It wasn’t long after I started secondary school that I began to have serious anxiety issues surrounding the hair sprouting out of my body. The stuff on top of my head could be tamed and the stuff between my legs could be hidden.
But what about the legs themselves?
I had seen my mum shave her legs. But as a gorky tween I was terrified that it was supposed to be an ‘adult’ thing. Because when boys start to shave it’s often portrayed as a very firm step into manhood. Hoorah.
But I wasn’t taking any importany leaps into manliness, and I definitely wasn’t feeling like a fully fledged woman yet.
I watched an episode of (CAN’T REMEMBER THE CARTOON!!!) where the main character got into serious trouble for shaving two inches above her ankle.. and I could relate. I felt justified in my fear of shaving my whole leg- it was terrifying to do something so private and yet so public.
So for a good few months I did it in secret.
What I’m trying to explore here, is the issue of body hair. I mean, it’s not necessarily an ‘issues’ and I’m sure for some people it’s an easy transition from Matey bubble baths, to foamburst showers accompanied by a Venus five blade wonder. But some of us (I mean, I hope it’s not just me) didn’t make the move into smooth leg territory quite so easily.
And it’s not just shaving your legs, and arm pits, it’s having to KEEP shaving them. I remember wanting the ground to swallow me up in a PE lesson when one of my classmates brushed passed me and squealed because I had some serious lower-leg stubble. #mortifying
I was teased for having hairy arms, too. That wasn’t very helpful. I mean, now I can be smug because in the middle of winter I’m laughing, mate.
But why don’t teens shave in YA books? I get that sometimes it just isn’t relevant, or it can be easily assumed. You could say it’s like using the bathroom, you know it happens… but you don’t need to read about it. However, I was reading recently about the absence of menstruation in YA books, and maybe this isn’t so far removed. You can pretty much rely on three things as a teenager- getting your period or your voice breaking, getting your heart broken, and growing body hair.
Personal grooming is a cultural concept. It’s embedded in fashion and entrenched in gender roles and expectations.
I think, as a general rule, lads will start growing noticeable facial hair aged 15/16.
For girls, it’s harder to determine. It’s linked to the first period, which commonly occurs anywhere between ages 9 and 16. The hair on legs, arms and pubic area will grow darker and probably thicker.
Body hair can be beautiful. And in hindsight I could have just talked to my mum about it earlier because she was totally cool about it. But let’s not forget, kids can be cruel. And being a teenager is freaking hard.
I am compelled, however, to read character descriptions more closely. I want to find a male protagonist with a healthy amount of face-fluff, or maybe he goes on a date with a small piece of tissue still stuck to his chin where he got it wrong. And let’s hear it for those stubbly knees and trying to hide your bristly legs under tights (and failing).
What do you think? Does body hair have a significant place in YA fiction?