It was English class, 6th grade, in Miss O’Brien’s class. Two kids sitting across the table from me were looking at me, snickering and pointing, in that way 6th graders do. Paranoid, I asked then what was wrong and they wouldn’t tell me. Finally a girl named Emily took pity on me, leaned over, and told me the other kids were laughing at fuzzies of hair growing out of my little 11-year-old armpits. Hair which, honest to God, I’d never noticed before.
And that was the day I learned most women shaved their legs and armpits.Mom never mentioned anything to me about shaving my legs or my armpits and neither did my three older sisters. Mom talked to me about my menstruation, they all took me shopping for my first bra—but a shaving conversation never happened.
As it shouldn’t have had to, right? In their defense, I was a tomboy up until about 8th grade who assailed all girly stuff as “prissy.” Any incidence of someone trying to do my hair or put makeup on me was met with shrieks and teeth gnashing—no exaggeration. I didn’t care about shaving my legs or armpits (or braiding my hair or painting my nails), so I didn’t “need” to know how to do it. I don’t blame them for not bothering. That is, I didn’t blame them until Emily gave me the lowdown that I was the freak show of 6th grade English.
As an adult, I can appreciate how Mom let me be my own person and didn’t try to force any of this “prissy” stuff on me. I know Mom wanted me to like playing dress-up but, In any case, I’m lucky that when I played in a construction site and came home with my sneakers caked in mud, Mom was just happy that I’d had a good time. She never taught me
As for how I faced the jerks in 6th grade? I never asked Mom or my sisters how to shave; the prospect was just too embarrassing. (Also: we’re WASPs. We don’t talk about anything, ever.) I poked around the bathroom by myself and shaved my legs and armpits with a little plastic razor I found, which probably belonged to my dad. I had no idea what I was doing, used soap instead of shaving cream and bloodied my legs so bad that I wrapped toilet paper around them like a tourniquet. (Did we not have any Band-Aids or what?) Of course, the tourniquet-thing unraveled and came out of my pants leg, trailing a ream of bloody toilet paper behind me.
Hmm. Maybe Mom should have taught me how to shave my legs after all.