They may be only little now, my daughters, but their future is big. Their future is, for the time being, my responsibility. And its a huge responsibility.
I am not always the best role model. I’m often late, frequently disorganised. I don’t eat as healthily as I should and I HATE exercise in all forms. But, I do hope I will be able to teach my children how to be awesome girls, and eventually, awesome women. Perhaps I might encourage them to eat well and be on time to things – but lets not get ahead of ourselves.
I was standing in the shower a few days ago, and G was paddling about in the bath next to me. V was in her bouncy chair beside the bath and both were doing their own thing, but taking in, as small people do, everything I did.
I reached for my razor, and paused. Like many women I tend to shave my underarms. I don’t always do it – sometimes I’m too lazy, sometimes I don’t have time, sometimes I enjoy the feeling of letting my hair grow out a little bit. Sometimes I’m just cold…. (I joke, it offers very little noticeable insulation).
But on this occasion I reached for my razor and paused because I didn’t want my daughters to think that they always needed to shave too. Obviously they are basically still in the naked mole rat stage, and are mostly hairless beings. But one day they will be hairy. If they end up taking after me in anyway (they are both just mini versions of their dad right now), then they are likely to be quite hairy.
When I was a teenager, I felt self conscious about my respective hairiness. I have dark hair and a lot of it. Compared to the majority of my blonde, English Rose classmates, I was practically a gorilla. And I hated it. I did everything I could to get rid of my hair. I plucked, bleached, waxed, shaved, scrubbed and tweezed my way through my adolescence, and my eyebrows still haven’t recovered. I remember being 16 and setting my alarm at 5am so I could remove all my hair and make myself somewhat ‘beautiful’ before school. I have painful memories of trying to wax my bikini line at home and ending up no smoother but with a sore area between my legs and sticky wax all over me.
What a load of tosh. What a waste of time.
I realised after a while, no-one cared about how hairy I was, but me. And I only cared because of a few mean juvenile boys who had nothing better to do, because of all the blonde hairless women in magazines, and because of my mum.
Now, my mother is blonde, and petite and I look nothing like her. She has far less body hair than me, and still she gets rid of it. Her beauty routine is extensive and I spent many hours as a child, subconsciously, and then consciously watching her do her make up, her hair, take a bath and so on.
And so I began to believe that this was necessary for women to feel beautiful. For her it was – and is – and that’s great (mum, if you ever read this, I don’t blame you!) But I’ve since realised that it was damaging to me to believe I couldn’t go out without make up, or take a bath without shaving my legs. There is a huge societal pressure to look ‘perfect’. To be a woman and have any amount of armpit hair is odd at best, and repulsive at worst. We get told we must be slim, but curvy and beautiful, and strangely that we must also be as hairless as my infant daughters.
I don’t want my girls growing up with the belief they must shave. Or wear make up. Or wear pink. ‘Progressive’ parents spend a lot of time thinking about gender neutrality in terms of toys and clothing. But there are other things – like always shaving, and always wearing make up, that might be just as damaging. I think in all things parenting, we should lead by example.
I love to do my make up. I love to wear dresses. I enjoy having clean shaven legs sometimes. But I rarely feel any pressure anymore to do any of the above. I would like to spare my daughters that angst too. Being a teenager is hard enough, without being a growing woman too, and forcing yourself to wake up at 5am after 3 hours sleep so that you can shave every inch of your body for a guy who probably doesn’t really care.
So some days I will leave my legs all furry, and my underarms unshaven. My girls will sit there in the bath and see me, and think its normal. When they inevitably ask ‘Mummy, why do you have hair there?’ I will say that it happens to everyone when they grow up. I will explain that some people like to shave it off, that some people trim it, and some let it grow, and that all of those choices are normal.
They will see me smooth too. I like to shave or wax sometimes. Veet will never be my friend, but I do enjoy the freedom of being able to decide if I want to use it or not. I want my daughters to have that same choice. I’d like them to come to me one day and say ‘Mum, I’d like to maybe try to shave my legs.’ Not because they feel they have to, or because they have seen me do it every day, day in, day out since they were born, or because they are being bullied into it, but because they feel that it is something they’d like to try.
In the mean time, I will sometimes leave my ‘pits unshaven. I will leave my upper lip unbleached (who am I kidding, I have two under 2 and no time for that s**t). I will sometimes wear make up, and sometimes I won’t. I’d like to set the example to my daughters that it is their body, and they can do as they choose.
So next time you take out the tweezers, or the wax or the concealer in front of your children, think about what you are showing them. Can they make informed choices with no example to choose from? Show them you can go to the shops without a full face on. Show them you feel comfortable enough to not shave for a month, because surely, you want them to feel comfortable with that choice too.