Keeping up appearances in hairy situations

Summer is in full swing here in Montreal, which means the season of sleeveless tops and cute shorts has arrived. I’m going to let all the menfolk in on a little secret: all that lovely smooth skin you see everywhere during the summer months doesn’t just magically happen overnight. For most ladies, getting rid of hair and peach fuzz isn’t just a weekly or bi-weekly ordeal. It’s an obsession – to the point where whole aisles are dedicated to the pursuit of achieving baby-soft, silky-smooth bodies DIY-style in addition to such services being offered at pretty much every salon and spa in the city. And with so many options available, it’s no wonder that beauty bloggers and vloggers flood the interwebs with reviews on all of these products and services.

Somewhere in the plethora of hair removal products and techniques there’s an effective solution for every woman. From investing in electrolysis treatments to just not giving a care about body hair, every woman I know has her own way of handling body hair.

Unfortunately for me, I still haven’t found the perfect, 100% foolproof routine for all the hair I’ve got from the nose down. My main problem is that I have very fair skin covered by very dark hair in a few different textures on my body, and on top of that I’m one of those women who just want pretty much everything from the nose down to be perfectly smooth. For every area where I’ve wanted to get rid of unwanted hair, I’ve needed a different method…which means I’ve had a few experiences with hair removal that maybe didn’t quite turn out how they were supposed to.

Like that one time when I decided to throw out the razor for my underarms and wax them instead. So, out came the large wax strips for the dreaded armpit tape-and-tear. What followed next was not worth enduring ever again because when a wax strip leaves so much wax behind that you end up sealing your arm shut to your body you really end up questioning your intelligence and sanity. Yes, you read that right: after removing the wax strip, I put my arm down and promptly sealed it shut at the armpit…as in, I could not move my upper arm at all. It looked like I was halfway out of a straitjacket and dancing the funky chicken as I panicked in my tiny bathroom. I ended up having to lie down on a towel on the bathroom floor with a kitchen funnel stuck in between my arm and my body, pouring shower oil into my armpit in the hopes that it would help. In the end, it did work and I didn’t have to use deodorant that day because that shower oil smelled amazing…but will I ever put a wax strip near my underarms ever again? Aw, hell no. Any kind of oil is too expensive to be used on a regular basis in this fashion, especially when it smells really nice and comes from some exotic country.

My arm hair is particularly dark but very fine so you’d think wax would be highly effective here. But this is me we’re talking about here and I only narrowly avoided repeating the great armpit incident when I attempted to wax away my arm hair. Enter the era of the epilator, whose motorized wheel of hundreds of tweezer heads evokes images of the Sarlaac. While it is highly effective – I still use this on my arms and on my upper lip – it hurts. It’s more irritatingly painful than getting inked, and when it’s yanking out hair on sensitive areas like inner arms and upper lips, you can’t really help but whimper. The good thing is that it’s louder than a machine gun so nobody will hear you express your pain and anger at this highly effective tool. (However, if you live with guys like I did when I first used my epilator, you might walk out of your room or bathroom to a living room of very odd glances and awkward silences.)

The first time I had my eyebrows threaded at a salon, it hurt so much that I cried and ended up looking like a wet raccoon. Luckily the aesthetician was very nice and redid my eye makeup for me, but it was still pretty embarrassing. I wasn’t ugly-crying in the middle of the salon, and I wasn’t even emotionally distraught when I walked in. However, threading hurts like a bitch. And public tears are always awkward, and there’s no way to make them any less awkward whenever they do happen for whatever reason, even if the reason is because you’re trying to look good for a date. But wait, there’s more! In an attempt to avoid a repeat performance at the salon, I went on YouTube to watch tutorials on threading your own brows at home. An hour later, a mild string burn on my fingers and my forehead and lopsided eyebrows were all I had to show for my efforts. I guess there are some indignities through which we must suffer in public to be beautiful, and threading might be one of them.

Then there was that time when I nearly concussed myself in an attempt to neaten up my bikini zone. Apparently posing like Captain Morgan in your tub while simultaneously doing yoga on an old bathtub mat doesn’t excuse you from the laws of physics. Luckily I wasn’t physically hurt, but even though I didn’t have an audience to witness that spectacular display of bathroom-capades my pride was significantly bruised. I still don’t vote for bush, but until I stop being such a chicken and book an appointment to get a professional wax job done I really hope the new adhesive ducks do their job.

As for leg hair…well, when you’re a girl who gets five o’clock shadow on her legs, it’s always an uphill battle. Once again, I found myself thoroughly sick and tired of always using a razor to get rid of all that stubborn leg hair. This was after the armpit waxing incident and since I don’t have thigh gaps I really didn’t want to tempt fate by buying wax strips because I was pretty sure I would end up with my legs glued shut. So, what did I try instead? That stinky, itchy, goopy stuff known as depilatory cream. I wasn’t able to do anything while I had this stuff smeared all over my legs, so I ended up lying on my bed with my legs up in the air, all the while trying to ignore the burning itch that I had to endure for the longest fifteen minutes of my life. Oh, and then when I washed it off, I realized that while itching is normal with this product, burning is not, and I had to go back to the pharmacy to get a soothing topical treatment for a mild allergic reaction to the product. Lovely.

After the struggles I’ve endured with  removing hair from my lower body, I still use a razor and shaving cream. It’s labor-intensive and has to be done frequently (though I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes putting up with a bit of stubble for one more day is highly preferable to razor burn) but I’ve come to realize that using men’s shaving products on my lady body actually works better. I think it’s because these things are designed by clever scientists to take care of Bropunzel’s facial hair. Gillette is probably the only hope I’ve got in the battle against my Amazon Bushwoman genetics. The only odd moment I’ve had with this regimen was the time a cashier asked me if I was aware that I, a female, was buying male toiletries.

Dude, after all I’ve been through in my pursuit of removing hair from all over my body, do you really think I’m okay with paying more for pink shaving cream and a matching razor to whittle it all away? But that’s a blog post for another day.

The cups runneth o’er — alas, both do!

Those of you who keep up with this blog know that I (like many other women of the current day and age) have more than one hang-up about my body – and that I recently started going to the gym at long last to try and take positive control over it.  I’m learning how to do that through a program at my gym that involves working with both a trainer and a nutritionist to learn how to combine exercise and eating to transform my lifestyle into one of healthy balance.

Having been “the fat one” for the majority of my life, I won’t deny on any terms the fact that up until now, my life has not been a healthy balance of exercise and eating.  I was never really very good at most of the team sports we were forced to play in PE class all throughout school and I also used food as an emotional crutch of sorts to make up for a lot of things that were going on in my life.

My nutritionist is big on the psychology of food – in other words, what makes us so reliant on food for more than just its nutritional value – and talking with her has illuminated a lot of interesting points in my codependent history with food.  One of the first things I realised was that my negative body image and lack of physical self-confidence is, in fact, directly related to the way I use food.

Funnily enough, it’s all down to my boobs.

Nowadays, I speak of my hefty cup size with flippant and blunt humor, but it has taken a long time for me to learn how to love my boobs.  I know it’s hard to imagine somebody not loving the fact that they have an awesome rack, but try these personal facts on for size:

  • My current cup size is not sold in regular lingerie shops
  • I didn’t reach my final cup size until a few years ago
  • I skipped the whole “training bra” stage, simply because I went from flat chest to a C-cup within a year
  • And, oh yeah, I got that first C-cup bra when I was ten

From the beginning of my school days, I was always aware that I was different.  For the first couple of years at my public elementary school, my brothers and I were among the very few dark-haired non-Caucasians in the student body.  I myself was, at the time, tall for my age (I’m five-none, which is pretty short, but when you’re that height at age nine you’re bound to stick out more than just a little), and while I wasn’t always grossly fat I was pretty sturdily-built.

When mine became literally the only pair of boobs in the third grade, the horrendous trial-by-fire known as gym class became even more of a nightmare.  From hearing the whispers from my “normal” female classmates in the girls’ changing room to the heavy dismay that settled whenever ball sports were announced (because on those days, the boys used to throw all manner of spherical athletic equipment at my chest before the teacher got mad), my boobs stuck out so much that I stuck out even more than I already did with my height and non-Caucasian face.

I had always been a big eater, but not having many friends anymore at school meant that an early childhood of energetic playing with the neighbor-kids was quickly replaced by the more solitary life brought by books, music, and art.  I was also eating more and more out of boredom and comfort than out of hunger and necessity.  Not surprisingly, it was around this time that I started gaining weight quickly.

At first, I was pretty upset about it because suddenly I was actually fat and the meaner ones in my class were pointing that out, too, in addition to everything else.  But all of a sudden I was just “the fat girl,” simply because the sudden growth underneath my C-cups had rendered my breasts entirely irrelevant.  And any woman out there with a big chest will agree with me when I say that having anything render a large cup size irrelevant has to be pretty staggeringly huge indeed.

It seemed easier to me to deal with being larger than everyone else all over than simply just in one specific area, and hiding behind food and my weight became normal for me.  It wasn’t until my long—term health became an actual issue that I actually started facing up to my responsibilities towards myself concerning food and exercise, but even with all of this new and amazing help and all of this strong motivation I have to be perfectly honest.  I have to say that those childhood experiences at school made my psychological reliance on food a lot worse than it would’ve been had I grown up with an age-appropriate body, and that it’s going to be the hardest part of this journey.

Last week, though, I think I was able to get over the first hurdle on that particular stretch.  I was attempting to use the battle ropes in the way my trainer had demonstrated to me and five other women during a group training circuit, and found doing it a hell of a lot more difficult than it looked.  Noticing my struggle, my trainer came up to me and, with a firm but gentle hand, guided my upper body into the correct position.

“Your back has to be straight,” she said.  “Straight, like the way you stand when you’re proud!  And you should be proud – proud of yourself and proud of your body.”

Later on my way out, I found that walking with anything slightly less than a ramrod-straight back made everything hurt even more than it did already, and as I stiffly walked by reception she stopped me and made me look at my faint reflection in the glass doors.

“Stay proud,” she said, “because it looks even better when you’re in normal clothes.”

The Pachyderm on my Bathroom Floor

I’ve been going to the gym for a few months, and as of now I’m one month in to an intensive training-and-nutrition program that has me there every day, Monday to Friday.  Every time I set foot inside the gym, I ask myself the same question:  When did I become a gym rat?

I have always struggled with my weight and my body image.  I’ve never been slender (just varying degrees of overweight) and I’ve never been willowy (because at five-foot-none that’s literally a tall order).  Although my university years were full of grabbing meals of convenience as I went from one class to another or between work and campus, as well as eating my feelings everywhere in between, I was surprisingly at a plateau with my weight during that time.

But when my life slowed down after I took my office job, though, the numbers on the scale began to fluctuate.  They’d go up for a couple of days, then they’d come back down.  I continued to walk everywhere, regardless of the weather, and ran whenever I could, and even though my weight didn’t fully stabilize again at least it never yo-yo’d more than a couple of pounds up and down.

In 2014 I took a two-week holiday at the tail end of an Alberta winter, during which my only walking was pretty much from the front door to my boyfriend’s Jeep.  I came back from it feeling rather proud of myself for having not fallen into bad eating habits that used to plague my holidays, but the moment I stepped on my scale I realised – pretty much for the first time – the connection between eating and exercising…because I ballooned.

I’ve ballooned before.  After my first break-up as a teenager, a few midnight snacks of Ben & Jerry’s over a couple of months very nearly ruined my prom plans.  (To this day, I refuse to have any Ben & Jerry’s anywhere in the house.)  Two years of working in a pizza shop while studying full-time had undone pretty much all of what I’d accomplished during one summer of basic training in the Canadian Forces (and that’s a story for another day).  But I hadn’t had a major ballooning for a few years, and when I saw the scale after that particular holiday I have to say that I cried.

The simple change to my routine – driving everywhere and hardly walking – had been enough to make me put on ten pounds.  Ten pounds that I’ve been struggling to shed ever since April 2014.  Ten pounds that discourage me beyond belief whenever I’ve gone clothes shopping in the last year.  Ten pounds that have made me extremely self-conscious in my best dress at more than one wedding between then and now.

I’ve always known my relationship with food resembles one of co-dependency, and my relationship with exercise has always been fair-weather.  I’ve tried a whole range of things to lose weight but nothing has ever really lasted.

Everyone who’s had a weight issue will tell you that it took a huge kick to spur them into action.  I was no different.  I was sitting in the examination room at the clinic, listening to my doctor tell me the results of the blood test she’d ordered two weeks before.  The original problem had been a long, worrying bout of amenorrhea, which had started two months after packing on those ten pounds.   Now, there were other problems – problems like the phrases “borderline pre-diabetic” and “at risk of high cholesterol.”  She wasn’t throwing these out as warnings.  She was telling me what my blood had just told her.  Then she pulled out a chart and showed me where I fell in terms of BMI.  I had never considered it before – had never classified myself as such before – but I was just over the “obesity” marker.

I’d heard those terms before, applied to various older relatives including my parents.  There were other things in the family history that she said could come about if I wasn’t careful:  hypertension, joint weakness and failure, blood clots, weak cardiovascular system.  “You’re too sedentary,” she told me as she wrote on her Rx pad.  “You have to change that right away.”

I walked out of there with two prescriptions:  one for a medication that would end the amenorrhea, and another for supervised exercise.   And that’s when I became a gym rat.

I’m not at the gym to train for mud marathons or colour runs.  I’m not at the gym to look good naked.  I’m not at the gym to fit into a single-digit size.

I’m at the gym because I have no desire to continue being a statistic for obesity and weight-related health issues.  I’m at the gym because paying for membership, a trainer, and a nutritionist is way cheaper than paying for medications and equipment for the rest of my life. I’m at the gym because I want to be healthy enough not only to have children, but to raise them and see them grow up to have families of their own.

I’m at the gym because I know the kind of life I deserve.  I owe it to myself to make sure I’m around to make it happen, and I won’t let my current weight weigh me down.

Reflecting on my Reflection

I am five-foot-none, with pale skin, big brown eyes, and hair that’s naturally dark brown (but hasn’t been “natural” for a few years now) and has a mind of its own most days.  My feet are small enough to fit in kids’ shoes, and my hands are equally tiny.  I’m a visible ethnic minority but don’t like being labelled as “exotic.”  My measurements are proportionate:  my hips and bust are the same, and my waist is 8 inches smaller than that.  Mathematically, then, I have a full-figured hourglass, and supposedly this is enviable.

Yet, as is the case with many other young women out there, I haven’t had an easy relationship with my body.

In every phase of life that I can actually remember, I’ve had one issue or another with my body.  I’d like to say that all my issues with self-perception and body image began during adolescence, because for most people adolescence lines up with puberty and all of one’s body drama (trauma?) happens at the same time everyone else’s.  For me, however this is not the case.  I was an alarmingly early bloomer:  Mother Nature dropped by for the first time when I was only seven, and by the time I was ten years old I had a cup size that most grown women I know would kill (or, at least, pay out the nose) to have.  Sure, when you’re a twentysomething neck-deep in the dating game, big boobs could be seen as an asset.  However, when you’re a ten-year-old, they’re anything but, and I suffered through puberty without any girl friends with whom I could compare concurrent notes about the whole thing.

By the time you add in the problems that arise with weight (or excess thereof) and height (or lack thereof), as well as other minor details (I don’t like my nose; I have one crooked tooth; my skin is pale but my limb-fuzz is dark; my bottom, while ample, is not perky; I am pigeon-toed…), it’s no small wonder that I had some pretty big issues with body image as a teenager.  These issues were so pervasive that makeup and clothing became things behind which I could hide.  I was obsessed with how my outward appearance fell considerably short of what I thought it should be.

We’ve all heard before that current standards of beauty are humanly impossible to achieve.  The viral mockvertisement for “Photoshop by Adobe” pokes fun at these standards, while Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign challenges us to look at ourselves honestly and lovingly.   And I am certainly not the first blogger to tell their personal “body story” or address the overall issue of body image.

This countercultural perspective is not new; it has been developing over a few years now and has even gained some footholds in popular or mainstream areas.

But the overwhelming majority of today’s media still tells us that we – as we are in our natural skins – are not enough.  Perhaps miracles will happen and in a generation or two humanity will be able to accept its inherent diversity in shape, size, weight, and colour.  But I am of a generation whose popular opinion of what “beauty” looks like or ought to look like is the direct result of a multimedia blitzkrieg that made us all buy into a world of impossible perfection.  Old-school print and television media have joined forces with the almighty Internet, and through our favourite social media we are kept in place.

Yet – even as the aforementioned countercultural movement fights for ground and even gains some here and there – emotionally, mentally, and physically, we are stuck in a culture wherein we are conditioned and conned into believing in standards of beauty that would give the ancient Greek gods a self-esteem crisis.  I mean, through my childhood and adolescence, I definitely saw myself the way pop culture made me see myself.

“Out of place” comes to mind when I reflect on the way my younger self reacted to her reflection.

So does, “Too different/short/heavy/curvy.”

Or even, “Not good enough.”

And yes, even, “Ugly.”

Then, I joined the Armed Forces.  And while I am no longer a member of the Forces, the brief time I spent as one of its Officer Cadets completely changed the way I saw the world and people around me…and the way I saw myself. Instead of being obsessed with what my body looked like, I found myself amazed at what this body – this so-called “imperfect” and “flawed” body – could actually do and accomplish.

Having this perspective means that I can look in the mirror now and see beyond not only the physical reflection, but also beyond what’s right or wrong with what makes up that reflection.

The cup size that needs its own postal code? Not only does it look pretty good in just about any T-shirt, dress, or sweater I try own, but according to my nephew and my boyfriend’s youngest siblings it also makes me “comfy-cosy” and “huggable.”

The nose that just never looked right on my face? Its shape makes it the perfect target for the cute little kisses my boyfriend likes dropping on me.

Those tiny hands can play guitar, type at 100 WPM, and write in cursive – not to mention cook, bake, and craft personalised greeting cards.  Those freakishly small feet will always be clad in super-cute shoes bought at insanely cheap sale prices.  The legs that give me a 27″ inseam might not have thigh gaps but they do not end in cankles, and in proportion to the rest of my body they are, surprisingly, on the long side.  The lack of height means I can wear impossibly tall heels and still fit into my boyfriend’s hugs.  The unruly hair that graces my head is thick and healthy without needing expensive products.  The crooked tooth goes unnoticed in the bigger picture of my smile.

It is by no means perfect, but this body can get out of bed in the morning.  It can walk, and it can run and bend and stretch and lift its way to a healthier version of itself.  One day, it will walk down a church aisle in a wedding dress.  One day, it will bear children.  One day, it will lie confined in a bed as the lines and wrinkles on my face tell my story.  And one day, it will be laid to rest.

The bottom line is, the body in the mirror might not be seen by society as beautiful in its appearance, but it is beautiful nonetheless in its abilities and potential.

And it is mine.