The Girl with the Mustache or How I Learned to Stop Shaving and Love the Bush

It’s fourth grade and I’m so excited about my crush. I decide that I’m going to tell him about it. Would he like me back? Would he think I’m pretty? There’s only one way to find out.

I go up to him and confess my love. He looks at me and keeps staring. I can feel his gaze fixed on something on my face. I’m instantly overcome by shame. He yells out: "Look at her mustache! You have a mustache like a man!"

All of my classmates start laughing at my facial hair. I run to the bathroom to cry and examine myself in the mirror. Yes, there’s a line of hair on top of my upper lip and I hate it. It is the first time that I truly become aware of the thing that would cause me so much pain, shame and stress over the years: hair.

I cry myself to sleep that night and many nights to come. I ask my mom: Why am I so ugly? She looks sad and tries to come up with a solution. Tomorrow, she would take me to the “waxing lady” in our neighbourhood. And I decide to start a war against those little strands growing on my skin.

I hate waxing. It takes hours and hours to get rid of all my body hair, and it causes me so much pain. But when it’s over, I feel so beautiful. I get to pretend to be normal for a few weeks until I have to go through it all over again.

Artist: Sonya Borisova

I skip my swimming lessons because I’m so worried that somebody will notice the hair on my legs. I look at photos of models and beautiful women until I cry. They don’t have to deal with all this! I flinch as the waxing lady who has become a friend over the years spreads hot wax dangerously close to my vulva. I yell out in pain as she pulls it. She always asks me if I have a boyfriend. I just laugh.

I get rashes from hair removal creams. I spend so much money on a hair bleaching cream for body hair. I tell my mom: I’m going to have blonde hair on my arms like a pretty girl! I somehow end up with arms lighter than the rest of my body that are still covered in so much dark hair.

I never talk about it to my friends or anyone I know, I just feel so ashamed so I spend a lot of time hiding. I look at my body and I cry. I hit my legs with my fists. I just hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it...

The first time I have sex, I spend 2 hours in the shower shaving every inch of my body. I shave my arms, legs, toes, stomach, chest, nipple hair, underarms, pussy, butt, asshole. I shave the parts of my back that I can reach. My boyfriend must not know that I am capable of growing any hair at all.

During sex I am so worried about how I look that I don’t get to enjoy it at all. I just feel so lucky that a guy like him is even interested in someone like me. I go through the 2-hour-long-shaving-shower every time we are going to have sex. It just becomes so tiring after a while that I don’t even want to have sex at all. We break up soon after.

Artist: Sonya Borisova

After moving to another country, I realize that I need to make some changes. Waxing is so much more expensive here and I’m so busy with university that I don’t have the time to shave. And I realize that it’s hypocritical of me to claim to practice self-love when there is always that one aspect of my body that I hate and would change if I could in a heartbeat. Would it be so unimaginable to love every aspect of myself, hair and all? It starts as a practical decision but becomes so much more.

This summer was the first time I went outside without shaving my legs. I was convinced I would get dirty looks from women and men would probably yell at me to go shave. I was surprised when nobody actually even noticed it. The thing that had caused me so much pain was in fact barely noticeable to the people I spent so much time hiding from.

It takes a long time to unlearn internalized notions and rules you had to create for yourself and to relearn self-love and acceptance. It was life-changing for me to realize that I could have body hair AND be beautiful. It feels so empowering to talk openly about the things that I’ve felt ashamed about for so long. I think if I’ve heard one woman talk about having nipple hair, which is actually totally normal and something a lot of us have (30% of women actually), maybe I wouldn’t have felt so much like an abnormality.

Artist: Frances Cannon

I won't pretend all those years of self-hate magically disappeared overnight or that I can live as a hairy woman with no problem in a society that imposes prepubescent body standards on women. I don’t shave anymore, yet I still feel like I would not be able to go to a special event or a meeting in an outfit that showed my body hair. And I still feel more beautiful when I have smooth legs.

But it’s one step at a time. I don’t spend so much time worrying and stressing about my body hair anymore. I won’t hide in the bathroom all day if I forget to get rid of my ‘mustache’ that week. I’m not afraid to raise my hand when I’m wearing a tank top and I haven’t shaved my underarms. I still pluck my nipple hair and shave my legs when I’m going to have sex but I’ve actually let people see other parts of me with hair and they didn’t freak out like I expected them to at all.

It is actually much more comfortable (feels soft and you get no razor burns) and healthier to not get rid of your bush. Moreover, I find myself loving the way it looks. Obviously, it's up to you. But that's the thing. It was never up to me in a society that prescribes self-hate with industries that thrive off women's body image issues and male politicians that get to decide what women can or cannot do with their bodies. I can shave or not, though there will always be consequences. But I still believe there's something revolutionary about loving yourself in a world that tries so hard to make you hate it.

Artist: Frances Canon

Images obtained from:

Cover image: Kate Louise Powell 

Artist: Frances Cannon

Artist: Sonya Borisova