Editor’s note: A previous version of this piece misspelled Frida Kahlo’s last name, but has now been corrected.
By: Michelle Young, News Editor
My mom sometimes calls me peluda in Spanish. This can translate to “fuzzy” or “hairy.” It can be a cute nickname — perhaps for a pet — but it’s generally not something you’d want to be referred to as an adult. As a young girl, I watched my mom, aunts, and grandmother painfully wax their upper lips, eyebrows, and chins. I thought one day, I would inevitably have to do the same.
Thankfully, that never happened, and as a Latina, my body hair is now one of the things about my physical appearance that reminds me of my heritage. I only realized this once I started seeking out Latinx stories and began talking about body hair with my Latinx friends and family. This is when I learned that our struggle against body hair is a shared one.
I’d like to preface this piece by noting that I’m often met with looks of surprise when Latinx peers and strangers discover that I’m of Venezuelan heritage. My pale skin often means I have to clarify my ethnicity; many stumble over their words trying to ask me where I come from. While I recognize that being ethnically ambiguous is a privilege, my identity has always been messy. So when I began to realize that my body hair was a trait shared by many cis and trans Latina women and non-binary Latinx individuals — I found a reason to revel in it.
Growing up I was teased for my fuzzy eyebrows, baby hairs, and furry forearms. As my hair began to flourish, I was convinced I would need to undergo full-body waxes regularly for anyone to consider me desirable. So, when Melissa Lozada-Oliva published the poetry collection, peluda, I rushed to purchase a copy and consumed it in one evening.
I appreciated the open approach she took to writing about body hair, connecting it to the first-generation immigrant experience, and the search for a place to belong. Lozada-Oliva openly discussed how “bikini lines become bikini borders” and how “your mother drags you to the salon & asks them to feex it but maybe this is what will never be fixed.” I resonated with how the book questioned the standard of the white, waxed body, and demonstrated that hairer women may have a harder time accepting theirs.
Then there’s the Netflix sitcom, One Day at a Time (2017), which also centres around the Latinx experience. It pokes fun at central character Elena’s mustache and her “single eyebrow.” The show is open in its dialogue about body hair and does not shy away from pointing out how ridiculous it is that the standard for women is to be hairless. Elena’s mother, Penelope, is shown on-screen, shaving her upper lip while telling her son, “I am a Latina, you’re a 12-year-old boy, so we have the same amount of facial fuzz.”
When I think of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and how she exaggerated her unibrow in her paintings and kept her mustache visible in all the photos I see of her, I’m met with comfort and pride.
My journey to acceptance continued with discussions of body hair with other Latina women, among family and friends. Out in the open, we talked about shaving, waxing, plucking, and threading. Through these conversations I realized two things: not only are there people as hairy as I am, but the way we deal with our body hair is a very personalized experience and our relationships with it can be complex.
Now, I can easily laugh with my family and friends about our hair, because I finally realize that it’s not something to be shameful of. However, it would have taken me much longer to realize if there wasn’t any Latinx culture represented in the media I consumed. Hair really is just hair — but for me it turned into something more, a reminder of my heritage.