Heading south from there both physically and figuratively, my pubic hair or lack thereof was a c0nstant source of disappointment. Sixth graders being who they are, I knew all the intimate details of my good friend's private gardens. Each Monday morning would bring in a new tally of curly strands along with the weekend's book report. "I've got so much down there," someone would stage whisper at lunch time and instead of being grossed out we'd all be like, "Reeeeeally?" Our collective metamorphosis was fascinating until of course it wasn't.
Isn't it ironic (well not really but just go with it) that the ch-ch-changes you would've paid good money for on the uncomplicated other side of puberty aren't nearly as cool as they looked on the box? False advertising at its finest.
I slept on my back for 18 months because I was convinced that'd all the strawberries on my chest needed was room to grow into watermelons. Now at 31, I've got some decent oranges that I could take or leave. They definitely weren't worth all the fuss over training bras that "breathed" or slacking on my upper body work outs in ballet class.
Fast forward a couple of years and finally I've got something to show for making it through middle school alive. But the tide of TMI had suddenly shifted. Now instead of being proud of our hairiness, we were supposed to keep it secret. I found this out the hard way -- at a pool party.
So here's the back story: Me being super excited that the quarterback I was madly in like with paged a "friend" of mine and in less than an hour we were all going to "chill" in somebody's backyard pool. I was 14 at the time. I shaved my legs maybe every other week with the vintage Lady Remington electric shaver which was the only kind my mother trusted me with. It sent tiny shocks up my shins with each humming swipe. There was no way I'd let that thing anywhere near my vagina. Also, I didn't know I was supposed to.
That's how I ended up with an untamed army of thick pubes threatening each crease of a high cut one piece. I'd been proud of the fact that I had remembered to shave under my arms and won the fight to put on invisible gel deodorant and not the cakey baby powder my mom usually made me use. But as soon as I took of my sarong (another gift from mom) all eyes were on my mini me.
The whispers started immediately. I figured it was all about the fact that my crush and I were sort of canoodling in the Jacuzzi, which consisted of me giggling like a maniac and him showing off what today would be described as over-cooked-asparagus arms. The whispering continued and when I turned to shoot my "girls" a "stop embarrassing me" scowl all I got back was sympathetic looks. Was something wrong with me?
I immediately excused myself to the bathroom and, of course, my concerned crew followed. But when I looked in the mirror nothing seemed amiss. No boogies up my nose. My hair had somehow achieved a sexy wet and wild look. My underarms were still hairlessly sleek and unsmelling. What could be the problem?
"Helena, do you like not believe in shaving or something?" asked one friend sitting on the toilet.
"Hellooooooooo?" I said with my arms high above my head.
"No," corrected another girl, "she means down there. Your pubes, dude."
And that's when I realized it. Seriously, before that I thought all the chicks on Baywatch had different hair than mine. That somehow their carpets just naturally grew into the shape of a "v". This made total sense to me. Then these two girls set me straight. Something was wrong with me, clearly.
Obviously I couldn't go back out there brazenly unshaven like an animal. So I spent the rest of the afternoon pretending to be too hot to swim because that made sense and sat on a lounge chair in my sarong. Needless to say my crush moved on.
Thing is, I doubt he was ever concerned with my kinky cookies. He was too busy flexing his own imaginary benchmark to adulthood. What did he care that a couple strands of mine were peeking out?
None of that mattered though; from 14 on, I added trimming my hooha to the ever-growing list of "Pointless Things I Do To My Body Because A Girl Told Me To in High School."
But not any more -- or any more all the time. See this week I'm headed to another "naked spa" to spend time with some good friends sans clothes. After I told everyone about what fun my mom and I had on her birthday at a Korean bathhouse in Los Angeles, we've been batting around the idea. "Who would even do it?" asked a friend who was game. Because being naked around your mom, the woman who spewed you forth from her own loins, is not at all the same as being voluntarily vulnerable in front of the women you know from happy hour.And if high school taught me anything it's that girls actually do run the world -- with crazy anxiety-inducing mind games -- but this girl is gonna change the game. Starting with stripping away all the stuff that separates us by NOT stripping off my stuff. Confused? Yeah me too. But the real point being that women can and should be the first line of defense against body shaming not the firing squad. Really, I'm just hoping nobody laughs and points. I'll let ya'll know how it goes.