There are so many things you’ve taught me and you can’t even walk or talk yet. It’s really astounding. How can such a small and vulnerable being shift mountains in the world of my priorities? Because I love you more than anything and anyone ever and forever. That’s how.
So, let me tell you about a big lesson you taught me recently…
I’m a daughter too and what you’ll find is how we often mimic our mothers. In particular, beauty rituals. My extensive skin regimen (which has, subsequently, saved me from premature wrinkling), clothing choices, make-up choices. Even the small details like the kind of washcloth I use. I learned a lot of it from my own mother. Yes, Baba. Baba’s pretty stylish, right? She’s turning 70 this year, by the way, and she doesn’t look a day over 50. (Again, skin regimen.) Let’s hope we both got her aging genes.
What I’m trying to get at? You made me realize how ridiculous I was being when it came to a particular beauty ritual I had started around the age of 15 or so. Maybe a tad younger.
So, by Asian standards, I’m a yeti. Somehow, the hair gods thought it would be really funny to create an Asian woman who was furry. What’s worse? They gave me substantial hair on my body (even fuzz on my ears), but the skimpiest eyelashes. I swear, I have 3 stick straight eyelashes per eye. Even now. Luckily, you didn’t inherit my eye sticks.
Right, so shaving your legs and underarms (or waxing) is pretty standard. Even waxing your upper lip is something women do. Not a big deal. But in my tweens, I was totally ashamed of my arm hair. I suspect I got teased about it. Children can be cruel. Also, maybe my dad teased me. I know. Listen, he didn’t know better.
So, I tried lots of things:
- Bleaching — just turned my substantial hairs white blonde which felt even more awkward because, hello, I’m Asian and don’t grow blonde hair naturally. Also, bleach on skin feels like burning.
- Tweezing—which would take hours because, again, lots of hair. Also, flexibility and the ability to use a mirror to check out certain areas. In short, complicated.
- Waxing — 1) painful 2) expensive considering my hair would grow back quickly and 3) what tween has time or money for something like this?
Now, my mom (your Baba), also Asian, happened to have the same trait. This made me feel less alone. Even still, commiserating with Baba once in a while didn’t stand a chance against the teasing of classmates. And so I decided to just shave my arms…daily.
Baba was already doing it.
By the way, she was against it. She didn’t think I needed it, but I didn’t hear her. I only saw what she was doing. She was from a different era. Before waxing and lasers. Before self-love and letting it all hang out. I know she didn’t want me to follow in her footsteps on this one, but actions speak louder than words.
Along the way, I met several other women who were doing the same thing, but the percentage was small and even getting on the topic, let alone divulging our common secret to each other was rare. Maybe there were more women and we just never got on the topic.
Whatever. You get what I’m saying.
Cut to December of 2016. Christmas is over and New Year’s is less than a week away.
One evening, I’m taking a shower after you’ve gone to bed. I’m at Baba and Jiji’s house with your Dad for the holiday break. I’m standing in the shower, trying to wash away the exhaustion from the day and combat the Seasonal Affective Disorder Angelenos suffers in northern New Jersey in the dead of winter.
I start thinking about resolutions. The usual pop into my head: be kinder, be more present, get back to writing (LOOK! I’M DOING THAT ONE!), do more creative things. And as I’m reaching down to pick up my razor, in a flash, I realize how silly I’m being. What a bad role model I’m being…and how I’ve been doing this for 20 years. (I did the math. That’s roughly a month of my entire life shaving or dealing with some other hair removal/hiding process on my arms.)
I’m also hit with a wave of shame for being so pressured by society to be hairless. That I inconvenienced my life every day because I was scared to just be myself and not give a damn.
I think about you. How I adore your unique characteristics. The beauty mark on your forehead. The gap between your newly-sprouted front teeth. The cowlick you’ve developed.
I can’t bear the thought of you hating anything about yourself. The idea of you being so pressured by what society expects women to be that you decide to get rid of or hide one of your traits. It makes me sad, but at the same time hopeful ours will be a future of acceptance of women in all shapes and sizes (and hair levels). It’s already vastly different from when I was a little kid.
And so I resolved to stop shaving my arms right then and there.
Looking at my arms now, months later, it all seems so ridiculous. I was vain, insecure, scared, weak. I was someone who hadn’t fully accepted herself at 36.
I suppose it’s better late than never.
Bean. My love. This is my roundabout way of telling you that you made me see there is nothing to be ashamed of. That I should be accepting of everything about myself and need to lead by example. I need to show you Mom is comfortable in her own skin and how all women should be. No matter what they look like. No matter what society tells them they should be. They should be accepting and, above all else, kind to themselves.
Thank you for looking at me with love. Whether I’m looking human or like something a truck ran over. Showered or unshowered. Clothed or unclothed. Happy, sad, stressed, or quietly seething with rage. You’re not looking at my individual parts. You see me. Not my arm hair.
I promise to accept myself as I am and pray you can do the same with yourself.
All My Love,