I was seven years old the first time a boy pointed out the hair on my arms. This fellow second-grader felt it appropriate to grant me several names that suited this physical trait: a sasquatch, a yeti, a “he-she,” and his favorite, a “man-woman.” I would learn years later, that he, in his cruel, ignorant, second-grade way, was right about those last two titles.
I was ten years old when another boy, in another state, in another school poked me and said that I had arms like a monkey; the hair was already creeping up my biceps despite puberty supposedly being years away. He still asked me to play football with him and the other boys because I was bigger than them.
I was eleven years old when another boy, in another school was playing a board game with me and cringed away from my hand when I reached for a card. He said it was gross that my knuckles had tiny hairs sprouting from them.
I was twelve years old when another boy got a dare from his friends to ask me for a kiss. He laughed at them and said they would need to pay him to get near a girl with a mustache as dark as mine.
I was thirteen when I heard the girls I was hiding from in the shower of the locker room groan about a girl on their swim team who wouldn’t shave her legs or wear shorts over her one-piece. They said they would throw up in the pool the next time they had to see her hairy legs. They didn’t shave their own, though. Their hair was fine and light and took up no space on their bodies. I stopped swimming.
My hair came to take up time and space every single day, time that could have been spent reading the books I loved or doing homework or resting or anything else was consumed by razors and shaving cream and hairs all over the bathroom that looked like spider’s legs to me. Space in my mind that belonged to facts or stories or catchy music was filled with paranoid thoughts that I had missed a spot and someone would notice.
The hair that was meant to protect my skin got stripped by bleach and wax and razors until I was covered in rashes and patches and angry red bumps.
I wasn’t out of elementary school yet when my mother stopped taking me to my favorite clothing stores. I already belonged in the junior section of stores for women. I learned from her that my too-broad shoulders that refused to fit into dresses had come from her grandmother; she used to carry hundred-pound bags on her back as she rode down from mountains to deliver food to the townspeople below.
I was in middle school when I got so sick I could barely eat or drink for a month. The fat that came from, in the opinions of others, too much rice and beans and sancocho and mangu, gave me enough protection to recover at home rather than be confined to a hospital bed.
I was in high school when I stopped wearing shorts so I could hide my thighs for not just touching but pressing together and squishing out in every direction every time I moved. My uncles lamented my girlhood for robbing them of the chance to raise a triple Aa baseball player. I broke a record for sprinting in my wellness class to make them happier.
I was fourteen when a specialist turned to my mother and solemnly told her that her daughter had as much testosterone in her system as a boy her age. Hiding between the frown on her face and the pitying look in her eyes was the condemnation that I was a threat that needed elimination. She prescribed me pills and creams my family couldn’t afford to fix me. I stopped getting them after a month.
I was fifteen when my mom took me to a consultant to discuss laser hair removal. Unwanted hair wasn’t just going to cost time of my day or space in my mind but thousands of dollars as well. We opted to start waxing me regularly until we got the money.
I was seventeen when a waxing finally made me burst into tears. My ruined skin was tired of the abuse, and it rebelled. It taught me that I could as well.
It’s been two years since I’ve taken a razor to my anything, and my skin isn’t the only thing that’s improved in that time.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that my hair, both on my head and off it, will always be dark and thick. It’s like my father’s and my grandmother’s and my cousins’ and countless other Latines around the world. I won’t ever be small, and there’s nothing wrong with taking up space. I won’t ever be quite what others expect to find in the grand scope of womanhood; my experiences are found lurking in the unexplored corners of it rather than billboards.