thank you, mara altman

by Natalie

Dear Mara Altman,

I do not write fan mail. I am not a fan mail type of person. However, in your case, I have decided to make an exception, because somehow you managed to put my own experiences down on paper, and make them sound hilarious. I have even pondered the notion that perhaps we are twins. The fact that you were born in California, and I in Virginia, has done little to deter me from the belief that we were separated at birth. The book you wrote, Bearded Lady, could very well have been taken from my own stream of consciousness. I instantly felt as if I had known you my entire life. Here was a fellow woman suffering from body hair, and willing to write about it.

My own nightmare with hair began in the fifth grade, when my friend Rachel pointed out that I had a moustache. I called this to the attention of my mother, demanding to know why she had not told me sooner. Her reply? “I was waiting for you to notice.” Thanks, Mom. A waxing session later, I become acquainted to what would soon become a weekly ritual. My moustache under control, and my legs missing large chunks of skin due to my inability to weild a razor, I did not do battle with my body hair again until the ninth grade. This was when I realized (probably while changing for gym class) that the other girls were not growing a jungle under each arm in which it looked as if the Vietcong could stage guerilla warfare. My mother, who is hairless, in complete ignorance of how genes can be passed onto her offspring, married my father (whom we call The Missing Link) and was now coming to terms with the fact that she had spawned a furball. She suggested that I try waxing. The lady at the salon told her that I should let the jungle grow wild for two weeks, at which point I could come in and they would try to saw their way through with a machete. At least that’s what I heard.

My suspicion that two weeks was far too long were confirmed when we went to the salon. After taking one look at me, the salonist shuddered and only said, “Oh honey.” After informing me that the hair folicle weakens after being repeatedly ripped out, she reassured me that after five years of waxing I may begin to look normal. Since then, in utter fear of reversing the effects of waxing, I have only shaved my armpits in dire situations. Other teenagers worked to buy clothes. I worked in order to wax. Every two weeks I would spend $20 to have the women at the salon do battle. I’m pretty sure they would draw straws whenever they saw me walk in.

You brought my personal experience with hair from a horror into a laughable every-woman reality. I too have random chin hairs. So did one of my roommates.  I will forever remember the day where, in preparation for a picnic during prime sunlight hours with her boyfriend, she lay on her bed as I sat over her and tweezed every last hair off her neck and chin.

I cheered for you when you wrote of wanting to give women with moustaches ten dollars so they could go fix their appearance. I laughed out loud when you wrote, “Even though I have weird hairs, I couldn’t help but be judgemental about other women’s weird hairs.” Unlike you, however, I have never struggled, not even for a moment, with thinking that we should accept ourselves as we are. Instead, sometimes I tend to go a bit too far, viewing myself as the savior for women with hair everywhere. I have bleached, waxed and counseled numerous friends. I have pondered how to best approach strangers who are in dire need of my assistance. Female body hair, it turns out, is the only thing that can render me speechless.

My roommate and I were standing in line somewhere on campus, and she was going off about professors who discriminate against students who hold certain political views. I was politely nodding, biding my time until I could pay my term bill, happy she was willing to keep me company in line. Apparently I was not the only one engaged in listening to her speak, because after she made a rather outlandish claim, a voice piped up behind us, “That’s not true.” We both turned around. And stared. She recovered before I did, which is to say that she recovered, and I simply stood there with my mouth open. Standing before me was a woman. With a beard. This was not peach fuzz. It looked as if it could give my 19 year old brother some serious competition. Then the questions started forming in my mind. Did she not know? Did she not care? Did she pretend it wasn’t there? I had to know. But before I got my chance, the conversation was over. I barely managed to stammar out a goodbye before looking at my roommate, completely traumatized.

I spent well into the next day lamenting that I had not saved this poor woman from her fate. My roommates staged an intervention. They sat me down and explained that it was not my job to save everyone in the world from body hair. She would figure it out on her own. I wasn’t convinced. I schemed about where I would find her again on campus, and how I would begin a conversation that would somehow end at the salon. In my mind I became her savior, the champion of the bearded woman, the one who would somehow turn her whole life around. She’d have a marriage proposal within a year. Undeterred, I told my roommates that somehow, on our campus of 30,000 students, I would find her.

I thought about this woman non stop for a week. I was becoming obsessed. And then I got my chance. I walked out of the women’s room in the student center about a week later, and there she was. And again, all I could manage to do was stare. It. Was. Gone. Questions began to formulate in my mind. How did she do it? Did she wax? Shave? Oh God, what if she shaved? I stared for so long that she turned and stared back. “Do I know you?” she ventured. I stammered out, “No, no no,” and ran away, clutching my phone in ecstasy. It was gone! I texted my roommates,  relieved the fates had brought us together, and I could be at peace.  I didn’t even know her name, but I felt we had been in this together. I counted the removal of her beard as a small victory, one that we could both share, woman vs. hair. That it was not my own hair did not matter. I felt as if I had willed the universe to bring this woman to take action against her hair. For that afternoon, we had won. The world had one less hairy woman!