The thing about chin hair is, as a women, you’re not supposed to have it. We grow up knowing that boys will have beards, and girls will have pretty razors, and bikini waxes that will hurt like a bastard but also induct you into the club of being a womanly badass. To a younger me female chin hair was something other people’s Nanas had (not mine, chic and sophisticated even now in her 80’s). So when Kristen Morrison walked up to me while we waited for the bus one afternoon in grade seven, pointed, and said both to me, and to the gaggle of girls in conversation around me “what’s that on your chin?” my biggest concern was that I might have some lunch on my face. Kristen reached out, and for the first time in my life I experienced the sensation of having a thick coarse hair plucked from my body.
“Why do you have a beard hair? Oh. My. God. You’re a MAN. You guys, Tifereth has a beard and is probably actually a man.”
For an adolescent athlete with more muscle than the average pubescent boy, the revelation that I was growing hair in places reserved for men came as yet another blow to my flagging self-confidence. When I arrived home I ran to the mirror, frantically scanning for any sign of wayward body hair. I already shaved everything from the chin down, was I going to have to start shaving my face too? How was I going to break the news to my family that they needed to start buying me face razors? Filled with trepidation I went to my mother, expecting to be whisked off to the doctor, to Sick Kids hospital, or a barber, someone, anyone, any professional! Instead she just laughed.
“Sweetie, you’re a Ward woman, you’ve got the Ward thighs too. Wales was cold, we were bred pale and strong and hairy. It’s a pain but you get used to plucking. We’ll get you some tweezers, and we can take care of your eyebrows too. The nail salon on the corner does waxes if you’d rather do that.
I cursed my Welsh heritage. I cursed their sheep, and their cold wet winters, and every one of my female descendants for passing on their defective hairy faces and well muscled thighs. And I plucked. Oh, I was vigilant. Every morning searching out the roots of the little buggers, relishing when I pulled them (I imagined screaming) from their follicles. As my sport career took off and I began looking to the Olympics I balanced my increasingly masculine physique with extra attention paid to making my face as feminine as possible. I would be beautiful despite my tragic genetic shortcomings. Those chin hairs didn’t stand a chance.
Until, in June of 2008 I suffered a complete mental breakdown.
I developed Dermatillomania, an anxiety disorder similar to OCD, characterized by the obsessive need to pick at one’s skin. Almost overnight I went from being the girl with the flawless face, to the girl with what appeared to be acne, to the girl who’s face was covered in open sores.
The summer of 2008, I left my house three times. Twice were for doctors visits, the other time was to be dragged to the zoo by my mother, face slathered in makeup and shielded with a cap. In the years that followed I watched frozen in apathetic depression as the life I had so carefully constructed crumbled around me. Too anxious to leave the house, my Tae Kwon Do career ended. I failed the courses I signed up for- I couldn’t bring myself to face my peers knowing the radical change in my appearance would no doubt fill them with the disgust and contempt I’d been fleeing from since grade school. I gained 50 pounds. In the midst of all this, my chin hairs grew out. I let them. I lay on my bed, gouging my face to the bone and occasionally would feel one of them brush against my fingertips. I didn’t care- I’d let all of my body hair grow out. Nobody was getting close enough to my face to see them anyways, and if they did, what are a few hairs when you already look like a leprosy suffering meth-head?
Eventually, I gained enough control of my anxiety to begin small forays out into the world. I even found a boyfriend in a high school acquaintance I’d kept in touch with online. Yet the chin hairs stayed. I was damaged, and so was he. Our toxic co-dependence kept us from even the smallest self-improvement, because who did we think we were, making ourselves too good for the other? My chin hairs lingered on, even after I began shaving my armpits for him. Covered by my makeup, they were barely noticeable against the cavernous holes in my face, the areas that looked like road rash mixed with infected cigarette burns.
It took me two years to end things, to decide that mutual destruction was no longer an attractive option. For a further year and a half I wallowed in an on again, off again relationship with my tweezers and self-pity. Alternating between months of crippling depression and hairiness, to months of wild drug abuse, partying, and furious plucking and waxing. Twice I bottomed out, becoming the walking cliché of the girl in long sleeves covering stitched up forearms.
I was still riding the high of pseudo-successful self-mutilation when I met my current boyfriend and Owner. The morning of the bondage photo shoot I’d scheduled with him on a whim, I plucked my chin hairs and cut the 8 stitches out of my arm. I remember washing the stitches along with the chin hairs and all my other bodily hair down the drain, noticing as I did so that you couldn’t really tell the hair from the wiry thread. I was curiously numb during that first shoot as he tied me, took my picture, and fucked me, taking more pictures after all was said and done. It was only when he told me to stop posing, to lie there “like a girl who’s just let a stranger bind her and fuck her” that, for the first time since I’d sliced open my arm two weeks prior I felt something stir inside of me. I felt like I’d been given the opportunity to openly flaunt what damaged goods I was. I stopped worrying at that moment about whether or not the light was highlighting the picked at areas of my skin. He could have been photographing those chin hairs for all I cared. It wouldn’t have mattered. He wanted to see the kind of girl that gets fucked by strangers, and here I was giving it to him in all the broken glory I could muster.
We’re still together, him and I, exploring the joys of what being Master and slave, Owner and property can bring. I pluck my chin hairs again, every few days. I also now brush and floss regularly, get haircuts, care for my skin. I exercise. I take pride in being the very best slave I can be. It fills me with joy to see his face light up when my skin is looking better, when the dishes are done to perfection. Hearing “good girl” motivates me to better myself. This is my dirty little secret too- its all for him. Everything. All of the amazing, radical 360 degree change for the better I’ve made in the year and a half we’ve known each other, everything at its core has been to please him, to be better for him, to make him proud. So what does that say about me?
I’ve wielded my tweezers to fit in, and in a desperate attempt to feel more feminine. I’ve shelved them to enhance my own sense of victimization, and to derail my own healing process so another wouldn’t have to feel shame over his own lack of personal growth. I’ve plucked again in an effort to fit an ideal I entirely imagined another person desiring. My chin hairs have been at the mercy of my profound lack of positive self-image since that very first one, plucked by another while in line for the bus. I can honestly say I have never once looked at them without feeling shame, burning with humiliation, or reveling in my constructed apathy.
My chin hair does not define my femininity. It does not inform my decision to feel shame or humiliation - those emotions have their place, but not here, not directed towards my body. I’m not sure yet where my chin hair fits into my bourgeoning concept of self. Whether I’ll ever be able to honestly say, to love me is to love my hair, I don’t yet know. But I do like to think that one day Ill be able to make the decision to pluck or grow those hairs from a place of self-acceptance.
To love myself is to take ownership of this stubble I sprout, and with ownership comes responsibility. A good Owner acts with a deft hand to guide his property. The very best I can wish for my chin hair and me going forward, I think, is the wisdom to guide my property. Guide these contentious hairs with a steady, occasionally tweezer wielding hand, and a smile for my past and for Kristen, made no less beautiful for the stubble beneath it.