Bearded Ladies: A Story of Unwanted Hair Regret

Dealing with and regretting unwanted hair growth is an issue for both men and women, young and older.  However, my experience with those spurious, countless villains post menopause has become an every day life-changing part of my life. An encounter with a friend reminded me of my challenges with this part of aging.

As she chided me for not attending the weekly dance class that she lead, I looked in horror at the long lean face that heretofore had been a welcoming one exuding pleasantness, kindness and quiet beauty. Her face had dark, fine hair growing from all the wrong places for a female. My mind immediately zeroed in on that quarter sized area on the right side of my chin that sprouted the sneaky hairy mini monsters on a continuing basis.  I battled every day the same never-ending war against a stealthy enemy that, to my shame, my double-crossing body worked quietly with.  I fought the urge to feel my own quarter size battleground to check for new growth.  I secretly knew that I would feel something there, there always was. It was just a matter of how much and how long the follicles had grown.

The hair on Minna’s head was fine and curly. She had worn “sister locks” for a number of years and had recently had them cut off to let her natural hair be cut and shaped to a becoming style that she had worn often over the years. As I tried not to stare, while trying not to touch my own face, while still trying to think of another excuse for not attending her dance classes; the sun glinted on Minna’s face accentuating the healthy nature of her mustache and beard.

The irony of the moment was not lost on me as my friend, Asia, from back east, Atlanta to be exact (maybe Georgia is still in the South; however, Atlanta is not), and I had had a discussion last evening concerning facial hair and the problems thereof.  I had stepped out of the shower and looked in the mirror to check on the war-zone to make a tactical decision on what best ammunition to use on this kill. Would it be my favorite tweezers, a weapon I had heard that after a few years of plucking, the follicles would finally stop growing?  Not! (I’ve been tweezing this same area for years, and if anything, it’s getting larger)

I like to sit in bed with my magnifying mirror held in one hand, my trusty, menacing tweezers in the other – going after those sneaky, lying, creatures that hide, grow and multiply on my face against my will. I had gathered my artillery on my bedside table: alcohol, cotton squares, aloe vera, my mirror and my trusty t’s.  I was at first annoyed by the sound of the ringing phone until I saw her familiar number on the display. “Hey lady, what’s up?” I said as I picked up the receiver. “How’s it going in Hotlanta?”  I heard the smile in her voice “Doing well, what are you doing?”  The conversation that followed revealed that although Asia is fifteen years younger than me, she is battling an annoying mustache that was intent on growing on her elegant upper lip. As I had a church event to attend early the next morning, we promised to continue our conversation regarding battle plans, evasions, artillery and munitions in our common ongoing war – as two heads or faces are, better than one.

Next evening, as I prepared for bed, I thought about the revelations of the past twenty-four hours  The church event had been a wonderful concert in the park featuring all types of music: blues, jazz and gospel. It was well attended and well-organized.  Minna and her group had been invited to perform a few dance routines and she lead in some training in the newest “stepping” dance craze enveloping the community. As I envisioned Minna’s shadow beard, Asia’s elegant upper lip mustache and looked at my own freaky right side chin hair, I thought of the circus freaks of my youth.  One of them was the bearded lady. Had I, no, we – become circus freaks?

Was this the ultimate bane of growing old as a female?  Then, I thought, what about men? What is it that they suffer in common in growing old?  Both men and women have the wrinkles war in common with aging – to Botox or not to Botox?  However, the ultimate battle for an aging male seems to have been resolved with the production of the little blue pill called Viagra. No matter how they look or how wrinkled or hairy they are, with that little pill (and financial security), they seem to have conquered the major male aging problem.

Unwanted hair removal is an industry in our country.  Late night television infomercials abound with unwanted hair removal products and kits. You could even get two for the price of one – just pay for separate handling and shipping. I purchased one such product. It worked as advertised; however, the cute little razor with the built-in light only seemed to trigger more growth and I went back to my trusty tweezers. I tried the hair removal creams – didn’t like the smell that seemed to remain on my skin long after the hair was removed. I found waxing to be painful and for such a small area, back to the t’s.

Just thinking of all the areas on my body that I need to do battle with unwanted hair seems overwhelming: legs, underarms, eyebrows, face, sideburns, and the bush.  Luckily, I don’t have the thick, coarse stuff that some others are bothered with.

Now, why do we care? Why do we spend so time and effort at war with our bodies?  And further, why did I react to Minna’s choice with horror and judge her.  Some men like hairy legs. Academy Award winner, Mo’ Nique says she and her husband love her hairy legs.  The French are not ashamed of underarm hair on their women.  Latin American artist Frieda Kahlo’s eyebrows met in the center of her forehead and Diego Rivera loved her until her death.  A young Audrey Hepburn had the thickest eyebrows ever, and she was considered beautiful.  And a bushy bush can remain hidden under clothing, only to be dealt with when wearing a swimsuit.  However, a bearded lady is considered a freak.

Although many young women have issues with unwanted hair, for women over fifty who are post menopausal it’s almost a given.  Sometimes referred to as “The Change” it’s when a woman’s body stops generating those frilly feminine estrogen and progesterone hormones that tell your female body that you can bear children. When that egg stops being produced and ceases that monthly trip down the fallopian tubes to the uterus looking for fertilization, the male hormones – those dirty masculine testosterone’s – use the opportunity to take over, telling your body to grow more hair; in most cases get dry in the most inopportune places and in some cases, become indifferent regarding sex (now that one is a real bummer- then again maybe not). Does the word “men o pause” tell us something? Is it subliminally offering us the message that we are now becoming more man like? (I’m just saying).

There’s good and bad in all of this. Some women are so glad to be passed the childbearing stage that any price is worth it.  When that egg is not fertilized and the incumbent nurturing blood is expelled from the body for three days to a week (longer for some) for most women, is a monthly drag. Menopause meant no more monthly bloodletting. No more required purchases of blood catching products. No more associated odor and no more inconvenience as far as sexual encounters (for some – no big thing – one of my ex’s didn’t care).

The further irony of my encounter with Minna and my discussion with Asia is that I don’t remember any previous talks with my over fifty friends (the average age for menopause is 51) about menopausal unwanted hair growth. We’ve discussed hot flashes, mental stability, night sweats, dryness, Alzheimer’s, Dementia and whether or not to take estrogen supplements. As for me, menopause seems to have affected my mental state above all other symptoms besides my quarter sized patch of hair. I feel crazy most of the time. However, most of my friends and relatives seem not to notice any difference. I guess since mine is not an aging crazy and I’ve been feeling this way for so long it’s become a part of who I am. A personality change is not uncommon with menopause.

As I had a hysterectomy in my late thirties due to fibroid tumors, I was not experiencing monthly periods (becoming irregular is one of the first signs of menopause) and didn’t recognize or associate this feeling as a symptom.  When I described my feelings of brain-death and the impenetrable black curtain where my brain had previously been, my OB-GYN male doctor looked at me as if I were truly crazy and told me that I was going through the perfectly normal life process of menopause and that I was fine. I changed to a female physician who seemed to understand as she prescribed hormone replacement medication for me which did not seem to clear my brain or lift the curtain.

There was the irrational me who went into a funk over seeing grey hair on my “sweet pea” (a former lover called that certain part of a woman’s anatomy ‘pie’ because it resembled a slice.  We laughingly called mine sweet potato then with even more giggles shortened it to “sweet pea’) while the ever multiplying grey hair on my head didn’t seem to matter.  Was the depression because I objectified that part of my body growing old?  I proceeded to bemoan my symptoms with my friends; however, after hearing their tales of hot flashes, night-time drenched bedclothes and sheets, uncontrollable and embarrassing changes in color accompanied with personal climate changes as well as dryness during sex, none of which I was experiencing, I decided to just deal with my own issues. I found that brain games, higher learning and exercise really helped.  Over the years the dark curtain in the frontal vortex of my brain has faded (it’s never gone away entirely); I am now lucid most of the time.

I can’t recall ever discussing unwanted hair with my doctor either. And seeing that first follicle of hair growing from my chin didn’t send me over the top (as the grey on my sweet pea had). Although it seems that particular phenomenon didn’t surface for me until some years post menopause and by that time the slow dance of growing old presented major fast paced, battles for me to fight “issues” regarding relationships, economics, housing and health.

In fact, I thought that first follicle on my chin was just a stray. I hurriedly plucked it out and it was weeks before the appearance of the next and then the next and the next.  I think I’ll perform an informal survey among my friends and inquire about their favorite form of removal and control. I know I spend hours trying to stay relatively smooth. It is war. I am in battle on a daily basis.

I sometimes invest in the painful wax job. There are the more expensive professional hair removal options from a dermatologist using electrolysis, laser or other forms of removal. At other times, I run a nice warm bubble bath to shave my legs and underarms while in the tub as it’s difficult to shave ones legs in the shower.  I sit in bed with the music of Joe Sample’s “Invitation,” Kenny G’s “Classics in the Key of G,” John Coltrane’s “The Gentle Side of John Coltrane,” Chris Botti’s “When I Fall In Love” or Gene Ammon’s “Story,” with my artillery and ammunition at ready, as I pluck away at my eyebrows and chin.  I’ve become wise enough not to deal with the music of Marvin Gaye, Al Green or Johnnie Taylor and especially not James Brown on these most auspicious occasions because the last thing you want to happen is to uncontrollably bust a dance move.

For me, the hardest cut is the sweet pea trim.  I seem to always nick myself or in the case of the swimsuit required bikini trim, I dread the bumpy, prickly grow back.  I dream of my perfect mate who will not shy away from trimming my sweet pea.  We will laugh and talk together as we listen to music, while he clips, plucks and trims.  Having a person in the trenches to wage the war with you is a good thing.

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