When I was 11, I left home for an all-boys boarding school.
Not because I was a fuck-up or a rich kid, but because my public school wasn’t the best and I got a scholarship to someplace better. Suddenly, I was excited for a four-year sleepover with kids like me — kids who didn’t really fit in their hometowns, who would become my best friends while we bonded in some kind of combo of The Lost Boys and Harry Potter. Like brothers.
But I forgot brothers can also be bullies.
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It didn’t take long at all. By the time I was 12, the hair on my legs was really thick (like, thicker than my dad’s), and the fuzz on my arms was extending down to the backs of my hands, and dusting each knuckle.There were other changes too — my voice started cracking, for one — but nothing as obvious as this. It grew on my arms, down my stomach (what I learned was called a happy trail) and down there — way, way down there. They’d already told us in health class — everyone matures at a different pace — but this was like a scene from Teen Wolf, I wasn’t even a teenager yet (funny how in MTV’s reboot of that movie, Tyler Posey is so hairless he’d make a more convincing merman).
By the time I was 12, the hair on my legs was really thick (like, thicker than my dad’s)
In line for the showers, the guys noticed, and that’s where Sasquatch was born.
When my mom drove up to bring me home for Christmas, a teacher pulled her aside and started whispering about the hair on my upper lip and on my chin (which, to be fair, was starting to look more like an invasive fungus than any benign peach fuzz).
She drove me home that night, and the next day my dad brought out the razor for a lesson. “You’re starting early,” he told me. “The other guys must be jealous.”
Maybe they were. Some of the teasing had a hint of admiration behind it, but it still made me feel like a freak. I started researching hypertrichosis — werewolf syndrome — worried that I’d be covered in fur by adulthood. I waited to shower until everyone else had gone to sleep and never dared wear shorts.
Everyone is self-conscious about something at that age, and I carried it with me for a long time. I ended up shaving most of my body all the way through high school (and dreamed about electrolysis), until one girl ran a hand up my bare leg and locked eyes with me. “What did you do?” she asked. I was too embarrassed to say anything at all. If I had at least joined the swim team, I’d have had an excuse for occasional leg stubble. As it was, I probably seemed more like a budding drag queen on an off day.
That didn’t stop my habit for obsessive manicuring though — instead, it got more subtle and time-consuming. By the end of high school, I had my whole body mapped out like an unruly country with different elevations. I shaved my face, shoulders, chest, stomach and back (easier than it sounds, if you have flexible arms). I took clippers to everything else, memorizing the lengths that would look most “natural”: a #3 on the arms, and a gradation on my legs that started at a #2 on the lower back and thighs, and lengthened to a #4 at my shins. The whole thing took about an hour every week, and I knew the end result wasn’t great. With everything so uniform, my body looked off — like a just-vacuumed carpet, or a freshly mown lawn.
I took clippers to everything else, memorizing the lengths that would look most “natural”
It takes time, learning not to care what other people think. I didn’t stop that routine until after college, when the hairless Abercrombie ideal had finally gone out of style, and I realized a five o’ clock shadow made my jaw look better, that the hair on my chest made it look more defined. I wish I had known that earlier — it would have saved me hours in the shower, countless cuts and razor bumps, and one very painful experiment with Nair.
All told, it was a rough decade for me and my body hair. At the time, I felt like a pariah. Now, I’ve spoken to friends who felt just as self-conscious about a billion other traits: their weight, their height, the way they walked, the clothes they wore, and of course, their lack of hair. It turns out just about everyone is constantly embarrassed as they’re growing up. And that’s not even a bad thing: sure, being Sasquatch made me neurotic for a few years, but it also give me a thicker skin.
And that’s not even a bad thing: sure, being Sasquatch made me neurotic for a few years, but it also give me a thicker skin.
After you survive a locker room full of guys howling at you like it’s the full moon, you realize can survive almost anything. If I could talk to the younger (but equally hairy) me, I’d say go easy on yourself, and trust that the playing field will level out when we’re all too busy making money and paying bills and getting laid to obsess over freckles, or muscle mass, or the straightness of our teeth.
I haven’t gotten any complaints about my hair in a while. The last time I did, I kicked them out of bed.
Jon Roth has written for Esquire, Businessweek, and The Wall Street Journal. He was the former grooming editor at Details magazine, where he tried out every product known to man, and now sticks to bar soap. Follow him on socials @jonmroth