Hair. Someone wrote a musical about in the seventies. There’s one song about the advent of a new zodiac age, named after the water-bearer of the cosmos, played behind an up-beat disco tune. Apparently each astrological age lasts a couple thousand years (give or take) so even though the dawning of the age of Aquarius was glorified through song and dance when afros were still around, my undecidedly wavy hair still wanes in the middle of an astrological transition. I could have been up on that stage, waving my waist-long hair back and forth to the sung exultation of the sun, wearing hippie garb and having casual sex with the rest of the cast. But a couple months ago I cut my hair my short, left it stuck somewhere between 1920s flapper rebellion and 1980s wannabe poof. I guess I cut it as an act of rebellion; some kind of fuck you to the hair product industry.
Now lets talk about bad hair. I’m not talking about a bad hair day. I mean the “bad hair” on your body. I’ll never forget those middle school days when my plague, my sorrow, the bane of my adolescent (or prepubescent?) existence was the crop of wavy straw I had growing out my scalp—and on my legs, and armpits, and cunt. I remember walking up an hour before school (which back in those days was 6 a.m. nonetheless) and covering my legs with what could possibly be the most foul smelling concoction ever known to man—Nair. You remember those Nair commercials where all the tall blonde chicks would prance around the Cali shore with booty shorts flaunting their tan, smoothed legs. That’s all I ever wanted. My mother, who in retrospect was being an excellent parent, forbid any leg shaving. I whined. I begged. I pleaded. The compromise she proposed—if you want hair-less legs, brace yourself for the unbearable stench of Nair. Yup, they forgot to add that little tid-bit in their TV ads; the Nair nastiness is actually a goopy pink mess that smells like the rotting chemicals inside the rotting stomach of the rotting carcass of a rotten rat. And worst, you have to cover your legs with the rancid solution and leave it there for a good fifteen minutes. That means sit there and inhale that putrid shit for what felt like an eternity. Fuck that.
Needless to say, my Nair-no-hair days ended very quickly, and I eventually got into the habit of shaving whatever I could. Living in Miami, where all exposed skin had to be hair-less-or-else, this meant a good amount of my hair was ceremoniously dipped in shaving cream and trimmed off every week. This I thought was normal. Hair was the enemy. I distinctly remember one girl in my school, Maggie, who perhaps in her own act of rebellion left her armpits all-natural. She would flaunt her furry underarms at every possible opportunity. I remember being confused and kinda grossed out. Didn’t she feel dirty? Shouldn’t she be embarrassed? Looking back, the commentary she was making on women’s body image was both courageous and admirable. But at the time I couldn’t get past the idea that women simply don’t have hairy armpits, men do. Even worse, women do have hairy armpits like men, they simply aren’t supposed to. Why? Well for one, if women realized that hair wasn’t the enemy, Nair would go out of business. Its actually disconcerting just how much of our cultural prejudices about women and hair (think African American weaves, relaxer, srtiraghteners, razors, waxing, Nair) are wrapped up in corporate interest—but more on this later.
Soon my relationship with my hair had turned into a full-blown war. I had all the weapons at hand—razor and tweezer, waxer and relaxer—but in the end hair would always win, because it always grew back. One day I reached my breaking point. It was during a waxing appointment. Again, being a Floridian meant sporting a bikini 8 months of the year, which I was told meant making religious appointments to the waxer once every month. For those of you girls fortunate enough never to have endured this “beauty ritual,” akin to the tortures of the Dark Age, let me fill you in. You pay exuberant amounts of money to have someone apply hot wax on your private parts—only to have it ripped off, along with all of you pubic cuticles. Now, by this point I had undergone this process countless times, but for some reason this time, this time I wasn’t going to allow it. I sat there, half naked, watching this woman stir green wax, and asked myself – why in the world am I doing this? Why am I paying to undergo something painful andembarrassing, all just to fit this idea of “appropriate,” “normal,” “pretty”? I didn’t say a word. I just got up, put on my panties, and left. As I walked out of the waxing spa for the last time, I made myself promise—I would never compromise any part of who I am, even the parts I had trouble loving, for someone else’s idea of who I should be. That day the battle with my hair ended. I began to find peace with my self.
Now, it took some time and a lot of effort to keep this promise. The truth is, even when we choose to liberate ourselves from beauty standards, it can be difficult to erase a lifetime of prejudices against your body. But I found some help in the writings of the women who fought for liberation forty years ago—back when Hair was still being sung. Because back then, and still now, being free to choose how long and how much hair you want on your body is one of the strongest statements of freedom you can make. We are told not to have hair because there is a whole industry that depends, no counts on us, to wage war on our bodies. We are told—guys had to have their hair short and shaved, girls had to have it long. Your hair can turn into a mode of control, a way for others to demand your obedience, to make you look like everyone else, to force you to fit into these oppressive gender roles. And gender roles really really suck.
I am not here to tell you how to have your hair. I am not here to say that shaving is bad and you must have hairy armpits in order to truly love yourself. I am not here to tell you how to feel about your body. There are enough people already doing that. What I do want you to do is think about hair and freedom. I want you to be like the hair flinging hippies of the 60s or the daring and rebellious short-wigged flappers of the 20s—women who found liberation trough their follicles and used their manes as big f-yous to all those standards out there. For me, my hair has grown long again, I keep my legs fuzzy in the winter months and sport bare underarms in the spring, and I proudly pronounce all my pubic wonderfulness. What could be more liberating than that?
– Ana Alvarez, Managing Editor