I’m sitting on the curb outside UMASS Amherst, eyeing each pair of legs that walk past me. I’m at the Juniper Institute for Young Writers and I’m searching for the girl with hairy legs. It’s the first major gossip I’ve heard since my arrival, listening to the girls behind me whisper not so quietly about one of the female advisors who “doesn’t shave her legs” and is a “feminist”. I’m a Junior in highschool and it’s my first time hearing that word come out of a girl’s mouth. It’s not, however, my first time seeing hairy legs.
I remember back in 8th grade, I saw a girl in one of my classes who didn’t shave her legs. I was grossed out, just like every other girl in my class. I first asked my mom for a razor in 5th grade.
Finally, I spot the pair of feminine but fuzzy legs, pushing away the critical judgment I had at 13. It’s a foreign sight to see a woman with dark hair from thigh to ankle. I stayed out of the seemingly high school gossip.
A few days into the week everyone began sharing their writing during the workshop classes. Most were eager to share, glowing with a confidence I had never seen in myself until that moment. It vanished however, when I heard the poem about rape. It came from the mouth of a small girl. It was vulgar, raw, and all the truth that is the life of the regular, everyday girl. The fear of our bodies we are taught — the fear I felt when I first saw dark hair growing on my legs in 5th grade. I couldn’t help but call my mom afterwards to read her the dark poem. We both cried.
This girl was bold, and bushy, displaying her dark underarms each time she raised her hand. For the first time in my young life, I was not judging the girls around me (the girls I’ve been taught to compete with). I felt a connection to them, recognizing the similar struggles each of us had faced since being born female.
I wrote my first feminist poem during my stay at the program. It was my first time reading at an open mic as well, and I decided to read that poem. I had never felt so empowered.
We grow up with these kinds of challenges, some of them forced on us like your parent letting go of your bike without warning as you learn to ride without training wheels. Writing and sharing it with others is telling your dad to let go of the bike. It is to be brave and take risks. We write to explore ourselves and all we are capable of.
Today, I am a sophomore at Flagler College. I help organize open mics and know myself as an outspoken feminist and poet. I can talk about sexism, the ridiculous standards of femininity, and read my poetry to an audience. Sitting on the curb I stare at my own unruly calves, and I thank those hairy girls for their courage, inspiring me everyday to improve myself as a writer and as a person.