The phrase “the big change” infuriates me. This is because I’m going through “the big change” and do not want the confusion of my mind and body to be transparently plastered to my face. I avoid seeming intrigued by this concept, afraid that it will only expose my body’s surrender to puberty.
People are eager to talk about what will happen to me physically, but there seems to be no one bombarding me with tips on how to deal with these changes, no adults readily volunteering their advice on how to maintain my identity, while everything I know myself to be is changing in front of a mirror.
Certainly no one tells me about how it will change my perception of myself, or how my body and my confidence and my sexuality will soon be directly correlated. Until this big change, my relationship with the opposite sex has had little to do with the body.
The “big change” brings about a complexity so foreign, that I will not comprehend its work until the words are quite literally spelt out for me. This complexity is uncertainty, because for me, puberty comes along with the push to conform and change for the opposite sex, pressures I will soon face.
I begin puberty early, not like the girls who have their periods before they know what the blood coming from them is, but early enough to feel an uncomfortable combination of horror and exhilaration for what is happening to me.
My first encounter with puberty is hair, sprouting from my armpits like grass flowers and soon after, appearing between my legs. I immediately know what to do about my armpits. I call my mom and beg her to buy me an electric razor.
“As long as you don’t shave your legs”
An agreement I’ll break.
My pubic hair, however, entrances me. It casts a spell on me. I don’t want to get rid of it; I have no reason to believe I should. I wear it proudly as a visible signifier of my maturity, of my transition into a sexual being, who is shedding her girlish ways. Women have pubic hair and now I do. I feel mature, and more remarkably, I feel alluring.
Pubic hair is the only part of puberty that doesn’t strike me as difficult, the only part of puberty that’s consistent. It’s hair; it doesn’t hurt like my growing breasts, doesn’t require the purchase of new clothing like my expanding hips, it doesn’t show on my face like a reoccurring zit. Pubic hair is like a comfortable secret that only I know about.
I’m older now. It’s my fifteenth birthday and I’m going to a house party. With the sneaky execution that teenagers are forced to master, I’m dropped off at this party, unbeknown to my parents that they are leaving me at a house lacking adult supervision, but plentiful in teenagers, booze, pot and a hot tub.
I’m the only younger girl at this party because I’m the only younger girl who has been called up by the likes of older peers. I’ve earned my status among their kind because I’m confident. I’ve never shown doubt or fear on my face, and can talk my way in or out of any situation. The biggest insecurity I’ve experienced in my newly achieved fifteen years of life, is the fear of someone not laughing at my jokes.
My girlfriends and I gather, surrounded by the air of mischief that follows teenagers around like an orbit. We are young girls and that is our power, irresistible to the opposite sex because of the mysterious changes that have recently fallen upon us. I no longer roll my eyes at the idea of this “big change”. I use it as a weapon. It’s lethal, even without action, which I have never taken. We drink and smoke and move our limbs to bad music.
“If you drink in the hot tub, you get more drunk.”
It’s settled. Ten of us strip down to our underwear.
I don’t think twice about doing this. I don’t think twice about my body. I don’t think twice about the underwear I’m wearing, which are white, cotton, and full-bottomed; the number seventy-four vaguely painted on them, worn away from multiple cycles through the washer and dryer.
We get into the hot tub. We drink. We get out.
I stand up to remove my buzzing limbs from the hot tub. I grab a towel. I dry off and put my clothing back on, struggling the way you do when reapplying jeans to partially wet legs.
I’m ready to immerse myself back into the social crowd, when I hear a familiar voice in my ear; it’s him. He’s not only my friend, painfully attractive, and at the top of the social food chain, but also the object of my one-sided affection.
“You need to shave, dude.”
His words run through my ear. My careless laughter is used as a tool to fill the time between when he says them, to when I understand them, allowing my brain to make the connections. He was in the hot tub. A ball of horror wedges itself in the back of my throat and for a moment I can’t breath.
He’s trying to let me in on something that I’m outside of, making sure I’ll do what is necessary to prevent another embarrassment caused by my indiscretion.
The party goes on and even though I drink and laugh, I’m not there. I begin to feel increasingly insecure about my body, about my lack of knowledge in the realm of what is right and wrong, sexy and gross, in the eyes of the opposite sex.
I go home, replaying his words over and over again in my mind.
My pubic hair? Shave my pubic hair?
I realize my white, cotton underwear, upon getting wet, transformed into a glassy peep show, inviting everyone in the hot tub to see my bush.
It isn’t horrific that everyone has seen my pubic hair, it’s horrific that I’m faced with the reality of my situation: pubic hair is gross, guys do not like girls with pubic hair, and I did not know this. I feel naive, embarrassed that the concept of female pubic hair is so distasteful and I’ve been walking around with it, proud of it, unaware of my ignorance towards what seems to be an obvious female standard.
I call an older friend.
“Do you shave your bush?”
“Ew, obviously? You do, right?”
I call a friend my age.
“All the older girls shave their bushes. Do you?”
I’m nervous that she might be one step ahead of me.
The wheels are turning in her head, too.
I feel even more defeated. I’m supposed to be the girl who is older than my age, who’s wise beyond her years, but here I am, at par with my fourteen-year-old best friend.
I go to bed, but lie awake tormented by the awareness of my stupidity. I feel dirty, like I’ve been committing a crime. My pubic hair’s fate has been decided.
I wake the next morning and cut my pubic hair until it is short enough to shave. I don’t stop until I’m completely bare; completely without the patch of hair that less than twenty-four hours ago, acted as my badge of pride, my secret comfort, my sexuality, and my validation of womanhood.
I look at myself in my full-length mirror, my eye drawn immediately to my breasts, instead of swaying somewhere between them and the dark triangle that used to live between my legs. I smile. Now I am a woman. Now I am sexy.