The first time I shaved my legs, my mother cried.
Not because “her little girl was growing up” but because her little girl was entering a world that is cruel to little girls.
I did it in Florida, on family vacation. I was twelve. I’d been in the pool playing with some girls I didn’t know and they were laughing at me, at my legs. They didn’t say why, but somehow I knew. Girls are programmed with shame. We are only clean for so long and then must start doing the things that keep the dirt off: shaving our legs and underarms, stripping all the hair from our bodies, douching, lasering, scraping, bleaching. A little girl is only a little girl until she is not, and then the shame settles on her like a blanket. She wraps herself in it, sometimes forever.
My mother had tried to keep me safe. She let me do what I wanted. She said, “There is nothing that you have to do.” I believed her. I wanted to be like my brothers and pierce only one ear. I wanted my hair short like my brothers. She let me. I was a wild brown pony, barefoot in the yard and wearing Spiderman shirts. I had a pair of jeans with “Chic” stitched on the pocket. She took the thread out because I asked her to, because I thought it said “chick” and god knew I didn’t want to be one of those.
She was saving me from a world that hated girls, but somehow it leaked in: it was in my one earring, my short hair. Seven years old and already I knew which was the better sex to be. By the time the razor scraped my shin, the damage was done. Now comes the undoing.