Facial Hair and the search for Self Acceptance

“You’re growing a mustache!” My father pointed to the dark hairs above the corners of my mouth.

I proceeded to cover the area with my and told him to shut up, but he just walked away chuckling. His words made me bristle with embarrassment. They were rude, unnecessary, and not entirely accurate.

Since the age of eleven, my body had been rebelling against what most girls hope to meet through puberty. I was proclaimed a “late bloomer.” My body had yet to develop breasts or hips, but instead had sprouted dark hair in various places, namely my face. My already thick eyebrows had become downright bushy and the rest of my face sprinkled with dusky accents. It didn’t take my classmates long to notice these changes, although they mercifully focused on the unibrow rather than my peach fuzz. It didn’t take me long to begin dueling with depilatories.

I learned not to touch my face with a razor, for it resulted in small nicks and grew back too quickly. I became overzealous with tweezers more than once. I plunked down my small income on creams that promised smooth and silky skin. None of them delivered on those promises, which left me furry and frustrated.

My mother could tell that I was attempting to tame the hair, but rather than offer some help or words of condolence, just told me to stop over-tweezing my eyebrows (she had avoided the whole body hair issue ever since she caught me shaving my legs when I was eight). Her unhelpful advice was to simply ignore those who made fun of me and “get over” my hair woes. This was easy guidance to give, but difficult to follow. My classmates were not deterred by silence. It was hard to listen to a woman whose own petite brunette frame was not cursed with intrusive visible hairs (she herself did not need to even shave her legs, as the hairs were too light to see up close).

By the time I mastered tweezers, my facial hair was joined by dark underarm and leg hair. I spent the better part of my adolescence learning how to tame my shame. I shaved at every available opportunity and avoided tank tops at all costs. I saved my babysitters wages in the hopes of being able to afford laser hair removal one day. I envied my fair-haired friends who never gave their eyebrows a second thought.

When I was sixteen I developed an interest in art. My studies of course led to the esteemed Frida Kahlo. The artist’s appearance gave me pause, especially her self-portraits. I could not begin to wrap my mind around not only displaying your perceived flaws, but also embracing them. She did not paint away her eyebrows or mustache: she made them darker, more unruly. This fascinated me. Of course, it didn’t take the current batch of classmates long to have their go at her. Her facial hair might as well have been the only thing on the canvas as far as they were concerned.

My senior year of high school concluded with our Art Honor Society’s evening of the arts. My teachers asked me to write a skit about painters we had studied, and I had to include Frida. Finding an actor willing to put their pride on the line was the most difficult part of that endeavor (the mere sight of her eyebrows sent two girls running). Eventually, I had to step up to the plate and perform her part myself. While writing the script, I discovered things that cemented her greatness in my mind: how she was hit by a bus at age eighteen, her numerous surgeries, the incredible pain she felt. Suddenly, thick eyebrows didn’t seem like the worst thing in the world.

In college I discovered a great love for art history. I found myself frustrated with the gen ed art appreciation class we were all required to take, as it glossed over important subjects and focused too much on the professors opinions. When we reached the infamous day that required a room filled with bored students to learn about the woman who had fueled my eyebrow acceptance, the response went about as well as expected. The kicker was when the teacher had the gall to state how Kahlo needed some Nair. I was infuriated but kept silent. This situation was not new.

When I look back on all the things perceived as flaws of my adolescence: my imperfect body, my cystic acne prone skin, and of course my dark facial hair, I am reminded that these don’t go away. But the insecurities can. I will never look like a woman from a magazine cover. I know this. There are days where the sight of my inflamed face makes me cry. I went the entirety of last winter wearing leggings because none of my pants fit and I felt too defeated to buy new ones. And there are times when I want to cover my face in hot wax and rip out ever last hair. But I don’t. So when my father has his little laugh about my mustache, I just roll my eyes and go back to whatever it is I was doing. Thicker eyebrows are in style for women now. Maybe one day mustaches will be too.