Jenn Leyva’s tired of all the plucking, waxing, and shaving, so she’s letting it all go—because she says it’s not her job to make you feel comfortable.
I’ve been spending more time and attention on my lips lately. I spent two hours browsing Sephora and trying on different lipsticks, liners, and glosses. I notice the different hues, how they melt with my own lip color or cover it completely, how the waxy texture makes my lips slicker or how the dry thick consistency makes it impossible to remove. I’ve been interested in lipstick for a while—femmes are known to enjoy face paint. But this new interest is brought on by my facial hair, a cute little mustache akin to what 12-year-old boys see as the beginning of manhood.
I started letting it grow as a test. I’m one of those fat activist radical types who believes that there is no wrong way to have a body. I had accepted my fat body, but I had not accepted my hairy fat body. So, I decided to let it grow.
I didn’t grow up with hippy lesbian parents who indoctrinated me with the idea that all women should be hairy. My parents are rather conservative, and up until the last year, I had shaved or otherwise maintained all body hair up to the “normal” standards. I shaved my legs and armpits. I got my lip and eyebrows waxed. I plucked the occasional sturdy hair from my chin or neck. For years I would have defended this routine to the death, though I would rarely talk about it. Being hairy wasn’t even something to consider.
A few years ago my mother offered to pay for laser hair removal of my mustache. I agreed at the time, but didn’t get around to making an appointment. For a while I shaved it or got it waxed. Recently while driving together to do something, she asked me if I was letting it grow. I was caught off guard, so I told her “for now,” in as terse a tone as I could muster. I wish I could have gone into my thoughts about my hair, but there’s something about the relationship I have with my mother (and that I think is common for mother-daughter relationships) that makes all talk about bodies difficult barring on impossible.
Despite spending a lot of time in feminist spaces and making my politics known, I’ve found few places to be open about my hair. I don’t think it’s an accident that one of the few places I would talk about hair was a beauty salon. I only felt comfortable talking about my hair when I was surrounded by other people who had a similar “problem,” and who agreed that hair was certainly classified as a problem.
I look at my brows now when I’m staring at my face, and I think about going to get them shaped up. I haven’t in part because I have bangs that do a fairly good job of hiding my brows, but mostly because I don’t want to have to explain to a well-intentioned aesthetician that what she sees as a flaw to be fixed as part of her job, I see as political, intentional, and beautiful in its defiance.
Spaces have been important in my understanding of my hair. I’ve been growing the mustache since I went to a fat queer conference in September. Before the conference, I was paired up with someone who had attended before to ask questions and get a sense of what goes on. She suggested that I bring a few outfits to wear that I would normally not wear. Something that I’d like to wear, but didn’t feel comfortable because it wasn’t flattering or it was too revealing or whatever. I took that as a challenge to test my own comfort with my hair. I let my leg hair grow, dyed my armpit hair pink, and let my facial hair flow freely. It felt magical and so warm and lovely and safe. There were other people showing off both their tits and their beards. A place that honors the feminine in its many incarnations, including the taboo: a truly revolutionary place.
I saw people at that conference who made me uncomfortable. I wish I could lie to myself and say that I’m this perfect person and activist who accepts and cherishes those breaking social convention, but I’m totally not that person. I’ve spent years desensitizing myself to fat, queer and otherwise non-normative bodies, and I’m not even close to done. I don’t think I’ll ever be done. And I don’t want to be.
I like feeling a little bit uncomfortable looking at someone breaking social convention because it reminds me that I, a fat, hairy, queer woman, make people uncomfortable. It reminds me that all too often it’s the fat, the queer, the disabled, and the non-normative who feel uncomfortable and do so much to avoid making other people feel uneasy. It’s not my job to make you feel OK about the look of my body. In fact, I want you to feel uncomfortable because for too long I’ve dealt with this uneasy feeling about my body alone. My body isn’t wrong; it’s your fascist beauty standards.
Before I walk into a store or work or just about anywhere I’ll find strangers, I make sure my lipstick is just right. I worry about what people will think or if they’ll say anything. I’ve been told too many times that it doesn’t really matter what other people think, but that’s not true. I cannot live my life as if the way that other people treat me doesn’t matter. I worry about what other people think about me because we are social creatures, and what other people think about me affects how they will treat me. I worry that little things like buying coffee will be more difficult because the strangers selling me coffee are uncomfortable; I worry that my friends will not understand me or will think of me differently.
I may not do this forever (fighting The Man day in and day out is exhausting), but I’m doing it for now. And right now it feels easier and kinder to learn to accept my fat, hairy body than it does to shave or somehow feign hairlessness. I know it makes people uncomfortable, but as I remind myself when putting on lipstick, it’s not my job to make people feel comfortable.
When Jenn Leyva was 16, her dad told her that he’d buy her a car if she lost weight. She cried, finished her calculus homework, and is now a New York-based fat activist and recent graduate of Columbia, where she studied biochemistry. She authors Fat Smart And Pretty, a fat blog about social justice, feminism, science, health, and fa(t)shion.