"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Monday, April 22, 2013

growing into growing up.

Now Playing: Over the Love by Florence + the Machine (I'll cry over the love of you)

I'll let you in on a little secret.

I don't shave my legs anymore.

That's not a strict rule; I still have a razor somewhere in my bathroom cupboard next to my weird hair potions (latest invention: rolled oats, coffee, henna, yoghurt, honey and olive oil) and my half-finished bottle of BB cream, and I still use it from time to time, and on other parts. But my legs don't need the daily scrape that they once did - I leave the house with a soft fluffy down of hair and I feel just fine; I don't feel like Chewbacca, and I certainly don't feel like any less of a woman.

I was eleven when I first put a razor to my legs, something I did behind my mother's back fuelled by a deep-seated insecurity and self-loathing that I have struggled with ever since. My mother, ever the body-positive feminist, refused to buy me razors for a long time, and even now gives me disapproving looks when I throw razor cartridges into the shopping trolley.

I know my mother was just trying to teach me a little body pride. She saw the poisonous effect of growing up with snobby rich white girls and she was trying to prevent the psychological screw over of growing up that had already set in in spite of her best efforts. I know my mother saw me for what I was; not a young woman making her own 'fuck you, this is my body' choices, I was a downtrodden bullied little girl giving herself nicks and razor burns in a doomed effort to conform. My mother grew up in a time and place where leg shaving was unheard of; to her it must have seemed the height of vanity, and I don't think she ever quite understood the importance of hairlessness that consumed year six society. Also, did I mention that for as long as I can remember my mother has been blessed with beautiful, hairless legs?

But I don't regret shaving my legs, and I don't feel guilty or un-feminist for continuing to do so from time to time. Now I've learned the hard way not to shave bone dry legs with a bone dry razor I love the silky, sensuous feeling of shaved legs; and I know when I was at the height of my body image issues it was something harmless - unlike my binge eating - that made me feel a little better. I was bullied so much for my hairy legs that shaving them was a proactive solution to quiet down some of the talk that was dragging me into depression; when I was eleven I simply didn't have the capacity to hold my head high and be myself, and I couldn't have grown into that when I was being constantly picked on and put down. If I had never found that razor, never done it continually for years on end, I never would have weaned myself off the need for baby smooth skin.

I've grown into the kind of person who is brave enough to show herself to the world, warts and all; Year twelve was a particularly memorable year of eating in class with a totally bare face and greasy ponytail and I still managed to excite the teenage boy imagination. Part of the process of becoming comfortable with myself and who I am was conforming when I was younger, to enjoy the brief respite from the pressures of growing up that it provided, and later to go above and beyond that. I know when mothers are horrified that their baby girls are shaving and plucking and smearing their faces with too much makeup they're terrified that they're growing up too fast; but really, that eleven year old obsession with cherry chapstick is the height of childhood, not the end. Most girls in our society go through that time, that time when they don't feel good enough, that time when they go to any lengths to make themselves look like the popular girls at school and the airbrushed models on magazines, and it doesn't do anyone any favours to become yet another enemy, yet another person who doesn't understand.

When I look after my baby cousins, as I wearily sit out tantrums over the most petty things, I wish they could just see things from my point of view - Mummy's not going to run away if you have a nap, and the world will not end if there were only four instead of five chicken nuggets. But I know I only think the way I think because a not very long time ago in the galaxy of right here I was once like them, and I grew out of it. Children grow out of being children if you let them have their golden age of princesses and pirate ships. And Venus razors.

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