This fall, the hair on my legs is teaching me how to grow.
By Alaina Sandau
The existence of the dandelion was an act of defiance. The golden yellow puff erupted from the tiny crack in the dry concrete, stretching skyward. I crouched down to figure it all out, its leaves brushing against my illuminated Sketchers and its petals tickling my nose.
âIt’s funny to think these little guys are weeds,â my dad said. “Although,” he added, “there really is no scientific difference between what we call weeds and what we don’t call.”
I felt bad for the weeds. Their identity was defined by the disgust of others. I would grow up and be a gardener – yeah, a gardener! – and my garden would swell with puffs of dandelion, thistle and ambrosia intertwining and seeking the sun.
Of course, I was finally informed that “weed activism” was not a suitable calling for a six year old, so I slipped this one into my back pocket. Later, I dreamed of becoming an author, a marine biologist and a thousand careers afterwards. Despite my professional change of course throughout my life, I always knew there was one thing I wanted to be, more than anything else:
It was still there, bubbling and consuming, an urge that tasted like Claire’s cherry lip gloss and burned like acid reflux. No one has ever asked me why – wanting to be pretty is an implicit desire in women – but I think it was also because I wanted to thrive. As any former future gardener can tell you, the most important thing that can be done for a flower is the cultivation. And I was not afraid to cultivate.
I had my first laser hair removal treatment when I was twelve. Goodbye, Alaina Sandbrow! By the end of it, I had two eyebrows, a scarlet band of angry skin connecting them, and a sense of pride. I was sowing the seeds of my dream.
High school was pretty much the same. I learned that I had to use SOHCAHTOA to find the missing angles in the calculus the same year I learned that I had to buy cellulite cream on my thighs. When I graduated, as a reward for all my hard work, I requested laser hair removal under my arms and legs.
Sometimes I could feel that I was burning. With each stinging light, I promised that this was also a choice I wanted to make for myself. This is how I wanted to grow up. Because the alternative was I was doing it for anyone else, and it seemed like the most pathetic thing in the world.
Cue the second week of spring break, 2020.
It was a tweet. A woman was still applying makeup after two weeks of quarantine for her own pleasure. I felt a first wave of feminist pride. Real women don’t change their appearance for anyone other than themselves! I knew it. I believed this. I still have.
This wave of pride lasted until I saw my own reflection in the glass of my phone screen. I was staring at a girl with half a femstache looking in, her face bare for exactly the number of days since she had seen That Guy in English class. A girl with a whole sleeve of Ritz cookie crumbs around her mouth. A girl who used to watch Youtube videos with headlines like “How to be IRRESISTIBLE for Guys” while eating a compressed cheese sandwich in the college library.
I was about to discover something key about myself. Something deeply and cosmicallyâ¦ embarrassing. If that was true â that I didn’t really like shaving my legs â then I should, you know, stop shaving my legs. I would become so much worse than a woman living in a lie: I would become a hairy women. I couldn’t stand it. As I was likely to do with an entire round of Ritz crackers, I stuffed this seed of truth deep inside me, where no light could reach it.
Until about three weeks ago.
I moved into a new place, an old house in Minneapolis. The foliage grows so strong and thick that just yesterday I noticed that the front of our house had an entire bicycle in a tight embrace of leafy vines against the wainscoting. Everywhere I walk I see what I called weeds making a garden out of a crack in the pavement or a broken down car. I followed the vineyards of the city and met handsome men who shave their legs and beautiful women who don’t. I have fallen in love with different gardens so many times that I can’t remember which plants are supposed to be the good ones and which are supposed to be the bad ones.
I put on a skirt in front of the mirror. It was so quick I almost missed it – but years of staring at my reflection made me reflexively sensitive to any kind of change.
Five fine, tousled little hairs, coming out from under my once laser-scraped leg as the sun shone on them. Five hairs that couldn’t understand.
Weeds never know they’re weeds, do they?