Pre-race tutu selfie
Pre-race tutu selfie

I started a long post last week, intending to write to you all about the reasons I support the action that President Obama took for transgender people last week. But it’s a weighty thing, to talk about being an ally, especially when I come from a conservative background and I know that at least some of the people reading this post won’t agree with me.

And for now it’s ok if you don’t agree with me. For now. But I hope that you do agree with me. But whether you do or don’t agree, I want to make sure I get it right… want to make sure that I’m saying helpful, informed things that lift others up instead of frustrated, unbalanced things that cause more pain and suffering to those who don’t need any more pain and suffering.

So look for that post to be forthcoming, maybe even this week!

Instead, I thought I’d share a few pictures of what I did this past weekend… I ran Bay to Breakers! San Francisco has been hosting this annual race since 1911, a run from the Bay Bridge to the Pacific ocean. More people than the population of my current home town gather together each year in May to dress up in wild costumes (or no costumes at all… i.e. naked!) and run from the bridge to the sea in one giant party. It’s a hilarious event. No seriousness involved at all… although some people (cough, cough, Lauren) try to run it seriously.

 My B2B girls (aren't we cute?) and my beautiful collie (he did NOT run the race, choosing instead to take a leisurely stroll through Golden Gate Park and then bark at the B2B participants as they approached the finish line).
My B2B girls (aren’t we cute?) and my beautiful collie (he did NOT run the race, choosing instead to take a leisurely stroll through Golden Gate Park and then bark at the B2B participants as they approached the finish line).

I didn’t break any records, not even personal ones, this year on this race, but I did manage to run most of it (except for a couple of moments on Hayes Hill)… and when you count all the people you have to dodge, it’s almost 8 miles of gentle sloping running and one really horribly ridiculous hill.

Running, by the way, has proved to me that if I want to do something, if I really set my mind to it I can do it. Three years ago I was no kind of runner at all. The idea of it made me laugh. Today I’ve run a half-marathon, done Bay to Breakers three times, and am pretty certain I want to run a full marathon before I turn 40.

The other thing running has taught me is how to let go of comparison. There will always be someone out there who runs faster or further than I do. Even here in my own little town, on this very quiet street I live on, there are people who can run faster and further than me. And if I beat myself up for not being what they are, for not running at their pace or their distance, I get horribly discouraged. It can really screw up a good run if I let my inner monster tell me I’ll never be as good as the person who just breezed past me on the bike path, never mind that they’re ten years younger than me and have been running since they were a tiny child.

But, if I can keep my focus on what I am doing, on how I’ve improved over the weeks and years, then I reach the end of my run with a feeling of accomplishment and the desire to do it again. And more importantly, I can achieve the goals I set out to accomplish, instead of falling short and being eternally frustrated. So, look out marathon distance (26.2)! I’m coming for you!

I have a card on my mantle that an excellent friend of mine gave me. It contains this quote:

Dreams can change, if we all stuck with our first dreams there would be a lot of cowboys and princesses running around.

— Stephen Colbert

I was thinking back to who I wanted to be when I was young. I had a cowboy outfit, but I pretended that I was a horse a lot. I may have been a bit confused as to what states of being I would be able to achieve when I was a child. I’m sure my parents are breathing a collective sigh of relief that I didn’t actually pursue the dream of becoming a horse… I don’t think they would have been able to support that kind of alternate identity in their oldest daughter.

I haven’t always known who I wanted to be. There was a time when I knew what I did not want more clearly than I knew what I wanted. I have muddled forward in the in-between land, somewhere equidistant from the dreams of being a dolphin trainer, or a veterinarian, or a missionary and where I am now, a freelance editor who is publishing a novel this summer.

The vision I had of my future self has changed so many times over the years, sometimes as a choice made freely and gladly, and other times as a result of doors closing or more jarring and painful circumstances. Each time I lay down an old dream in search of a new one I suffer loss and the opportunities that I’m choosing to leave behind. But I also experience great joy at the possibilities that lay before me.

If you choose to let your dreams go, or if you have to for some reason or another, new dreams are a happy discovery. Because you can’t ever stop… dreaming that is. At your lowest point, or at your highest, there’s always some state of being that we long for. Whether it’s comfort and security or quiet solitude and an escape from pressure and expectation, we all want something, want to be something.

One important way that my vision of my future self has evolved… instead of thinking about who I will be “someday” I focus more on who I am now? My lovely therapist wrote a blog post in which she posed the weighty question, “Why not now?” If there is something I want to do, if there is someone I want to be, why not be that person now? Why do I need to wait for someone’s permission or for a specific amount of time to pass or…? What’s stopping me from being who I want to be right now?

Sometimes the thing stopping me is the identity/dream/goal I haven’t let go of yet. Sometimes, in order to achieve the thing you really want (or to discover what that is at all) you have to let go of what you never thought you’d ever lose.

I wanted to be a horse (be a horse, have a horse, same thing, right?) when I was a child. I’ve always loved horses… so when I found the opportunity to ride and a generous soul who was willing to let me work for time on horseback, I dove in with open arms to receive that manifestation of my dreams. For a while, riding horses consumed my life and I was ever so happy.

And then, gradually, I started to fall out of enchantment with horses. There were other things (like writing and my editing business) I wanted to spend my moments on, and continuing to prop up an old identity was starting to chafe. I realized that the dream wasn’t for me, but it was painfully difficult to let go of an identity that I’d cherished for so long, since I was a child. I had friends and daily rhythms tied up in the idea that I was a horse-person, and I hated to lose them.

When I finally let go of the old dream to make space for new ones, I didn’t lose my friends. I didn’t lose my sense of self, either. Instead, by pruning what wasn’t working for me anymore, I grew. But it was scary. And painful. And I had to say goodbye to part of me, and grieve the loss. Still, it was only through putting aside a dream that no longer fit anymore, that I had grown out of, that I was able to embrace something new and become more me than I had been before.

So what about you? Who do you want to be now? What about tomorrow? What about five years from now? Not sure? Let’s find out together!

 It's never a straight line to get where you want to be... not if your dreams are brave. If you're reaching out and achieving everything you set your heart to right away, I'm going challenge that you're not dreaming big enough.
It’s never a straight line to get where you want to be… not if your dreams are brave. If you’re reaching out and achieving everything you set your heart to right away, I’m going challenge that you’re not dreaming big enough.

Last year I read a book by Seth Godin called What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn). It’s a great book. In it he talks about his views on entrepreneurship and how to achieve your goals more efficiently or… at all, really.

The main idea Seth wants to drive home is baked into the title of the book. It’s your turn. Now. It’s never not your turn. Do something.

This was revolutionary for me (and maybe it is for you, too). The desire to be “the chosen one” is universal. Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Cinderella, The Matrix, The Sword in the Stone… I could go on and on naming stories, myths, archetypes from all throughout the history of storytelling that point to the same need in all of us. We want to be chosen. And for some of us that means a lot of waiting and painfully watching while others achieve what we had always hoped for.

I have spent so much of my life waiting to be given permission to live. When I was a teenager, I didn’t do anything without permission. Well, I wasn’t supposed to, at least… so if I did and it ever became known I’d suffer consequences for it.

Those consequences reinforced the need for permission from anyone and everyone to be able to act. So instead of making art or writing fiction or doing anything that I wanted to do simply because I wanted to do it, I waited for someone to tell me I was allowed to.

Growing up, I had bathroom mirror fantasies (you know, where you lock yourself in the bathroom and have imaginary conversations with your reflection? Anyone? Just me? Ok…) that I had been discovered by someone who would make me a famous model, or actress, or just a member of a richer, more “hip” family. The keen desire to be singled out, to be chosen, has lived inside me my whole life.

What I wish I’d known then, what Seth Godin drives home in his book, is that if you sit and wait for someone else to pick you, the odds are you’ll never get to “go” at all. If you want to play the game, if you want to be chosen, you have to pick yourself.

It took me almost 4 decades to discover this truth. When I think about the time and opportunities I wasted by waiting for someone else to tell me I was allowed to live I get a little sad. How much more could I have done if I had realized early on that I could fill my own need by choosing myself?

You don’t need a permit or a blessing or any sort of permission to decide to take your turn. You only have to open your eyes and look. And then choose.

— Seth Godin, What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn)

These days I’m bolder, I dive in and take more risks without waiting for someone to give me the go-ahead. I make messes and sing out of key and am publishing my first novel this year because I’m not waiting for anyone to say “It’s your turn.” I already know it’s my turn. I already know that I’m going to get picked for the team I want to play on because I’m the one doing the picking. I pick myself.

What about you?

There are so very many reasons why Amanda Palmer is my hero. The more I learn about her life philosophies and her journey to becoming the amazing woman and artist that she is, the more I wish I could have found her when I was a timid, broken teenager desperate for love and affirmation. Because though Amanda would probably admit that she was also desperate for love and affirmation as a teen, she was anything but timid. She was, and is, larger than life, taking up space in the world, making no apologies for who she is, going after life with every ounce of her energy and her fathomless heart.

If there’s one thing I want my teenage self to know, that Amanda Palmer reminds me of every time I hear her music or read her blog, it’s that it’s OK to take up space in the world, to make noise, to make a mess, and to be different. When I was growing up, the only thing I wanted more than to be accepted was to be noticed… by anyone. But I was so afraid of the negative sides to being noticed by the “wrong” people that I spent all my time being as small and undetectable as possible.

Amanda Palmer is the exact opposite of that, and I think that she always has been. I love her for the way that her music, her art, and her life philosophy encourages me to step out of my own comfort zone and to take up space that was meant for me. Everyone needs someone like that, a larger-than-life hero that inspires them to be brave. And the world could use more artists who make space for other artists, who lift others up as they reach for the stars themselves.

So when I realized that AFP herself had shared my blog post about not shaving, I want you to visualize exactly how that moment went down for me.

 If you haven't seen  Kristen Bell melt down  over the fact that a sloth was coming to her birthday party, I highly highly recommend it!!
If you haven’t seen Kristen Bell melt down over the fact that a sloth was coming to her birthday party, I highly highly recommend it!!

When your hero takes the time to not only read what you’ve written, but also to share it and her supportive comments with her entire network… that’s an emotional moment. I’m not even a little bit ashamed that I was so overcome with joy.

But I mean seriously, who could ask for a better hero than that?

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I had to schedule myself to write this post. Even as I’m sitting here now I keep thinking of reasons why something else might be easier or more fun to write. But I made a commitment to myself to talk with you about this. About Vulnerability. So here it is, in stream of consciousness, me being vulnerable, living wide open here for you.

Its kinda a catch phrase these days, vulnerability. Brene Brown cracked open a global conversation with her book and her TED talk. Amanda Palmer pushed the conversation forward with The Art of Asking. But what does that mean for you and for me? 

Well, technically it means it should be a lot easier to talk about being vulnerable. But practically we know that’s just not true. 

But what I also know is that if I don’t challenge myself to be vulnerable, I’ll never take any risks, I’ll never learn anything. And worst of all, I’ll never create or share my art.

So while I know it’s scary and it might hurt, I wanna live wide open. I wanna live in trust and share my true self. I don’t want to be limited by the safe option… I don’t wanna hide myself, hide my art, silence my own voice out of fear that someone might disapprove.

That’s what being vulnerable is. It’s taking the parts of you that you’re insecure about, the true and authentic you that you’re hiding and hoping no one will find out about, and it’s putting those bits into the light to be seen and to be shared. It’s allowing yourself to speak, to have opinions, to take up space. Your voice is important, even, no especially if it’s different from everyone else’s.

And let’s face it, it’s easier to share, easier to live authentically, than it is to hide. When you’re hiding, you always have to keep up the facade. You can’t ever let your guard down… But when you allow yourself to be you, you can let go of the personas and the mental barriers and filters that you put up. You can just be you…

You can stop living in fear of what people will think if they know who you are, or how to keep them in your life once they discover. Those people aren’t worth your time anyhow. Spend your time and energy loving people who freely and gladly love you back. You’re worth that. And you’ll find those people much more easily if you’re just being yourself.

Also, when you’re being vulnerable, living Wide Open, you can grow! When you hide, when you’re closed off, you limit your potential. But when you open yourself up, when you live life Wide Open, you give yourself space to grow. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can fill the space you give yourself to just be in.

Trust me. It’s beautiful. It’s freeing. And you’ll never want to go back. Not that you could if you tried. Living Wide Open, choosing vulnerability, it will change you forever.

Now, just because choosing to be vulnerable is easier than choosing to close yourself off doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s HARD! It takes pain and effort and it’s counter-intuitive. Not to mention, it’s hard to be vulnerable when you don’t have a support network, even if it’s only one person… but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it. It just means that you have to be braver than some others.

We can do this. We can be brave. We can live wide open, trusting the universe for what we need.

If you are reading this post right now and you are thinking how scary it would be to take the leap, to put yourself out there for the world to see, and you need a little encouragement, post a comment with your email address. I’ll send you a boost. Because I believe in you!

 Me and Brushy One String after GlobalFEST at the Mondavi Center on 4/7/2016
Me and Brushy One String after GlobalFEST at the Mondavi Center on 4/7/2016

Brushy is a new hero; I’ve only known of him for a few months. But I have to tell you, if there was ever an example of someone who clung to his dreams and made art out of what some, more privileged people might have mistaken for nothing, it’s Brushy.

If you ever think that you don’t have the resources to reach for your dreams, just watch this video… seriously…

When I went to hear him play last night, I was excited, but I confess I expected it to be a kinda gimmicky performance. Boy was I ever wrong. Brushy’s voice, his presence on stage, and the lyrics of his songs bespoke deep emotion and experience that captivated me and challenged me. If only I could be so lucky as to channel that kind of energy and passion into my craft.

I am so inspired by someone who would take a guitar with only one string, teach himself to play and sing, and then go on an international music tour sharing his gifts with the world. His passion and emotion make me want to jump up and dance! And then get down to work because how dare I squander all the resources that I have and let my own dreams pass by.

Thank you Brushy! Thank you for being you, fabulously dressed in all your bling and cowboy hat last night, singing your heart out on stage for us, not giving up your one string because you thought more would make you better… you’re amazing. Your energy and commitment to your craft are infectious. You’re definitely one of my heroes.

 The amazing Amy Ray, one half of the Indigo Girls
The amazing Amy Ray, one half of the Indigo Girls

You know how it used to be a thing to ask which was your favorite Spice Girl (I’m gonna go with Posh???)? Or which was your favorite Power Ranger (duh, Pink)**? Well, Amy Ray is my favorite Indigo Girl.

I grew up on the Indigo Girls’ fabulous harmonies and powerful social justice lyrics. In high school and during college, when I had no money for music, I repetitively listened to a bootlegged taped copy of their first album (Indigo Girls, 1989) that cut off in the middle of the song Land of Canaan. I literally did not know how that song ended until I was out of college.

Amy Ray’s raw, sonorous alto voice and the emotion in the lyrics she writes and sings have brought me to tears oh so many times. What I love about her, what I wish to emulate most about her, is the authenticity she brings to her art. She doesn’t hold back from any of it, whether it’s staring down the black abyss of despair or grasping for a shred of humor to cover the pain of reality and make it go down just a little easier. “You have to laugh at yourself, because you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t,” she says on 1200 Curfews, their live album from 1994/95.

I listen to the Girls when I write, when I’m driving, when I’m just hanging around… hoping that somehow some of that awesome authenticity will sink into my own craft, that some of the poeticism and raw emotion will shine through me or rub off onto the worlds that I write about.  

So thank you, Amy Ray. Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for writing lyrics that sit on my heart and help me express some of my own angst in this life, and rejoice at the beauty of connection, too. Can’t wait to see you perform again on your next time through town.

**Disclaimer: I’ve never watched Power Rangers. Not even once.

One of the privileges of growing up in America is that I was taught (and truly believe) that I can do anything I want to if I put my mind to it. It’s the bootstrapping American dream, the one they try to sell you instead of better workers’ rights. Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps like these other millionaires and geniuses did. If they can do it, you can do it.

Well, it’s never as simple as the “bootstrappers” want you to believe. And because everyone doesn’t start from the same place of advantage in life, for some people “doing anything” and “putting your mind to it” come with a huge hill of setbacks. But despite all the setbacks and barriers that stand in your way, I still believe that what you want, you can achieve. You just have to be willing to work for it.

Being my own boss

 I am by no means the least privileged person I know, not by a long shot. For years now, I’ve run my own business. I started doing what I do (freelance editing for fiction and memoir) because I love stories, because I love the creative process, and because I wanted to be my own boss, to be the expert, to have all the answers. I hear from my clients over and over again about how much I have helped them, how much I have to offer.

When I started, did I have all the answers? No. I couldn’t even tell a potential client what was a reasonable fee to charge for what I was trying to offer them. I have had to learn a lot along the way. Including how to admit when there’s something I don’t know yet.

Teaching yourself something new, reaching for a goal you’re not sure you can attain, setting out on your own… that’s hard, vulnerable work. It requires dedication, flexibility, and drive. You have to want it bad enough to put everything else second. You have to be willing to lose sleep over it. You’ll make a lot of mistakes along the way, but that’s ok, because it’s all part of the learning process, they say. 

Ha. Try telling that to my heart.

Logic and reason meet the monster of doubt

For example, last week I hit a snag. I made a mistake at something I can and should be proficient at and someone pointed it out. Now, logical, rational me is a lover of feedback. Logical, rational me takes that feedback and rejoices saying, “now we never have to make that mistake again because we know what it is and how to fix it before it breaks!” She realizes that without mistakes and the feedback that goes with them, we’d never become masters at what we do. I wish I listened to logical, rational me more.

The flip-side to logical, rational me is something of a recluse. She’s trying to convince me right this minute that I don’t need to share her with you at all, that I really REALLY need a glass of juice and just to delete this paragraph and move on. She is convinced that if you know about her and the fears she has that you’ll shame her publicly and no one will ever speak to us again.

When I made that mistake last week, logical, rational me’s flip-side had a melt-down. She swore that no one would ever want to work with us again, that we were a fraud and that it was only a matter of time until everyone knew. She says we should have known, should have done better, or should have never tried in the first place because we knew we couldn’t do that thing that was asked of us.

The worst part about the flip-side is that, when she sees the work that we need to do to learn the new thing, or to fix the mistake, she’s convinced we can never do it, that it’s too much, that we should just go back to our old job where we don’t have to do the hard thing, where we never make mistakes (at least not ones that people can see).

Impostor Syndrome

I’m not a psychologist. I barely understand why I react to life the way I do, why I succeed at some things and fail at others… I am trying to learn, though. Because if I let the illogical, irrational flip-side of me have her way, my dreams are dead in the water. I’ve taken to shoving her in the closet when she gets noisy. If I use every mistake I make as a reason why I can’t do something, I’ll never accomplish anything. 

Impostor syndrome is that voice in your head, that flip-side of logical, rational you, telling you that you must not be a “real” editor because “real” editors (or writers, or artists, or administrators, or programmers…) would never make a mistake. It’s an ugly voice bent on convincing you that you must be a fraud because what you want to achieve shouldn’t be this hard…

But the truth is that some aspect of every little thing that you want will be hard. If you focus on the hard, on the failure and the incongruity, then you give strength and credence to that monster of doubt, and that will always hold you back from what you might otherwise be capable of.

Believe in yourself

If you choose, however, to believe in yourself, to give yourself the space to learn from your mistakes, there’s no limit to the joy you’ll find in what you can achieve. And how do I know this is true? Because people make mistakes. Every day. All the time. And the world has not yet ended. There might be giant, horrible, impending doom out there somewhere but it does NOT hinge on whether or not I catch every last mistake before someone else finds them or whether your first novel was a smash hit/NYT best seller… 

Let’s leave the impending doom to others. Because the flip-side is that you get to do things! You get to be the best version of yourself. You get to make mistakes and learn things and become a better writer (editor, artist… human being). Sometimes you don’t notice that your shirt is on backwards AND inside out until AFTER the run… and that’s ok.

I’m not saying you should lower the bar for success. Not by any means. But just allow for the fact that mistakes and failure are part of the building blocks of success. They prove that you’re doing things right. You’re learning and growing in the most human and real way possible.

So go ahead. Make mistakes. Believe in yourself a little bit more.

 I crocheted this ear warmer all by myself!
I crocheted this ear warmer all by myself!

If you really want to watch your budget this year, I recommend you try a “No New Clothes” policy. Pick an amount of time (3 months, a year) and make a point to only buy from thrift stores if you need to purchase any clothes (except for things like underwear and socks… gotta draw a line there). N and I did this for a year, and we both learned a lot about our spending habits.

First thing I noticed: “No New Clothes” saved me a lot of TIME by keeping me clear of the mall and the outlets. And I definitely saved money by not buying designer clothing on impulse. I found I was less susceptible to the “what’s hot” marketing ploy that stores use to make us buy their nice, shiny new clothing. The thrift store is full of the unique. Outfits aren’t pre-packaged. There’s usually only one of each item, so you have to take your time and make your own best decisions about what goes together.  Beauty standard? What beauty standard?

Still, in a lot of places, clothing is so cheap that “No New Clothes” isn’t really even about how much you’re spending. It’s more about checking yourself before you spend. You know how it is. You go into Target for… shampoo and a new bowl because you broke one… and you leave with a cart full of t-shirts and shoes that you may or may not wear more than once, but they were so cheap so how could you not buy them?

That kind of spending adds up, not just monetarily, but societal-ly, as well. It’s the kind of thoughtless consumption that corporations nurture, because it benefits them. But it doesn’t always benefit you, and it definitely doesn’t benefit the people at the bottom of the manufacturing food chain.

We could argue both ways and until hell freezes over about how our spending habits do or do not affect the rest of the world, and I’m not gonna do that. I haven’t run the statistical models. I don’t have any facts for you that will blow this thing wide open. And that’s not really my point, anyhow.

But I will tell you that spending a YEAR consciously not buying new clothing made me a better, more mindful spender in the long run. I began to break the instinctive habit of just throwing that cheap pair of pants in my cart because they were so cheap, or buying that designer’s mass produced outfit because it’s trendy. I now stop to think about my closet, and about my budget, before I spend. And I think about who benefits from my dollars more. I try to buy things from the people who made them when I can. Because it’s important to me.

So if you want to work on your brain and some of the ingrained notions of beauty that society has force on you, but not shaving is just not something you’re willing to handle right now, why not try “No New Clothes” for a few months or a year?

Spoiler Alert: The world didn’t end. And believe it or not, I actually felt better about myself.

If you know me at all, you probably know I’m a big fan of Amanda Palmer. That right there can be a pretty controversial statement. Most people either love AFP or they hate her. She takes a strong stance on art (and who can do it… she thinks anyone can), and her music is both revered and reviled, depending on, usually, what people think of her as a person. Me, I love her. We can argue all the details of what that means later. But for the sake of this post, what you should know that I admire about her most is that she lives wide open, that she is who she is with no apologies, and that in the process of being who she is and refusing to be pinned down by norms, standards, and expectations she changes what it means to be beautiful.

If you know me … at all … you probably also know I’m a feminist. I want to openly acknowledge here that I am not a perfect feminist (if that even exists). I often surprise myself when I recognize the filters of privilege and gender-normative behaviors that I make assumptions about in my every day life. If I’ve learned anything in the process of becoming a better feminist, it’s to question everything, especially if it’s put to me as something that always is, always was, or always should be. And I use that philosophy on myself… a LOT. My mental process upon discovering some of the basic expectations and assumptions I carry about myself and other women, even now, that are social construction and not laws of nature: How did those get there? and then, Oh, my gods, what was I thinking? 

It was only a matter of time before my love of AFP and my feminism created a perfect storm in the form of a crisis of character for me. How can I break free of even a little part of the mindsets and the social constructions that hold me into the mold of who I am expected to be and allow myself to be who I want to be, or even better, who I naturally am? My solution, and the first step I took: Stop shaving.

If you think about it–and the point of a social construction is that you absolutely not think about it–shaving is not something natural to humanity. Having hair is natural. Having hair in certain places (facial, pubic, armpit, leg) is a physical sign of maturity which used to be a sign of desirability. Though even this scene from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing proves how problematic body hair has been throughout the centuries (for the appropriate line, skip to 0:00:58).

But over time, our society has come to equate beauty and youth, and therefore beauty and hairlessness. It wasn’t that big a push for razor companies to start selling that idea, preying on the fears of women that they will be less desirable to their partners if they don’t remove the hair from “inappropriate” areas of their bodies.

I had a shaming experience because of hair on my legs when I was 12 years old. Yep. That’s how young I was, and how young the boy who shamed me was as well. If you think about it, he’s just as much a victim of the social construct as I am, brainwashed from that young to believe that hair on a woman’s legs is unnatural instead of natural, and that it makes her less desirable. So even though he made me cry that day and I’d like for 12-year-old me to beat him to a pulp for it, I feel pity for him.

From that very young age, I began to submit to the idea that hair on my body must be sculpted to fit an ideal that was upheld somewhere outside myself. I couldn’t know what was beautiful (or what was comfortable, or what was natural) without the help of society. Really, what I was doing in those early days, though, was trying to conform so that I could keep from being ridiculed. But over time, the purpose of conformity moved from avoiding ridicule to becoming desirable. The emotional triggers that my early experiences had created were easily transferred to my understanding of beauty, making the leap to equate hairlessness with beauty, beauty with desirability without even having to think about it. Hairiness in inappropriate areas meant rejection and pain.

Fast forward 25 years. I’ve been an Amanda Palmer fan since 2003, and she just does. not. care what people say she should do to conform. She has hairy armpits and hairy legs, and she is not ashamed to be naked on film, in front of a crowd, or in private with an intimate partner. And one day it just clicked for me. If I want to break free of the need to conform and to reclaim the beauty of my own body for myself, the first thing I could do was stop shaving.

Why had I been shaving all those long years? Because I was worried about what other people would think. I was worried that my body would be offensive to someone else, to someone who has no right to my body, and no authority over what I do with it (that includes everyone, all of you, sorry, except my partner… and even, largely, him… and by the way, he fully supports my decision). 

It took me six months to stop constantly wondering what other people thought when I wore shorts and my hairy legs showed, or wore a tank top in public and raised my arms. It’s been over a year, and I still wonder sometimes. But I’m moving past the hang-up of “I will be undesirable if I am not hairless.” I am becoming more comfortable in my own skin. And if I make someone else uncomfortable because I have body hair, I hope they’ll talk to me about it… because I’m happy to challenge their perceptions of beauty and what right it is they think they have over my choices about my body and how I present myself.

I shave occasionally now. But because I want to. Because I like how my skin feels when it’s smooth. And that’s the point of the exercise. I do what I want with my body because it’s right for me, not because someone else has picked an arbitrary ideal and forced me to uphold it. So DON’T SHAVE! if you want to. Or DO! It’s completely your choice, male or female. Having hair on your legs, face, pubic areas, under your arms, on top of your head… it doesn’t make you more or less desirable. If you do what you want, present yourself as you want because YOU want to, and not because of what someone else thinks or expects, it makes you MORE beautiful, in my opinion. It’s a work in progress. I am a work in progress. We are a work in progress. And we are beautiful.