Summer is here, and so are the haters. As the temperatures rise, so do people’s expectations of our bodies and behaviors, of what we can wear and what we should hide. Society has taught us that there is a certain aesthetic to a “summer body”, but what are all other bodies supposed to do during the season then? Hide and wait for fall to begin?
This summer I choose to stop hiding.
From my body hair, to the way my tummy tucks out of my pants, folks always seem to be genuinely surprised by the appearance of these traits, when honestly I am fat and hairy year round. I don’t hide it in the winter, and I don’t want to hide it in the summer.
Truth is, I wear this body everyday, no one knows my body better than me. No one loves my body better than myself.
This summer I am choosing to wear that self-love on my sleeve, to take the affirmations that I chant daily in front of the mirror to the streets. I deserve love. I deserve appreciation. My ancestors prayed so hard for my existence, it is my duty to honor this body.
I wasn’t always this free, or this loving. Growing up with a father whose skin was lighter than mine and a step mother who did not know how to “handle” my hair, meant love was a challenging thing. A look back at my high school yearbooks shows a shy teenager whose hair went from straight to wavy to pulled back, to graduating with a cap barely fitting over a fro; always in contrast to my mostly middle class white suburban classmates. At fifteen I was pulled aside by a teacher and asked if I knew what a bra was, at seventeen my family had decided that maybe I just needed to skip a few meals, and stopped serving me dinner as often. At nineteen I found a love for running, a love that would carry me into my first half-marathon, and eventually away from the toxic environment I had grown up in. When I run, I feel free, as if my legs could carry me everywhere, even to the sky. There is something powerful about seeing my big hairy legs pump and flex and go and go and go.
How could I not love them? How could I not love this body that has survived so much?
Looking back at the pictures before my father took custody of me and my brother, I see a smiling brown child who had a love for both dresses and crop tops. My mother loved to play with my hair, and it was often up in a variety of styles: pony tails, braids, all adorned with clips and pins of the colors of the rainbow. It was my mother who has constantly instilled in me this sense of self appreciation and respect. Because of her advice my hair is happy and healthy. However, my body is hairier than others.
I choose to love my mother because I choose to love myself
“Can I please trim those?” She exclaimed on Christmas night as we were getting ready for dinner with the rest of our family. We had recently been reunited, a blessing brought on by a community of friends and family, and a successful visa application. Being reunited with my mother after years of separation and border trauma had not stopped us from having our own expectations. No matter much we love each other, my mother was not about to walk out of the house with a hairy chin and pits. We settled on a shirt that would cover up my armpits and she held my head as she plucked the longer hairs from my face.
My mother’s appreciation for my independence is always in competition with her unappreciation for my “radical” choices. Yet, in these past two years since our reunion, something new has brewed out of her, born out of the distance between our bodies, and the nostalgia for my childhood. She has chosen to love me for who I am, or watch me leave. Similarly I have also chosen to love her despite the traits that have been born out of the circumstances of our separation and reunion. I choose to love my mother because I choose to love myself, I see myself in her and in her ability to heal.
I choose to be dangerous
Healing is hard. Healing makes our skin vulnerable and achy, sensitive and afraid to be touched or looked at. When I first started regrowing my leg hairs after years of shaving I was surprised at how much better I felt, my skin seemed to glow with a healthy new layer of brown. Like the trees, we bloom in the spring, and we shine in the summer. Like the birds, we fly when it’s warm, and we nest when it’s not.
Reclaiming my femme identity and my body hair means cleaning out my nest and getting out my old running shoes. It means running no longer from something, but to somewhere. It means wearing the style I wore growing up but with my own spin, it means trying out the new and the old again, it means coming to terms with this broken healing body of mine. It means loving the soft vulnerable parts of myself that continued to survive in a patriarchal racist world. Because to be femme is to be an act of defiance. To be a hairy femme, is an act of danger.
This summer I choose to be dangerous, I choose to love the questionable parts of myself, the scars and stretch marks that I am not required to love, but I do. I choose to glow and love my glow, I choose to be radiant and hairy and grow. I choose to eat healthy not because I want to lose weight, but because my body deserves to be hungry for gardens and love potions. I choose to travel in my own neighborhood, hike through my own walls, and embrace myself for becoming my one true love.
More Radical Reads: 8 Things That Happened to my Body After I Stopped Shaving
How we heal together
At the end of this summer, if all goes right, I will see my mother again. We are excited to be reunited and to spend her birthday together for the first time in fifteen years. I am excited to show her the way the desert glows here, and the reasons why I have continued to stay.
I don’t know how she will feel about my summer body, this will also be the first time that we see each other without layers, and I want to go swimming with her, I want to go dancing with her, I want her to love me not just because I am her daughter but because I love me. I love me so hard and so deep and maybe what she will see instead of someone who is irrational is someone who is tired of a world that told them that their happiness was wrong. Maybe she will see the way my hairy legs walk with more confidence than ever before. Maybe she will see me like I see me.
And then, maybe we can heal.
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[Feature Image: A photo of a person with long wavy, curly dark hair. The photo shows the person’s mouth and upper torso. The hair covers the chest. Source: Gisela Giardino]