There was nowhere to hide. A group of twelve and thirteen-year-old girls collected together on a slab of concrete, surrounded by tall, prickly wooden walls that gave us splinters when we were younger. If you ran your fingers across the surface it was a guaranteed splinter. You’d have to walk across the whole campground to the nurse’s office. Which actually wasn’t bad. Each visit meant a chance to sit in the air conditioning with an ice pop.
But this was my sixth summer at Timber Oaks Summer Camp, and splinters were not a concern. I had real problems to worry about now. At home, I’d stand in front of the mirror staring at my problem. Through the glass I’d study the curly, thick hair growing from between my legs and spreading out onto my inner thighs like tree roots.
I wanted to conceal it. But, in the changing room, there was nowhere to hide. No stalls, no cubbies. Just empty space. When I was younger, Mindy would hold up my towel for me to change behind. That was the sort of thing best friends had to do. It was a role she had since our first year of camp, when we were six years old. Back then, it seemed like we were all friends. But then we got older. Our fifth summer, Suzy N. started to take notice of who was wearing Birkenstocks and who wasn’t. Then Shannon started the I Hate Emily Club. Pretty soon all of the girls were divided into little groups. Mindy and I withdrew to the back of the changing room, where she would hold up my towel, all the while rolling her eyes and saying things like, “I don’t see why you have to hide. We all have the same body parts you know.”
But we didn’t. Mindy had boobs for three summers now. But my chest was still flat as cardboard and my hips barely had enough fat to hold my bathing suit up. I felt like a bumpy insect with all-too visible appendages, while Mindy was rounded and smooth.
And now the hair. It started last summer, when all the girls came to camp with shaved legs and I didn’t.
“Oh my god,” Mindy said. “What are you? Godzilla or something?” She spent the majority of the summer planning her first kiss, then her second, then her third. Then she decided it was my turn.
She paired me up with Justin Mackeral. But before it happened, before I ended up in that dusty patch of ground behind the cafeteria with Justin’s tongue slipping in my mouth like a dying fish, Mindy told me to shave my legs. “He won’t want to kiss you if you have more hair than he does,” she said.
I didn’t even want to kiss Justin but still, I found myself in my parents' shower, dragging my mom’s razor against my skin, watching the soft, thin hair float down the drain.
It was the same situation a year later. Although this time it was my bathroom and my own razor, because after my mom saw what I did, she bought me my own. In the car driving to the drug store, she said, “You know, you didn’t have to do this yet.” But I didn’t know I had a choice. I had never seen a girl with hairy legs in my life.
I was nervous. I soaped up the hair so much it glistened like a spider’s web, wet with morning dew. I swept the blades across my skin until there was nothing left to get rid of, until it looked the way it had looked before.
In the changing room, I overheard girls talking about the hair. But never by name. “It’s disgusting,” they said. “I need to shave it immediately,” they said. “It just doesn’t feel right.”
No one ever talked about the bumps or the itchiness. The way it made me squirm when I was sitting, trying to scratch down there without actually scratching down there because it just wasn’t okay for girls to do that.
The red bumps crawled out, beyond my bikini line, onto my thighs. I pressed my legs together, hoping no one would see. But when we were lying out on lawn chairs around the pool, Mindy saw.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “It gets easier.”
About the Author: Virginia Baker is a writer who has her BFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. Her work has been published in Ms Fit Magazine, Hypertext and Hair Trigger 36. She currently resides in New Orleans, where life is always a blast.
Story Song: "All There Is" by Gregory Alan Isakov
Photo Credit: Elisabeth Clem/Poppy and Pinecone