My arm hair used to cause me serious distress: The dark strands against my Snow White-pale arms felt dramatic. In middle school, I felt like the beast in Beauty and the Beast. I would look down at my arms in class and think that people were staring at them, judging at how hairy they were. To deal, I’d tug at my shirt sleeves to make sure I was covered up. The whole thing may sound petty now, but at the time, it really affected me.
It’s not uncommon, though, to feel so insecure about a body part when you’re a teen. Middle school is a strange, strange time when insecurities run rampant, hormones are in flux, and you’re growing into your body. While things seem to level out soon thereafter (at least, kind of), the self-consciousness that comes along with a growing body during a particularly insecure point in your life can be pretty tough to navigate—not to mention taxing on your mental health.
“It is extremely common for teenagers to be incredibly insecure about specific parts of their body, including their appearance and how others perceive them,” says Danielle Forshee, PsyD, a clinical psychologist. “During the teenage years, there are quite a bit of social and emotional developmental changes going on. The most important developmental task for teenagers is to search for their identity, which comes along with the struggle for independence.”
“It is extremely common for teenagers to be incredibly insecure about specific parts of their body, including their appearance and how others perceive them.” —Danielle Forshee, PsyD
This clashing of identity and desire to fit in can be heighten during the teen years, when one feels as though they’re frequently judged and on display. When parading down the halls at middle school, it seemed like I was being scrutinized by my peers from head to toe. It was enough to make me decide to shave my arms every. single. day. for two years. Even though my mom frowned upon the act—saying that it wasn’t necessary at all and that arm hair is normal (she’s right)—I still did it. As you can imagine, it was quite a nuisance considering how long it took me to shave my legs first, but I felt liberated from the anxiety of being different. And I continued to shave my arms until I got to high school, when I started to settle into my body and who I was.
Once I got more comfortable with myself and gained confidence, my arms finally weren’t an embarrassment for me anymore. “Insecurities impact each individual differently,” says Dr. Forshee. “It depends on how we deal with or manage our feelings. Initially, insecurities of any sort can create automatic negative thoughts about ourselves, leading to negative emotions and distress such as depression or anxiety, and then dictate our behaviors like isolating or not going to school.” Makes sense, considering the lengths I went to in order to not feel as though my arm hair made me stand out.
My arm hair grew back, and I let it stay. This time, the hair looked even more prominent, since they were bare for so long, but I didn’t care. I slowly learned to let my arm hair do its natural thing (and gained back significant shower time in the process). I figured if people were going to judge this part of my body, they don’t really belong in my life (I mean, clearly). But on a more important note, I had developed a sense of body positivity on my own; I crawled out of the hole of self-doubt that came from being even slightly perceived as different.
“As we grow out of the stage of adolescence and into our young adult years, we start to go through different developmental shifts and focus less on being socially accepted,” says Dr. Forshee. “Additionally, we have more control over our environment and learn to accept or better manage our insecurities.”
Now, when I look down at my arms I feel a strange, special love for the strands that inhabit these limbs. They may have caused me pain the past, but now I’m into the furry things. It’s about time too, anyways, since it’s an era of women rocking full bushes and such. Along with body love comes the love of the hair that graces your bod, ya know? Plus, nothing’s ever as bad as it seems when you’re a teenager.
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