I Forgot to Shave My Toes

Hannah

          “Oh, no. I forgot to shave my toes,” Hannah cried, intently examining her big toe. My head whipped around when I heard this, my strong-female-role-model senses instantly activated. I turned and saw three other girls gathered around Kelly intently inspecting their own 12-year-old bodies.

          “Wait. What did you just say?” I asked. Shaving legs, armpits, and nether regions? Yes, I had heard of that, but never toes. As their youth group leader, I couldn’t let such an important topic go unaddressed.

          “I forgot to shave my toes. I look disgusting,” Hannah huffed, visibly deflating.

          “Why do you shave your toes?”

          “You don’t?” another girl Emily asked. “I shave my toes and my stomach. Guys aren’t going to like you otherwise.”

Lisa

          We lay on the beach wrapped in warm gusts of wind and spray from the Mediterranean tide. I tried to relax my now contorted body atop the jabbing stones of Nice’s beach. Lisa, a vibrant, carefree Australian girl I met at Versailles, had just returned from braving the cold, forceful waves. I noticed she didn’t shave her armpits or, after scanning down the rest of her body, anything else.

          “I know some guys have different expectations of girls’ body hair. What is your reaction from them if you aren’t shaved?” I asked.

          “I like the feeling of being shaved, but it’s such a hassle,” she explained. “Most guys are cool with it, and if they aren’t, they aren’t worth it. I don’t do it for them. If I shave, it is for me.

Dear Women,

          This week I read a news story about French teen Adele Labo who after being bullied about her body hair created the now popular hashtag #LesPrincessesOntDesPoils (#PrincessesHaveHair in English). My initial reaction was frustration that this even needs to happen, that women feel so uncomfortable in their natural bodies that it is radical and newsworthy when someone does.

          Even I am taken aback when I see a woman with unshaven armpits or legs because it is so rare, so I have to pause and ask myself why I feel that way. The answer is that for my entire life, I have been shown and told that women are supposed to be hairless save for their heads and eyebrows.

Really think about this:

Does not shaving hurt anyone? No.

Does not shaving make you less of a woman? No.

Does not shaving make you less desirable? No.

Does not shaving mean you are dirty? No. (According to a study published in JAMA Dermatology, 3 out of every 5 women remove their pubic hair because they think it is unhygienic. Not true! It’s actually the opposite.)

Does not shaving mean you don’t care about your appearance? No.

Does not shaving mean you are a stereotypical hippie? No.

Is not shaving anyone’s business but your own? No.

          My heart sank hearing how much effort, anxiety, and self-criticism those 12-year-old girls endured to be acceptable to middle school boys not only because I loathe the standards they waste their time worrying about but also because I feel the same pressures just as acutely. Yes, I know body hair is natural, but it isn’t easy to shake 23 years of messages saying otherwise.

          Seeing Lisa in Nice helped, though. As we walked through the streets and danced in bars, men were enamored with her stunning beauty and her spirited confidence; they couldn’t look away. I know that reaction would have been the same whether she shaved that night or not.

          I want everyone—including myself—to be able to look at an unshaven woman and find her beautiful; moreover, I want everyone to not be ashamed of the realities of physical humanity.

          The most effective way to conquer a fear is to face it, so challenge yourself as I have done to go out one day at a time without shaving something; I think you will quickly realize how little people notice, if they do at all, and how it isn’t as big of a deal as you anticipated. 

          Now, I’m not saying I have sworn off shaving. Not at all. Heck, I’ve had laser hair removal done, and if it wasn’t so expensive, I would do it again. The point is that we all have a choice of what we do with our bodies, and we deserve to feel beautiful whatever that choice is. I challenge you to love your smooth legs and your hairy legs—I challenge you to love yourself no matter what.

Love,

Brenna

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Remember who you are

Dear women,

            Soon before my ex-boyfriend and I broke up, I sought the counsel of one of my professors who always helps me see life clearly and leads me in the right direction. At the end of our conversation, he said, “I think you know exactly what you need to do.” He was right. I knew almost from the very beginning of our three-and-a-half-year relationship that my ex-boyfriend and I shouldn’t be together.

When I called upon a psychologist to help me through my religious crisis, all the sessions lead up to his telling me, “You know what you truly believe, and you are never going to change.”

In both situations I spent years trying to rationalize things I knew weren’t right out of fear, social pressure, and even love. Boy, I was stressed—major cognitive dissonance! It takes a lot of mental and emotional energy to live contrary to who you truly are.

Sociologist and author of “Finding Your Own North StarMartha Beck says everyone has an essential self and a social self or who we are and who we think we should be. She says our bodies give us clear signs when we are going against our essential selves. “That feeling of choked hostility, or numb depression, or nauseated helplessness is a sure sign you’re steering…toward a life you were not meant to live.”

When I finally surrendered and accepted myself, I felt such blissful freedom. Ladies, take time to truly listen to your intuition and your feelings about whatever you are dealing with. Asking a million people for their advice will only confuse you and frustrate you, and it won’t change your life. Be brave and live life the way you want to live it even if it seems scary. When you do, you will feel lighter, freer, less stressed, and more whole because there is no longer a battle going on inside of you.

Love,

Brenna

You are enough–just as you are

Women, you ARE worthy!
Women, you ARE worthy!

“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” -Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Dear women,

In the spring of 2014, I broke up with the only boyfriend I had ever had. We dated for three and a half years, and while I knew separating was for the best, it didn’t make the transition any less painful.

I kept asking myself, “How did I not love him enough? What could I have done differently? How am I not enough for him?

Too soon after my breakup, I found myself attracted to someone who ultimately was only interested in having sex with me. When I rejected him, he never spoke to me again. I was outraged that to him I wasn’t even worth spending time or having a conversation with.

No. Not a chance. I refuse to accept that.

It is easy to fall into thinking that you aren’t enough when people reject you whether that be a friend, a love interest, a family member, or especially yourself. Please, believe me when I say that you are enough. You always have been, and you always will be.

The hardest part of accepting you are enough is blocking out all the things telling you that you aren’t.

Honestly, it is a challenge for me to not want to fix every imperfect part of my body; to see my best friend have three majors, know five languages, go to college for free and not feel unaccomplished; or to have my brother tell me that every single thing about me is annoying and not want to sob my eyes out.

What can you do to embrace who you are and completely believe that you deserve to be loved and to be accepted?

Try talking to yourself like you would talk to one of your friends—with compassion and understanding. Would you constantly tell a friend that she should lose the fat on her hips? If your friend just got dumped, would you tell her that she deserved it and would never find someone as good again? No! You would be a terrible friend. So what good is it going to do if we talk to ourselves like that? Psychologist Ethan Cross said that people are kinder to themselves when they talk to themselves using their name instead of I.

Ladies, you are worthy of someone who respects you enough to date you and not just sleep with you. You are worthy of friends who value and accept you. You are worthy of loving yourself despite being flawed, insecure, confused, scared, or broken. Don’t accept anything less.

Love,

Brenna

Be vulnerable. Why not?

Dear women,

Why not? What is the worst that could happen?

Those are the phrases I have adopted in the past year, which have forced me to be courageous and have brought me connections and opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’m not saying, “Let’s do heroin! What’s the worst that could happen?” I’m talking about pushing past fear and doing things you have always wanted to do, talking to new people, and being vulnerable.

Recently, I randomly walked up to someone whom I have wanted to meet for a long time and introduced myself. I couldn’t be worried that he would think I was dumb or weird and wouldn’t want to talk to me. I asked myself, “What’s the worst that could happen? He doesn’t talk to you? You already don’t talk to each other, so nothing would change.”

But that didn’t happen. It turns out that he is one of the most wonderful and amazing people I have ever met. Our mutual openness lets us feel seen, heard, and valued. Daring to be vulnerable paid off.

In Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly, she says, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” Her TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability” is one of the most watched TED talks ever for good reason. Being vulnerable and being our authentic self are the heart of courage and connection. Giving yourself the permission to be open in turn gives others the permission to do that. No judgement. Just acceptance.

Women, the rewards of being courageous are abundant and freeing. Dare to connect. Dare to ask, “Why not?”

Love,

Brenna

Hilary Duff knew what she was talking about in 2003! Listen to her song “Why Not?” from the Lizzie McGuire Movie!