Jewish, Female and Hairy in Japan

Before a wedding in which I was bridesmaid, the bride advised I shave my arms. I politely declined and tried to burnish more of a tan. That helps. Gosh, I could still burn with embarrassment, reliving this. I’m horrified, too, about shaving.  Mine would be the body that produces some terrible stubble, even though I have some friends, of varying descents, who love shaving their arms and just glide that razor, wrist to elbow or shoulder, everyday. Ugh. That sounds terrible, a jail time I’m just not comfortable serving. In this day and age, I still can’t believe certain friends still suggest shaving.

The obvious thing is to check into lasering, taking it off with a beam. I would have, should now, maybe, if we had discounts on that here, if I didn’t have a daughter who already has her own thick hair coming in; I would, if it weren’t so expensive. And yet, here I am, complaining and letting this be the one tripping feature that gets in the way of me feeling sexy, pretty, and feminine. Nothing should get in the way of me being bold. I’d wear dresses with peekaboo cutouts. I’d wear more lingerie, go strapless, and without shame. I’d stomp on the need to adhere to some normative beauty code, but hey, I’d already be fixed. 

I bleached in middle school, since middle school I think, with that Sally Hanson stuff. Who knows how many baby tubs of that white stuff I’ve mixed with the baby spatula. How many brain cells I’ve offed to lighten my load of arm hair. Now with two children and limited brain activity, I can’t seem to lock myself in the bathroom for glorified Clorox spackling. (Though I do like how the mixture becomes a layer of clouds as it nears time for rinsing).

I think smooth is beautiful, in any culture. Unless, maybe, if you are of the culture of burning bras and using coconut oil for deodorant on your very hairy pits. If this is you, then just consider speaking French as it lends itself to a certain, oh I don’t know, something very sexy-cool, “Who are you even, to climb up my tree” sort of vibe. And then you’d have to start smoking skinny cigarettes or be into Beat Poets and look like François Hardy. Otherwise, we should totally find some Groupon together and step into now. Right now. 

I guess I’ll own this thing called, “We don’t all look the same,” or “Hey, I’m ethnic,” and I even try to fling out the words, “Who said there is one kind of beautiful?” from my bleached-out brain. Truth is, I believe my beauty would be enhanced without teddy bear arms and tikes calling me out for letting arm hair exist. What do we do and how do we draw the line when there is a cost to removing that which we don’t want to call “mine”?

Like I said, my daughter will be the same as me. Probably. I never even wanted to wear my hair up in ballet bun, thinking how the other dancers would be staring at the darker hairline that seemed to trail from the nape of my neck. I’d forever bleached the small of my back in bikini season, and that was always, as I grew up in south Florida. I thought about how to stand on the beach, next to boys, as if I were a mini cardboard cutout on a stage, always turning so they couldn’t see behind. This thing has never been okay. 

Unlike many girls (I’ve heard it’s a Jewish thing) who get the nose job around sweet sixteen or high school graduation, I’ve always loved my nose. Back before there was such a thing as laser hair removal, that’s what I would have wanted. I’d have babysat for years. I’d have even tossed around the idea of eloping if it meant I’d be able to honeymoon sans any hair, save a glossy coif. I’d gamble away investments if I could end this now. 

Perhaps fitting is my husband’s hair specs. He is perhaps one of the smaller percentage of Japanese men who actually have body hair. As a preteen living in the US, he visited his Grandmother in the Japanese countryside of Shizuoka. She pulled his leg hair and actually asked, “What is this?? Kore nanda?” She had never before seen body hair—not on legs, anyway. 

Looking at myself, I ask that, too—what is this and what am I supposed to do? It is a choice  about identity. It is one of the lenses through which I view beauty and also the way some part of it runs, elusive, away from me. If only I felt I needed a nose job, maybe. 

How much am I willing to spend on changing myself, on showing my daughter a way of cutting off what we don’t feel belongs. Perhaps it would be yen well-spent. Perhaps it would lead her to feel less comfortable in her own skin later. If I say, “This is how G-d, our holy and perfect G-d created me,” and then I change it, what then? I guess there’s always bleach for something temporary. Or long sleeves or pretending it doesn’t matter. Or standing up straight and simply not letting it cloud my view of beauty, not letting it deride or define my femininity. 

Maybe it will be when my daughter turns 16. Or 18. Or after her first child. Maybe I’ll unzip the former body and step-out, sinuous and smooth. By that time, maybe, I’ll have launched towards that part of menopause, the good part, where chin hairs fall out and your whole body stops manufacturing so much freaking testosterone, you are finally okay, save for night sweats and everything going bonkers.

So never mind. Maybe let’s seize the day.