December 10, 2008

Persistent Awareness

It was a tough day at work and I feel like I'm coming down with something, so I'm not going to talk about what I'd been planning to talk about (which was something more in-depth).

You know you’re hirsute when someone passes you a really strong drink or a really spicy food with the perfectly innocent phrase, “That’ll put hair on your chest,” and you wonder how hard you should laugh to overcompensate for the fact that you really don't find it funny, or whether you want to discourage the use of the joke.

In my case, I always wonder if it would be comical to say: “Well, actually...”

It's supposed to be humorous. To have hair on your chest means you're robust, healthy, virile, and mature. But said in the company of the secretly hirsute woman, it becomes secretly a little offensive. Irrational, maybe, but it pricks me a little each time I hear it, reminding me that I react differently to it because I'm different. It's not about the joke. It's how I feel about the joke.

I've been thinking about that little innocent phrase recently. “That’ll put hair on your chest” is often spoken in the circles I wander. I have some very cliche acquaintances, I guess.

Last week I was standing in line at a fast food place with some members of my family, and one of them chuckled and pointed at my brown lace sweetheart neckline.

I immediately thought, Oh crap, did I miss one?

“You’ve got a thread,” he said. “Looks like a chest hair. Right in your cleavage.” More chuckling.

It was a thread from the seam of the lace, poking right up in the middle of my chest. Relieved, I tucked it down, laughing myself. “Thought I’d got all those.”

It’s an almost constant awareness, and when you manage to forget, someone or something helps remind you--often in ways much more subtle than what I've just mentioned. I’d love to be able to describe it to relatively un-furry gals out there so that maybe they can understand, and feel fortunate. But it’s so easy for the few people who know me this well to forget my limitations, as well. I still get criticized for being unable to get up and go right from the bed to clothes to door.

Picking chest hair as an example, imagine having to plan your wardrobe around whether or not you can wear any of your open-collared shirts that day. I can only shave there once every few days or I risk irritation that takes weeks to go away. If there’s a special occasion and the special outfit I want to wear has anything lower than a crewneck, I have to make sure my skin has had enough of a break to ensure the most flattering results. On holidays I need to pack for the hope that I’ll be able to wear cheery open tank tops and fun pendants--but also pack for the assumption that the entire time will really be a battle against a rash of in-grown hair further aggravated by sunburn.

It sucks to live this way. Hiding. But we do it. It’s a kind of maintenance a lot of women can’t imagine having to worry about, and you know what? It takes strength. It could be said I'm one of the lazier ones, and it still takes a lot out of me. It takes strength to carry that with you every day. You should be proud of your ingenuity and tenacity.

As well as your robustness and virility, too.

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