Love Me, Love My Chin Hairs

I'm a mammal. Deal with it.
Publish date:
October 6, 2011
body image, tweezers, gender police, bearded ladies, nair bath

If, god forbid, I’m ever laid up in the hospital, unable to speak after some debilitating medical event, and you’re crowded around my bedside waiting for me to blink out my first message in Morse code, I can spare you the trouble. It will be “tweezers.”

I’m discouragingly far from being able to make an easy living as a sideshow act (and I don’t think Bearded Ladies are considered weird enough for sideshows anymore, so I’d probably have to learn to hammer nails into my nose or something which I’m not really up for). But yeah, I have some stray hairs that wander from the back part of my head and neck onto the front. Just a couple of follicles that have gone rogue an inch or two outside the borders of where they’re supposed to be.

This is really minor, and really common. And for some reason, it is also the thing that I -- a fat person who has gone on stage with a bare midriff, for context -- am barely willing to talk about. I’m not kidding: The idea of being physically incapacitated and thus unable to depilate myself makes me feel kind of lightheaded. I mean, people would KNOW!

I tried to do a little research to see how many women have “unwanted facial hair,” and the answer is: 20 million, 30 million, 40 million, 10 percent, 22 percent, and 30 percent. So it’s just possible that it’s hard to get solid numbers because ladies don’t like to talk about their sideburns. But the point is, it's A LOT. If you have Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and the other one in a room together, one of them is very likely surreptitiously using her reflection in her cell phone to check on her chin hairs.

Here’s what Google turned up for similar numbers: Women who’ve given a blowjob by age 17, women who’ve suffered from depression, women who earn more than their husbands, women who will benefit from health care reform, women who would trade a year of their life to have their ideal body weight. For better or for worse, this is some really normal stuff.

So why is this one of the few body image issues that’s so huge, we don’t even talk about it when we’re publicly hating on ourselves? Women who indulge heartily in body-bashing, lamenting their zits or standing in dressing rooms mournfully jiggling their love handles at each other, don’t touch facial hair with a 10-foot tweezer. Oh, you get the very occasional nasty mustache joke, but that’s not about normal Everywomen and their flaws, just about hideous ogres.

The obvious explanation is that this comes down to gender normativity. Dude-controlled culture gets pretty skeeved about anything that muddles the boundaries between Boy Stuff and Girl Stuff, except in rare cases where it gives guys a boner. They’ve grudgingly opened a few of those boundaries -- “You can wear pants now, ladies, stop bitching!” -- but beards are pretty firmly in the “boy” section. And as we all know, THERE ARE ONLY TWO SECTIONS. DO NOT QUESTION THE SECTIONS.

So it’s partly that people tend to police any crossing-over of arbitrary gender lines. But that alone doesn’t account for how deeply secretive people are about it -- after all, we’re constantly being told how to maximize our lady-charms with fancy bras and vajazzling, but I’ve yet to see a women’s magazine touting “50 Best Lip Waxes for Summer.” I think it’s because facial hair combines a Gender Police no-no with the fact that our cultural ideal of femininity kind of hates non-head hair on women in general. That stuff is unnervingly... mammalian.

Western culture has a tendency to idealize women as a substitute for respecting them -- it’s all “Sure, you can come to the party, as long as you put on this g-string and dance in a cage.” And part of that is rewriting “feminine” to mean something one step down from “angelic.”

Women aren’t just supposed to be Not-Men, with their teeny muscles and their exaggerated secondary sex characteristics. They are also supposed to be downright Not-Human -- perfectly soft, perfectly taut, perfectly hairless. There’s no WAY the ideal woman would do anything as uncouth as evolve from a monkey.

But sorry to disappoint you, Soapy Sam: we are mainly monkey to this day, even the girls. So I don’t see why “some women have hair on their faces” shouldn’t be an open secret, just like “women fart sometimes” and “some women use their boobs to feed babies, instead of just to fill out tank tops.” It’s stuff that humans with bodies do, and as uncomfy as it might make some people, women do fit that bill.

I’m not saying you need to let it grow, if you’ve got it -- personally, a friend once said to me, “If it were up to you, we’d all be required to take weekly Nair baths,” and he was right, so I will judge NOBODY for choosing to de-hair. My relationship with the tweezers is codependent, but it is not abusive.

Maybe we should try coming out of the beardy closet, though. There’s actually nothing weird about it, any more than there’s something weird about leg hair -- it’s just your monkey genes, we’ve all of us got ‘em. Fly your monkey flag, ladies. Raise your tweezers high.

But if I’m ever in the hospital, please PLEASE get the Nair bath ready.