One night Margot and I were lying together in bed talking and cuddling and she said “wow, Mama, you have hair on your belly.” I do. I have hair on most parts of my body, in fact. And not cute, blond, downy hair, but like, dark, brown, sometimes wiry hair. And I have never ever felt good about that. I have bleached and shaved and plucked and waxed the hair off of my body. I have tried every way possible to deny that there even was hair there to remove. Because girls are not supposed to be hairy. Girls are supposed to have smooth and flawless skin. Girls are “supposed to” look a lot of ways that I do not.
So, when Margot pointed out this “flaw” of mine. This thing that I have always wished was different about me. This thing that I have been teased about. This thing that I have hated about myself. When she pointed to that hated hair on my body, I cringed.
This had happened to me once before. As a teenager, I was babysitting two little girls and we were playing on the monkey bars in their backyard. I flipped upside down and one of the girls said, “You have hair on your belly.” And I said, “Yeah, it happens when you get older.” Then as she replied in disgust that her mother definitely did NOT have hair on her stomach, she confirmed the belief I had been carrying around that my body was wrong. That it was wrong and ugly. It was too big and it was covered in disgusting hair and it would never be beautiful.
So, when the hair growing on my now 32 year old body was pointed out to me by my impressionable young daughter, I cringed first but then I said “Yes! Isn’t it beautiful?”
Margot looks like her Daddy, everyone says so. But, there are a few things she got from me. She got my olive colored skin and, along with it, the dark hair that covers it. I did not choose to have hair on my body, and neither did Margot. I can choose, though, to love my body with all of it’s dark and unfeminine hair. And I can do my very best to teach Margot to love her body, too.
I said, “Isn’t it beautiful? You have hair on your skin, too.” Wide-eyed and joyful, she asked “I do??” So, I pointed out the fine baby hairs that cover her skin. I said, “I love the beautiful hair on your body.” And she said, “I love the beautiful hair on your body, too.”
She will not remember that conversation 30 years from now, but I will always remember it, because it was the exact moment I decided, “I need to love my body.”
Which is what led me to posting a picture of myself on Instagram in my underpants. It received many likes and some lovely comments from my lovely friends. But, I’m sure a lot of people were confused, or annoyed, or had other sorts of not-nice feelings about seeing me in my underwear with my unshaven underarms and my unkempt bikini area and my round soft body parts. I would like to say that I don’t care AT ALL about those not-nice feelings that people might have about my body. I would really like to NOT care at all about them. But, I’ve put in a lot of years hating my body and it’s a hard habit to break. Which is why I’m really hoping that Margot never develops that habit in the first place.
I know that I can not shield Margot from the influences of society. As homeschoolers, I hope that she will, at least, be shielded from some of the intense peer pressure that many young girls experience in school. We try to never watch television with commercials. I have shied away from showing her “princess” movies (I have never forgotten that in the dance scene the Beast can fit Belle’s ENTIRE WAIST in his paw… nor have I forgotten longing to feel so tiny…). And I try, in all forms of media that she consumes, to show her a diverse range of humans. In other words, I do my best. But, even with me doing my best, she does not live in a cabin in the woods with no exposure to the outside world, which is the only way I can imagine raising a daughter who never realizes what society deems to be beautiful.
But, maybe I can raise a daughter who never feels like she has to conform to those standards? Right? Maybe I can radically love my body and show her that she can and should do the same. Maybe I can convince her that the hair on her body is beautiful and that all bodies are good bodies. Maybe I can teach her to wear what makes her feel happy and eat what nourishes her soul. Maybe, if I stop saying “I need to lose weight” then she will never feel like SHE needs to attach her self worth to a number on a scale. Maybe, if I am unapologetic about how my body looks, if I stop hiding it away under clothes designed to alter it, if I show the world myself in my underpants and say “THIS IS MY AMAZING BODY” she will never feel that she needs to hide her own beautiful body away. Maybe, just maybe, if I can show her how, my daughter will grow up loving herself.