When I was in grade five, during the heat of early summer, I would wear a cardigan to school. Some kids would ask if I was hot, to which I’d answer, ‘I’m fine.’ Truthfully, I was boiling. But sweating like a pig was a better option than exposing my hairy arms and being teased by my classmates. ‘Monkey arms,’ is what the mean girls would call me, revealing their limited exposure to other cultures, and our hairy Mediterranean sisters.
Later, I was delighted to find that my best friend Kathy Morgan also had hairy arms. She wasn’t shy about showing them off, and would twist the hairs between moistened fingers, to see if she could twirl them into a tiny stand-up ponytail. Eventually, even she got tired of the hair, and one afternoon before the high school prom, she shaved them.
Many years later, I was standing on a bus in Korea. Not only was I the tallest person, but also the hairiest. My arm was extended upwards, holding on to a strap. Dark eyes were discreetly looking up at my pale hirsute skin. Once again, I was flooded with that old self-conscience feeling. I thought about the offending hairs, and wished them away.
But oh how things have changed! Recently I was going through my post bath ritual of dousing myself in moisturizing cream. I noticed, not for the first time, how I hairless I really am. Every place that hair should be on a regular gal is silky smooth on me. Except for my 14 eyelashes, I am as smooth as a baby’s arse.
|Hairy Arm (foreground) & Hairy Dog (background)|
That is, except for my arms. I have seen them everyday since I was born, and examining them pretty closely since grade five. But only in the last few days did it occur to me that the arms on my hair is still mostly there. True- it's thinned a little, and the hairs are fine and blonde, but at a time where my body has sometimes let me down, my loyal limbs have stubbornly refused to desert me.
This morning (while watching Coronation Street) I did something I haven’t done since high school. I licked my fingers, (a la Kathy Morgan) grasped the hairs, and twisted them into delicate spirals, and they stood in triumph on my dry, sun-deprived skin. Childhood shame had been replaced with grown-up pride. I couldn’t stop looking at my arms, which looked so alive, and wonderfully familiar. My monkey arms. Loyal friends.
So, many years ago, in a classroom kept at a toasty 90 degrees, I covered my arms with a sweater. In these chilly days of winter, when I meet friends for coffee, I am going to wear a short sleeved shirt.
‘You must be cold,’ they’ll say.
‘I’m fine,’ I’ll reply, ‘But look at my arms, and check out the hairs! My hairs are standing on end.’