#MyBodyStory is a series of reader submitted pieces about what it’s like to live in your body. Because every body has a story, and every story deserves to be heard.
Do you have a #MyBodyStory to share? Send it to Story@DoTheHotpants.com
And now, here is Leah’s Body Story:
The opinions expressed in #MyBodyStory are the writer’s own.When I think about my body story, I have two main themes: Fat and Hairy.
Accepting my fat body came to me much more easily than accepting my hairy body. I remember the first moment I realized I was fat. I was in 3rd grade and it was picture day at elementary school. The school I attended at the time measured our height and weight on picture day. I remember stepping on a scale, and one adult called off my weight to the other adult who wrote it down. The adult who wrote down my weight bulged her eyes out at the number. Immediately I knew that I was “too much,” and that cemented itself into my heart and mind. This was Day 1 of being body shamed.
But my body stayed consistently fat. By 6th grade I was being bullied and teased for my weight, mostly by boys. At the time I thought I deserved it, because I knew that I was undesirable and unattractive. Around 14, I started noticing changes with my body hair that were very different from what I’d been told to expect from puberty. It started out as very fine, long facial hair on my chin and neck. The hair was blonde, so I thought no one would notice. But of course, shortly after I noticed it, someone else did too.
This memory plays like a dramatic movie scene in my head. I was in 8th grade art class and I was cleaning out a bowl in the sink. A classmate was standing next to me, and the light must have hit my face in just the right way to showcase my little blonde beard. Immediately I could feel her noticing. I watched as she walked away to her table, and I wanted to die when I saw my classmates next to her looking at me and laughing.
I certainly didn’t see any other girls in school with a beard like mine. Nor did I see women in society with this kind of hair. I felt so alone and very deeply ashamed. I just wanted to hide. While the bullying became pretty out of sight, out of mind and I just tried to fly under the radar at school, I had so much anxiety about someone else noticing my hair that I stopped participating in art class. Simply getting up from my stool to get art supplies felt like an impossible mission. Would they notice? Would they tease me? Would my teacher hear about what a freak I am? This art class was where I learned how to hide.
Over the next couple of years, my body hair started to darken and spread everywhere. I started to get more facial hair, and stomach hair, booty hair, shoulder hair, back hair….it was popping up everywhere. I was so embarrassed and ashamed of my own body that I couldn’t even tell my mom about what was happening. However, my mom eventually noticed and she took me to the doctor when I was 15. It was then that I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), and one of the symptoms is Hirsutism (excessive body hair). Unfortunately I had a rather traumatic experience with a doctor who was not very kind to me about my body hair and made me feel like a freak. That experience gave me lasting severe anxiety regarding doctors and medical professionals.
My body shame deepened as I got older. I was shaving my face daily by the time I was 16. Whenever I was going to wear ‘revealing’ clothing I would shave whatever part of my body that would be showing. I developed a rather severe case of anxiety that made it difficult to interact with people, especially strangers. I changed in the bathroom for gym class. I wore long sleeves year-round in the summer. I avoided going to the dentist and getting my haircut because it involved people being too close to my face. My day-to-day life almost became a challenging game: Get through the day without anyone noticing my hair.
A successful day was when no one would notice, but my world would crumble when people did. I didn’t date and told people it was for religious reasons, which was partly sincere, but mostly it was that I couldn’t imagine being emotionally or physically intimate with someone. I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 27 years old. I didn’t attend a 4 year university because dormitory bathrooms terrified me. I didn’t let my friends or family hug me, or when I did, I felt deeply uncomfortable.
I ended up finding the body positive movement on tumblr when I was about 25 years old. At that time this was REVOLUTIONARY to me. I remember a youtube video of a woman talking about “coming out as fat” and owning that term: Fat. I remember feeling so intrigued by her acceptance of herself, and that you could be fat but not hate yourself. A big part of the body positive movement that I found at that time was fashion-related. I saw beautiful, confident, HAPPY fat women wearing fun, fashionable, and colorful clothes. I felt so inspired! At this time my usual outfit was jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies, but I began to develop confidence with my fat body and started to explore more fashionable choices with my wardrobe. This was a bit tricky though, as I was still hiding all of my hair.
When I was 31 my anxiety about my body reached its peak. I started to have severe anxiety attacks about really basic social situations. I started to see a therapist who was the first person I opened up to about my hairy body. And soon I began to grow out my hair, except for my facial hair. A few months after starting therapy, I started an Instagram and tumblr where I posted anonymous photos which helped me see my body outside of myself, and I started to appreciate the beauty that is my body.
Not long after I started letting my hair grow out, a minivan struck me while I was crossing the street. I ended up with a really bad knee injury that required surgery and six months of physical therapy. At the time I was still struggling with anxiety about doctors and people touching me, and I was thrust into circumstances that I normally would have avoided.
But you know what happened? Nothing.
No one cared. No one bulged their eyes out at me. No one made me feel like a freak. They all treated me with compassion, respect, and understanding. I ended up developing a really wonderful bond with my physical therapist who helped show me how strong and awesome my body was. It was an awful thing to go through at the time, but also a tremendous blessing.
During my recovery from my knee injury, I immersed myself in social media accounts of women who accepted, and even LOVED, their body hair, including women with beards! I even met an amazing person who became a good friend and a huge emotional support to me, making me feel like there IS a place for me in this world and that I belong here. The combination of all these things helped me become more comfortable with my body. My especially supportive friend encouraged me to open up to other friends in my life – and I slowly began talking about and showing them my hair. This took a lot of time and was not an overnight process. I did have the occasional times where there was rapid change, and other times my progress was slow, but this year at 33 years old, I have truly broken out of my shell.
My friends, family, and co-workers all know about my hair, and I’m starting to feel proud of my unique body. I still sometimes have a more difficult time being in public by myself with my hair showing, but it’s getting better with time and ‘practice.’ For me it was truly about practicing discomfort, and seeing that not everything was going to become a traumatic event. I have to constantly remind myself that I am not a scared teenager anymore, and that I am now a beautiful and confident woman who can just be herself.
If you are learning how to accept or love your body, be patient with yourself. Find someone who you can trust to open up to about your struggles and fears and insecurities. Remember that support and time goes a long way. Trust your journey and process, and work toward accepting yourself every day, I promise it will get better.
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