You’re a secure young man, Mr. Patalive. For your whole life, my dear friend, you’ve stood naked in front of a mirror and told yourself that you were good looking when no one else did. Whatever part of your body you hated, whatever you wished you could change or undo, you’ve managed to lie to yourself until you’ve overcome these issues. What about yourself have you always hated but are becoming more secure about? What do you always think is the grossest thing about you? Is it your jawline? No, that’s ridiculous. Is it your long toes which you’re always curling back and forth, always moving; those long toes that everyone points out and says are gross? No, not that either. You couldn’t give two shits about your toes. Well, than what is it? I know you know, just tell me. Is it your body hair? Bingo.
From a very young age, you’ve had body hair. The pubic hair came earlier than your friends, and you could grow a nice looking mustache at the age of twelve. By fifteen you could grow a beard and also by fifteen you started to get chest hair. Not just one or two, though. You’d say it was closer to a fuckin’ million. Whenever you took your shirt off, people would tell you to take your sweater off, too. Guys and girls would poke fun at how hairy you were and you would feel ashamed to be shirtless in front of anyone. Going to the beach was the worst. You wouldn’t want to take your shirt off and be the hairiest guy under forty-six years old. You used to stand shirtless in the mirror, like you did for all of your other insecurities, and tell yourself that you weren’t gross because you had all of this hair on your chest, stomach, arms and shoulders. You would try to reason with yourself and remind yourself that you were a beautiful person regardless of the fact that you would never be smooth. You would never see your true, bare skin. That’s when you got the idea, one night, to stand in the shower, take your father’s beard trimmer, and come as close as you could to being the way you thought boys should look. With the hair falling in clumps onto the shower floor, you felt happy because now no one would make fun of you and you could take your shirt off without feeling ashamed.
It’s no surprise that you’re as hairy as you are. Your father’s side of the family is Italian and very hairy. Your father has as much body hair as you and, when you were fifteen and all you had was chest hair, when you looked at your father’s hairy back, you thought to yourself, At least I only have hair on my chest and not my back. Your mother’s side of the family is mostly Lithuanian — another extremely hairy people group — and your mother has told you many times about her own insecurities with her body hair as a young girl. She used to take you to get you and your brother’s hair cut at the same place she would get her waxing done. You used to have to wait for an hour (or sometimes more) while she got her entire body waxed. You tried it once, one summer. When you were extremely bored while waiting for her to be finished, you imitated the woman who waxed your mother. Taking the wooden popsicle stick out of the warm, gooey wax, you put a little bit on your hairy thighs, taking the cloth strip, placing it on the wax, making sure it was on real good, and ripping it off. A tear came to your eye but you liked how it felt. (Was this the beginning of your masochistic behavior? Was this when you first realized you like inflicting pain on yourself? It should be of no surprise that you are one hairy somethin’ else.)
Your older brother’s not as hairy as you, which used to upset you and make you silently resent him. Why do I have the bad eyes, you would think to yourself. Why am I the shortest one in the family? Why am I the hairiest? Why am I the least intelligent? You used to believe that your brother got all of the good genes and you got the garbage genes that were just left over; like if, when you were being formed in your mother’s womb, God said to Jesus or the Holy Spirit or whomever was in the room at the time, “I’m just not sure what genes and traits to give this kid. Well, I guess I’ll just reach into the garbage can of genes that aren’t incredibly detrimental to his future but will make him hate himself a lot of the time, and throw ‘em into his mom’s belly. Sound good?” And then Jesus or the Holy Spirit nodded their head in agreement that, yeah, that sounds good to me/us.
Around the age of sixteen you were starting to get hair on your back. This was the most detrimental bodily-growth to your self-esteem. Now, not only were you ashamed by the fact that you were perpetually wearing a shirt of hair on your front; you were ashamed of the patches of disgusting, dark brown hair on your back. You know that, when humans didn’t have many warm clothes, back hair was necessary for their survival. But, in this glorious modern age we’ve been living in, with the invention of long sleeve shirts and sweaters, back hair is no longer necessary. Yet, if you’re one of the unlucky ones, it still grows. In the summer when you would swim at friends’ houses, swim at your house, or go to the beach, you would stand in the bathtub and your mother would shave your back like she shaves your father’s back. With your voices echoing off of the white, plastic walls and your hair falling listlessly to the ground, you would talk about how shitty it was to be so hairy. Then she would leave and you would begin your work on the front of you, constantly staring into your bathroom mirror to make sure you didn’t miss a spot while reminding yourself — forcing yourself to believe — that you were beautiful and this hair was an endearing quality of yours. The whole process would take forty-five minutes or longer, and afterwards you would put your shirt on and feel the stubble all over your body. When it grew in, more and more the fabric of the shirt would catch on the sharp hair covering your everywhere and it would sometimes hurt.
It was your freshman year of college when you learned to love your hair (maybe not love it per se, but accept it). Your mother would ask you if you wanted your back shaved when you visited home and you said no. You stopped shaving your chest. Now, you realize that you grew to accept your body hair because you stopped caring about what people thought of you. It still bothered you when people made references to it, but all in all you didn’t care if they made fun of you or if they talked about you behind your hairy fucking back. Junior year, when you and Bea started dating, she made you fully and absolutely accept your hairy self. She said she liked it and didn’t want you to shave because it’d be uncomfortable for the two of you when you’re lying in bed together. Recently, she told you that you ruined hairless guys for her, which made you smile very, very wide on the inside and outside. If you can take your clothes off in front of someone and they fully accept — and actually enjoy — your body, why should you feel any insecurities at all about it? If someone you’re intimate with says they like it, why shouldn’t you?
You remember one drunken summer night when you walked shirtless from your house to the local bodega to buy cigarettes. Your roommate took a picture of you from the back and uploaded it to Instagram. Rarely do you see a full view of your back, and when you first saw it, you wanted to yell at your roommate and force him to delete it. You saw your hair start at your neck and flower out like two hairy wings. It got forty “likes” in one night and, if this was four years ago, you would have been petrified that so many people saw your hairy back with your name attached to the picture. But this wasn’t four years ago. This is now and now you couldn’t care less about how hairy it is, how dark it is, how societally unattractive it is. You accept it and love it. Your last great insecurity has been, for the most part, overcome and it couldn’t be more freeing. You still get tinges of old insecurities. Sometimes you look at your back and chest in the mirror and the old devil self-consciousness whispers in your ear, Shave it; shave it all, but you respond by saying, No, it would take too long.
Jacob Patalive is a nonfiction writer currently studying at the University of Pittsburgh. He was born and raised in Woolrich, Pennsylvania and now resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a writer, he works to include his life experiences in everything he writes, with the hope that he will help those who are struggling with something he has dealt with and overcome.