#IndySchoolGirlsofColor guest blog – Body Image, by Mimi Morales

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Mimi Moralies photo_opt
Body Image
by, Mimi Morales

Growing up a young lady, going through puberty, with an ever-changing body is hard enough.  But growing up going through those changes in school where no one looks like you makes it much more difficult.  This is one of my many experiences. -Mimi

As women we all have beauty rituals- some that we love and some that we hate.  My least favorite of all rituals is the hour-long shower to shave my legs.  My hair is thick, dark and everywhere.  I hate having to make time to shave.  I hate the pretzel shapes I make in the bathtub so that I can get to the hard to reach places.  I hate that my hair grows back so quickly and itches.

But what I really hate is something I realized in my early-twenties.  “Shaving my legs” became “shaving my body”.  Yes, I shave places that I can barely reach.  I shave my lower back, my lower stomach, and…my booty!  (I’m embarrassed to admit that!)  Thank goodness I never shaved my arms.  I could see everyone else’s arm so I knew it was normal.  But I couldn’t see their butts and I never paid attention to their lower backs.

I know what you’re thinking.  No, my mother did not teach me to shave these body parts.  She didn’t shave them on herself. I know because I have secretly inspected.  All I can remember is that my mom didn’t want me to grow up too fast so she didn’t teach me to shave.

Instead, I became aware of these hairy parts with the help of my high school class mates- girls that did not look like me.  Girls with lighter hair, lighter eyes and lighter skin. Girls that couldn’t understand what it was to have a body like mine- thicker and darker.   The girls that could understand me were scarce during my independent school years.  I only saw those girls at home in the neighborhood.  But I had no reason to be with these girls, nor the time, with my independent school homework.  My friends were the girls at school, the ones that didn’t look like me.

My closest friends that looked somewhat like me were my Prep for Prep girls in middle school, but we didn’t exactly look alike. They were black and I was Spanish. They were the closest friends I had that understood what it was to balance independent school and home.  But we all moved on to separate high schools and I had no one with me for freshmen year.  Then I saw a Puerto Rican junior.  I was drawn to him because he was cute and he was Puerto Rican.  I thought it was meant to be, since we were the Puerto Rican kids in the school.  I eventually “went out” with him but our relationship ended one day with a not-so-pleasant conversation in our common room.  In front of the other girls, that did not look like me, he said something which contained “Mimi has a hairy back,” followed by laughing from him and those girls.  I walked away so that no one would see the tough uptown Puerto Rican girl cry.  My heart was broken and I was embarrassed. It was the first time I felt rejection and insecurity, and at the same time.

I thought about it all day.  I went home and bent in any way possible to see my back in the mirror.  Yes, I had hair, but it was fine “bellos” as we call it in Spanish, or “baby hairs” in the hood.  I thought I could live with it until I started to compare my back to all the other backs that showed as we sat in class.  There was barely any hair on those paler-skinned backs.  When I did notice hair, it was blond and only noticeable when the sunlight hit their backs.  Even some of the brown-haired girls had blond body hair.  But mine was dark and noticeable without the sun.

So I shaved.  And I Nair-ed.  And I waxed.  And I Brazilian waxed.  And I paid $2000.00 for laser hair removal. And I am still hairy, I probably have the skills to start my own hair removal spa.

Someone must have heard my prayers because Senior year in my new public high school I met my current best friend- a Dominican girl that looked like me with a language and a culture like mine.  We grew up to be young women together.  She even had the same body as mine, which meant my wardrobe doubled!

One day in our early twenties, we went to the beach with her boyfriend. We were checking out each other’s bikinis when I couldn’t believe what I saw…hair on her lower belly!!!

“You don’t shave that?” I asked shocked and embarrassed for her.

“No. Why would I?  Then it grows back more,” Seriously?!? Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that?!?

“It’s beautiful,” Interjected her boyfriend.

What?!?! Did I hear what I just heard? Then it dawned on me- her boyfriend was Dominican!  Could it be that Spanish men appreciate hairiness? Maybe that was his personal preference. My Puerto Rican boyfriend didn’t appreciate it!! Was it because he was adopted by a white family? I thought my solution was just to find someone who loves hair.

About two years later, I received the unexpected lesson I needed from good old Daddy. Daddy always tried to teach me about my culture.  He loves Puerto Rico, and it was important that his kids saw what he loved. This time, however, his cultural lesson was about to teach me about my body.  On a Sunday, while driving me home, he played a Salsa song called “Mujer Boricua” (Puerto Rican Woman) by El Gran Combo, a fabulous Puerto Rican Salsa band.  The song had great rhythm and my dad was just happy to see that I would genuinely enjoy the song. Then it hit me, I finally understood what the singer was saying.  He spoke about how he wants a beautiful, brown-skinned, Puerto Rican woman.  “La quiero con ojos negros, morena y que sea Boricua.” “I want her with black eyes, brunette and Puerto Rican.”  He was describing me.  Someone thinks a woman like me is beautiful, so much so that they made a song. I felt empowered and I was on a mission to love how I looked the way this musical group did.  I told myself I was over it and I would love myself too.

Reality hit at 28 years old when Kaylie arrived, my gorgeous Puerto Rican daughter, born with dark eyes, dark hair and baby hairs all over her body!  All over her body- her back, her shoulders, her little legs!  Very fine baby hairs.  But in my eyes, it was as thick as mine and I relived that day in the common room. Every time I changed her diapers, changed her clothes, or gave her a bath I would relive that moment. She has all the features I wished I could have given her, and the one I could do without.  I hoped it would fall off, but almost 5 years later it is here to stay.  It is not as noticeable because she has grown, but it’s there and I see it.  I was determined to make sure she didn’t feel what I felt, or still feel.

Today, I can admit I am not over it.  I just deal with it differently.  I do not kill myself to shave especially after an “in-grown-hair-gone-wild,” a/k/a, boil. I do not mention my daughter’s hair because it is “no big deal.”  But just like a four year old, she mentions mine all the time.  “Mommy, your spikeys [my stubble] hurt.”  “Mommy you have a lot of hair.”  I don’t let her see it bothers me. I let her feel the thick, dark hair on my legs.  I let her brush the hair on my head. We even joke about my stinky, hairy armpits and I chase her around the apartment.  Every time she discovers her own hair, or any feature, I show her mommy has it too.  I always tell her she is beautiful and smart.  And I never say one without the other.

One day I hope my daughter can get the education I received.  Yet, I know the price to pay is to be surrounded by people that do not live like her nor relate to her.  I will teach her that “Thank you” means “Thank you for complimenting my ‘thick, long, Spanish’ hair, on my head.  But to love the hair on my head, means you have to love the hair on the rest of my body.”

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2 Comments

  1. Gina Parker Collins
    Posted April 10, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Mimi! You are one smart and courageous Boricua!
    Thank you for talking about what’s difficult to discuss – body image, and the illuminations of your experiences. You are reaching someone, especially Kaylie.
    See you Saturday!

  2. Alexandra
    Posted April 10, 2014 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    You make me want to scream ¡VAYA! What a wonderful gift to your daughter. Love yourself.

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