When I got a tattoo, a relative asked me, “What are you going to do now that you’ve ruined your body?”
That relative is no longer with us — not by my hand. But I thought the question was interesting, because according to many people for most of my life my body had already been ruined.
I’ve had chronic cystic acne all over my body — yes, even on my butt — since I was twelve. No skin care routine aside from heavy medication can best it. People have always offered unsolicited, dermatologically novice advice for dealing with it because acne that bad was going to scar.
It did scar, and aside from one angry woman at a bus stop who yelled that I would get beaten up in prison for my acne, nothing terrible has come from it. I simply will avoid going to prison and I’ll show that lady. But my acne and the constant unsolicited comments I received about it taught me an important lesson: it’s worthwhile to look a bit weird.
Just before the beginning of the pandemic, I started growing out the hair in only one of my armpits at a time. Every four to six months I shave both and alternate which one will be the hairy one. People don’t notice when I shave both pits. Meanwhile, if I let both grow out, I notice their eyes drift to my sides whenever I raise my arms. But when only one is hairy, people blank out and ask “why?”
I started doing it to see whether I liked the sensations of a bald pit or a hairy pit better. All I discovered was that both suck. The bald one chafes and the hairy one holds dampness for way too long.
The longer I’ve done this though, the more it has offered respite from the sorts of political decisions that we have to make about our bodies. People who hate me can’t call me a hairy-armpitted feminist without stating a falsehood — one is bald. And people who like me show they’re scrutinizing my body for weirdness even if they don’t mean to. People turn both my body hair and my lack thereof into a statement. When I do both, they panic and die.
When we see someone whose body looks different, we react with uncertainty, apprehension and even fear. Ableism is at the heart of the problem. The weirder a body looks to us, the more we make assumptions about a person’s fundamental character.
I don’t care if I’ve ruined my body. I’m a thin, able-bodied white woman, and even I have to deal with other people moralizing my body’s flaws whether I’m in control of them or not. There’s no winning. Ruin your body, I say. We’re all going to die anyways, and people need to learn to mind their business.