Monash University in Australia and is an affiliate of the Literature Research Unit and the Sídhe Literary Collective. She completed a combined Bachelor’s degree in Law and Performing Arts before redirecting her research toward literary studies. Her thesis interrogates representations of autobiography and identity in transmedial literacy, with a focus on the potential jurisprudential implications in intellectual property law.

It's cold and dark. I stand outside, wrapped up in my heavy blue gown while I pull the brush through my hair. It's longer now than it has been in years and every few weeks I see that glint of silver that reminds me to pour colour through it again. Once it was a familiar brown, red in the sun, short against my olive skin. Now I keep it black, and long and my skin is pale. There's a hole in the ozone layer and I worry about melanomas.

There are knots and gnarls that I pull my fingers through, and I leave a trail of curls and split ends on the paving. Eventually the magpies will line their nests with it and this is easier than vacuuming it from the carpet every morning.

My hair is still wet and I pull it back tucking it over itself and tie it up with a black elastic. When it dries, it will have an awkward curl to it. It takes so long to wash that I can't justify the time to blow-dry it. I try to keep my showers short, to preserve water, even though the dams are now at seventy percent. The dry has ended, but my habits have not. Wet my hair, shampoo once, rinse. Shampoo again, rinse. Condition and tie up. Do I have time to shave? Do I want to? I consider the down that covers my body. My skin is pale, my hair is dark. It is obvious. I don't usually bother, not unless I think I'm going to get laid. Even then, it depends on who I'm welcoming into my bed.

He's pretty, but not a thinker. He learnt about what women's bodies should look like from his father's magazines and he learnt how women will make them look that way from his mother's magazines. These are bodies pressed flat on smooth, shiny paper. These are bodies with the scars and shadows blurred out. He is not surprised to find my body smooth and hairless. He expects it. When we come together again, it is winter and he is surprised by my fur coat. He is not invited back.

She is political. She talks in clipped sentences. She keeps her hair short and doesn't wax or shave. She is surprised to find that although my hair is long, I do not look like a magazine woman beneath my clothes. She applauds me for my forward thinking, for challenging what it is to be a woman. I tell her to leave her internalised misogyny at the pub with the other girls who think that masculinity is androgynous.

I like the feel of my shins when I have shaved them. I rub oil into them. I rub them against each other. It is a delight. I am generally not phased by my legs, my cunt or my armpits. They are hairy or not, as I decide. I do not have to shape my eyebrows too often, they have a nice shape on their own. Every now and then I might pluck a stray hair.

But some of my hair is illicit. It shames me and I do nothing about it. The hair that shames me is the hair I angst the most about removing. I should leave it and show that this is my body and that I perform as a woman.

My toes. Like a man, I have coarse dark hair on my toes. I look at my feet and fancy myself a hobbit: short, stout, furry feet. More often than not I leave that hair as it is. No one is looking at my feet and I don't wear sandals or thongs.

My stomach. Trailing up from my mons is that path that I find so alluring on men. But mine is sparse and harsh, not thick and dark. I carry my weight on my stomach. I fancy that if I do situps, if I somehow lost that weight, I would also lose that awkward expanse. Every now and then it distracts me too much and I wax it. Then I feel that I have betrayed my sisters who refuse to shave their legs.

My breasts. I have one hair on my right breast. Just one. I pluck it out when I see it. It will be gone for months and then out of nowhere, hi! There it is. I pull it out.

My throat. I attack my whiskers each and every day with a small pair of black tweezers. They are rough, they interrupt the skin that covers my voice. They keep coming back. One day, when I am older and braver, I will be a bearded lady. I will relish my beautiful dresses and grow a black beard, it will match my hair dye. I will travel in a circus. I don't fool myself that I will be invited to nice parties once I grow my beard.

My lips. I have always joked that I grow a better moustache than my brothers. It is not quite true but it is not far from true. Every few weeks I tear these hairs from my lips. I hope that if I do it often enough, the hair will give up. It is definitely less thick that it used to be.

I take off my heavy blue gown and hang it behind my bedroom door. He calls to me from our bed. A question. Meow? I walk over to him and bury my face in his cotton fresh fur before I decide to face the day.

Read the other posts in the Body Hair blog series:

On Making and Publishing The Last Taboo: Women and Body Hair, by Karín Lesnik-Oberstein

Damned if you do and damned if you don't, by Rosie Garland

Female Werewolves, Fur and Body Hair, by Carys Crossen

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