On the first warm day of third grade, everyone wore shorts. All the girls in my class were excited to show off their new summer outfits, denim shorts and colored tank tops.
Dark complected, with dark features, I was aware that I had an unusual amount of body hair. My arms and legs were clearly hairier than everyone else’s–boys and girls. Scared that I would be made fun of at school, I opted to wear pants and long sleeves until the heat was no longer bearable.
The bell rang, and it was time for recess. My first day wearing shorts for the season, I wandered outside to the playground, which filled up with my classmates, the fourth graders, and the fifth graders. Older kids were always intimidating, as they seemed so much bigger and “cooler.” I was standing under a tree, and I remember hearing something that I hoped I misunderstood. But, then giggles and snickers confirmed that whether or not I misheard their words, it was evident that they weren’t kind.
“You look like a monkey you’re so hairy,” one of the fifth grade boys yelled. I crumbled, cheeks turned red, and I cringed. And, as if I may not have heard it the first time, another kid had to repeat it, but even louder the second time. I was mortified. And, at that moment, I hated my body, the hair that was on it, and myself.
Why couldn’t I be like everyone else? Why couldn’t I have light blonde arm hair that barely showed when wearing short-sleeved shirts? In third grade, nobody shaved their legs yet. Even some girls in fifth grade didn’t need to shave theirs yet, either.
But, there I was. A third grader being bullied and teased for body hair; something I was born with and couldn’t help. I was so embarrassed that day on the playground, that from that point on, I couldn’t help but become so focused on how I would hide it or how I could change it. I was jealous of every other girl who was blessed with a light coating of body hair, or barely any at all. I was obsessively self scrutinizing myself in mirrors as I studied the abnormal amount of hair I had covering my arms and legs.
I became the first girl in my class to shave my legs. It was a necessity as I continued getting made fun of for this distinctive feature. And, it became so bad that finally in ninth grade, I shaved my arms, too… a move I have had to since maintain as the alternative would be much worse at this point.
Clearly, as a society, body hair is not considered to be a sign of beauty. For girls and women, it is looked upon as manly, gross, and unattractive. Now, even men are feeling pressure to be “hairless,” or shave their chests.
Kids can be so cruel. Obviously, even elementary students have a grasp on how society defines beauty. And, when ones don’t fall into the ideal body type, they get bullied. And, being bullied leads to negative body image. And, negative body image leads to eating disorders.
Those fifth graders probably don’t know the amount of damage they did to me that day on the playground. But, if we, as a society, emphasize the importance of character over appearance, and expand our definition of beauty, then bullying someone for how they look will be a thing of the past. And, that is my ultimate goal. Because I would never want another third grade girl to feel how I did that day.