How growing up hairy led to my obsession with hair removal

Words By Ashley Bell

I had grown my first moustache before any of the boys in my grade had sprouted a single hair on their face.”

I was around ten years old when I was first made fun of for having body hair. As the story typically goes, it was one of the little boys at school who pointed at my face and practically yelled to the whole playground, “Look, she’s got a moustache!”.

For the rest of that day, I could feel everyone’s eyes on me, eager to catch a glimpse of the moustache themselves, and eventually wound up in the sick bay with a ‘stomach ache’ waiting for my mum to take me home early.

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It’s not like ten-year-old me didn’t already know about the presence of hair on my upper lip, but I was suddenly made very aware that everyone else knew about those hairs, too. Next came people comparing their arm hair to mine. Their leg hair to mine. Their finger hair to mine.

My thick, dark Sri Lankan body hair made me feel untamed and un-feminine. I had grown my first moustache before any of the boys in my grade had sprouted a single hair on their face. All of it had to go.

With mum’s help, I began spending every second week in the bathroom bleaching the hairs on my upper lip and the sides of my face, and laying in her lap as she tweezed the bridge connecting my eyebrows (before anyone could stare at that, too).

It became routine, and I quickly got used to the tingly sensation of the bleach on my face. Even though the hair was still there (if you looked closely enough) I felt good. But my insecurities urged me to go further.

I received my first epilator as a Christmas present the next year with the same – if not greater – excitement as a then 11-year-old receiving a Nintendo DS. I was finally able to fully rid myself of the coat of hair I’d been growing for the past 11 years. I was so excited I endured the pain of yanking out every stubborn hair without flinching.

Stripping the fuzz from my body gave me an immense feeling of confidence. No one was comparing their sparse little hairs to my own. I could wear whatever I wanted without feeling ashamed of my body hair poking out. Heck, I could even wear sleeveless tops after epilating my underarms.

I stuck to a strict regimen of bleaching my facial hair and epilating the rest every few weeks in order not to lose this newfound confidence. I couldn’t let the hair grow back. I became obsessed with the feeling of smooth arms and legs, revelling in the freedom of being hairless for nearly two weeks at a time before having to begin the whole routine again. 

I remember going to the Melbourne Show when I was 12 and picking out the Elle show bag above all the ones filled with chocolate and lollies, because it had a pack of Gillette razors in it. I was never taught how to shave, I‘m not sure most 12-year-old girls are, but it was quicker and easier.

I swiped away the hair that was never meant to be there and watched it all disappear down the drain.

I shaved for parties. I shaved for photo day. I shaved for first dates. I shaved for sports matches. I shaved for that one day in winter warm enough that wearing tights at school wasn’t an option. I said goodbye to the hairs on my arms, legs, fingers and toes, the ones on my stomach and the fuzz on my shoulders and back. With every hair-removing-ritual, I strengthened the thought I’d carried since year four – body hair was bad, it was ugly, and getting rid of it was a necessity.

Shaving became a meditative-like process, but at the same time, it had become an addiction. 

Two years into my current relationship, I’m finally starting to wonder what it would be like if I gave up my shaving regime. Call it lazy, say ‘You’re getting too comfortable with each other’, but if you ask him (and eventually, I did ask) he doesn’t care either way.

Seeing other women put down the razor is helping me redefine my relationship with shaving. Even some of my closest friends are rocking tufts of underarm hair and fuzz-covered legs. I’m taking this new hair removal routine one step at a time, and am still learning to let go of my own fear of body hair.

But I’m slowly learning that the people around me don’t care as much as I was once convinced they do – and if they seriously feel the need to comment on a couple of stray hairs, then I’m dancing with the wrong crowd.

I still shave my upper lip, my underarms and occasionally my arms, too, but I’ve said goodbye to shaving my legs this winter, and it feels as good as the first time I bleached my moustache.

For more on female facial hair, head here.

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