February 24, 2009

Come for the Personality, Stay for the Personality

You will notice a common trend in my anecdotes of telling other people I need to shave my face every day. Absolutely no one says, "WHAT?!" No one laughs. No one wrinkles their nose or ostracizes me. They treat my confession calmly, with sympathy but without pity--perhaps because they don't know whether or not to be sorry for me--and they are always respectful.

If you're worried about telling someone about your excess hair, you should try to imagine what you might do if a friend told you one day that they had been hiding something like that. If it was somebody you had terrific rapport with, who you admired and appreciated for all their qualities, would it really change the way you felt about them?

But when it's a romantic interest and not a friend, the stakes are admittedly a little different. And at the beginning of a relationship we often spend so much effort trying to impress the other person. Knowing what a superficial world we live in, we've come to expect that the smallest hitch could make or break a relationship. ("She had man hands!") We stress over whether they can tell already, whether they might accidentally find out, and how they will react if or when we tell them. And the longer we hide the truth and the more attached we become to the other person, the bigger and more volatile our little secret can seem.

Still, at the very heart of the matter is the person, not the body. We're probably all tired of hearing the old homily "you can't judge a book by its cover." But worn out as it is, when it comes to love it is still true. Outward beauty as defined in magazines and on TV may attract the eye but the personality is what draws people--or at least, the sort of people one would want to date. Really, how healthy or fulfilling would a relationship be with someone who only liked others for the way they looked?

Perhaps we bearded women are lucky in that regard. Our excess body hair is like a built-in test; if it makes no difference to a man, it's a sign they might be a keeper! (Stretching for the silver lining, aren't we, Allerleirah? Yeah, I know.)

I definitely don't find it any easier, knowing this. I only ever told one man about my struggles. We never dated for various reasons, but we were quite close. Had we been in the right circumstances we probably would have got together, but as it was we settled for a rather charged friendship always on the cusp of romance. It might be pertinent to note that, cliche as it sounds, intelligence and sense of humor initially attracted us to each other. After eight months of amazing chemistry, I found myself wanting to tell him, if only to explain why I tensed up when he would try to touch me. Over the time we had known each other, I had been getting laser treatment done, so he had seen me holding an ice pack to my jaw and knew that every month I'd disappear off to a mysterious "appointment." So one day, staring fiercely down at my lap, I told him what I had been hiding.

"I kind of thought that might be it," he said, very gently. It was strange to feel almost disappointed that he didn't recoil--wasn't even surprised. Though I had not been able to imagine how he would react, I should have known I could at least trust him to be polite and sensitive to my feelings. And not only did it not shock him, it didn't change how he treated me at all. It really made no difference to him, even with a dramatic confession. It certainly felt strange to receive a rather anticlimactic reaction to something I had worked myself up about so often in the past.

Even though I had thought about it in the past, his reaction (or lack thereof) really made me consider: having an excess of colored protein filaments really doesn't affect the things you like or the things you're good at. It doesn't have any bearing on one's generosity or forgiveness or intelligence. It doesn't make a difference in how we care for others. So we should all try to prevent it from interfering with the way we feel about ourselves. It may not always be possible, but we should try.

It seems I'm not the only one thinking about the subject of body hair and relationships. Ayrton over at the Hypertrichosis Blog composed a dating entry for February 5, which I happened to hop over and see last week after I had finished my own post. (And boy, was my face red when he mentioned this blog in one of his earlier entries!) Ladies, it's one thing reading about what really matters in a relationship from a girl's perspective. It carries more weight coming from the other sex. I encourage you to have a look.

See you all next week!

February 19, 2009

Never as Big a Shock as it Seems

I should probably claim to update on Thursdays, seeing as how I rarely actually post by Wednesday. I blame it on starting this blog when I had Wednesdays off, and the fact that now days at the office always seems to fall on a Wednesday. So much for Hump Day.

I didn't feel like composing a trendy anti-Valentine's Day post this week. Other than a coworker handing me a Lindor chocolate--which was less a holiday observance and more a kind offer of work fuel, to my mind--I didn't even notice the passing of one of Hallmark's most lucrative days. But somehow, the topic for the next couple of posts ties in: telling your significant other, "Oh by the way, I'm the bearded lady."

This is a Big One for a lot of girls, whether they feel that finding that special someone is essential to their future happiness or they claim culture has brainwashed them into needing to be a couple. Love is a part of us all, and everyone wants to find it. I agree with people who say it's ingrained into our biology whether we admit it or not. And we all want to be desired. If we reconcile ourselves to having hair where society says we should not by methods of hiding, disguising, denying, etc., the thought of sharing this part of ourselves with another person is downright terrifying. The risks are all massive deterrents: hidden or open ridicule, their idea about us shifting, the secret spreading.
As I was typing, I wanted to go through my own few experiences chronologically. The first person I ever told about my hirsutism was a friend, and I found myself wanting to just talk about friends first in this post. I welcome other thoughts on the subject, too, if anyone feels like sharing.

The first person to learn my secret, outside of doctors and dermatologists and my mother, was my best friend at the time. We had been thrown together since toddlers and had a lot of the same interests but we went to different schools. She was the one who used to take me up to the mountains to stay with her family, where I could only stand to hog the bathroom for one morning trying to bleach my face before caving and trying to shave for the first time. We were walking back from the pool, all chlorinated and sunburned and very relaxed, but I was feeling very down about all the time I had spent in the bathroom and how her family had razzed me about it. However, I was also feeling good about my decision to start the time-saving activity of shaving, so I felt like explaining the whole thing to her.

So that was why I'd held up the bathroom so long. From her tone, it sounded like it all made sense. She said she knew how I felt. She confessed she was self conscious about the blond vellus hair on her face, of which she felt she had too much. Never belittle a girlfriend's insecurities, because the severity of the things we hate about ourselves are all entirely relative; but dude, I would trade with her any day! She has such a mature, elegant, smoldering beauty and I see no way anyone could look at her and notice peach fuzz of any amount, large or small, let alone judge her on it. Lucky duckling. And then she told me something else. One of her older sisters had gone through the same thing as me, and laser hair removal had been her blessing. That was one of the biggest encouragements I received for trying it myself, because I knew someone who had actually done it and it worked. (Sadly, if you follow this blog you know by now that it did not have the same effect on me, but at least I tried, and now I know.)

The two of us don't talk about our body hair much. Part of that could be because over the years we've become too involved in our own separate worlds, which revolved around post secondary schooling, so when we do talk, it's usually about larger matters like college and staying sane and living alone. Even though the truth is out in the open, it still feels uncomfortable to poke at it, even to assure each other we know how the other feels. For goodness sake, I feel awkward discussing the problem with health professionals, and they see much more bizarre stuff than a woman who grows a beard. I even cringe when I hit "Publish Post" here. It's such a private thing that it feels strange to gab about it, even in girl talk. Perhaps not talking about it helps us to pretend that for most of the day, it doesn't exist.

Several years later I told another girlfriend, a college chum. She, too, had her share of cosmetic concerns. The acne medication she was taking was so potent that I used to go with her to the clinic every month for a blood test to make sure the stuff wasn't damaging her organs. All the same, it doesn't surprise you to see a girl with pimples, but a girl with five o'clock shadow on her chin? Yeah. A little unusual. So I had some trepidation in telling her. I honestly can't remember why I felt the urge to do so, especially after knowing her for four or five years already. I wonder if it wasn't because I finally knew the laser treatment was probably not going to be permanent for me and I needed someone to vent to about it. I remember being bundled up for the winter cold (which could be any eight months out of the year, where I live) and shuffling towards a bus stop when I told her about my hirsutism and the things I had been doing for it.

"Really?" she said, her tone quite level. It was calming--she takes all things in stride, even the most ridiculous news. Whether it was failing a project because it was turned in more than half an hour late, or a well-educated boyfriend suddenly deciding to make a drastic career change into the field of flight, or that a female friend has been hiding a burgeoning beard under a caked layer of make-up, she's not one to freak out. "I never would have known," she added. And that was the entire conversation. I bared my secret, and she accepted it with minimal astonishment, and we never talked about it again. We've never really had to, but at the time it was certainly nice to unburden myself. I get the feeling that most of the time when we meet up for tea or a shopping excursion, she's really not sitting there thinking, "Heh, you have a beard. I can't believe I'm friends with such a weirdo." On an everyday basis, I think people forget, because they see you, not your every hair follicle. The forest, not the trees.

This is certainly getting long, so thankfully that is the sum total of my confessions to friends. Next week, telling boyfriends. I promise.

February 12, 2009

Hairless Holidays and Hotel Bathrooms

Hello all, I'm back from the States and the Bahamas, where the water was so chilly that worrying about being bikini worthy was a moot point. High winds rendered all our planned water sports too dangerous. The only time I entered the water was when I had to get into a dolphin tank, and I kept as many clothes on as I could.

The thing is, when you're a hirsute gal, you have more to worry about than the rash-inducing force it takes to deforest the bikini line. Even if the swimsuit is not part of your planned wardrobe, there are other kinds of clothing that create an extra challenge. What if, in your excitement, you threw your hands up in the air, pulling up your shirt and exposing a treasure trail the envy of many an adolescent boy? Or what if it's a dress up night and your fantastic little black dress has a plunging neckline, but your cleavage has seen so much of the razor that most of the hair hasn't yet broken the skin?

And then there's the facial hair, my most constant worry. Our first hotel room was set up in my least favorite way: with the sink and mirror outside the bathroom door. My roommate was an early riser, and it was important to her to get up before I did because she knows how long I take in the bathroom at home. That first morning I woke up wondering how I would be able to swing this one. Maybe she would get in the shower and I would have time to quickly shave before she came back out. But with the humidity, she didn't want to get her hair wet in the morning. I slowly got ready for a shower myself, continuing to puzzle it over in my mind. What if I just started shaving, out in the open, with her right there? She probably wouldn't say or do anything. The puzzle might fall into place in her head, but sensing the sensitivity of the situation, she might never bring it up in conversation. But what if she brought it up in conversation with others? That's the sad thing about getting step-siblings after high school. You'll never know them well enough to trust them with some things. Or maybe that's just me.

When I had gone camping one year with a big group of family and friends--the year after I used to sit in the jeep and tweeze in the mirror--I had actually taken the mirror into the campground shower with me and shaved in the giant, spider infested stall. That memory always brings to mind some woman's tart voice as she lined up outside the stall yelling, "Are you going to be much longer?" That voice still haunts me. But regardless, I contemplated the act of shaving in the shower, this time sans reflective object. I've been shaving for years, I know how my face is shaped, the distribution of stubble and how each stroke feels. Did I really need the mirror? It is always such a pain to have to hunch over a sink and mirror only to get into the shower again to quickly do everything else, or vice versa.

I kept doing it because it was the easiest solution, but man, what a miserable time for my face. My judgment for how much pressure to use was all off. It took me nearly twice as long shaving by feel, and I was always nicking my chin. And of course, the more battered and uneven the skin, the more difficult it is to cover it up with make up. Dabbing on some concealer, wiping it off, making it bleed again, waiting for it to stop, patting some powder on first, wiping it off... I hated the mornings. I hated the feeling that everyone was always waiting for me. That's one of the worst things about vacations. But it wears off--eventually you leave your morning rituals behind you and become simply... you. And I had a marvellous time every day, even after I caught a cold and mother nature brought her monthly gift. Always on vacation. It never fails.

I've already settled back into work and am slowly picking up all the pieces I couldn't madly get done at the last minute. But the infinitely good thing about returning home from holidays, for a befurred lady like myself, is being able to get back to her own sink and mirror, with lighting and climate and timing she's learned to work with.

Also, I have some hopeful news. I'm meeting with a new GP today; a woman for a change. This is just an initial interview so they don't usually investigate your body at this point, but if we like her, she'll be our new family doctor. And then I'm going to try to put into motion some tests to find out why I have all the hair I do, and from there, what can be done about it.