My favourite part of the day was taking off my clothes and staring at my armpits.
11:45AM—12:05PM, my designated shower time. It was during these 20 minutes I learned to let go of the absence of.
The bathroom was small and still warm from the previous bather. I shut the door and was in the most glamorous place in the world, Spain or something.
This activity, this environment was the closest thing to “outside” life. Nothing big, nothing fancy, but next to the small sunken bed in a shared room with a white curtain, next to the blue cushion and the brown stool I sat on for 12 hours a day, the plastic shower became Mediterranean and spa-like, the ceramic toilet, a stone-encrusted throne.
These 20 minutes provided me with the comfort of a Spanish nun…if nuns had any comforts at all.
By the second day, I establish a Royal Routine.
I have only a handful of items to my possession, all of which have now become treasures.
I place my face cream on the small shelf under the mirror. I place my face wash and my small shampoo and conditioner on the shelf in the shower. Finally, I place my tweezers and my nail file next to the face cream.
I place my orange shaver in the shower on a shelf of its own.
Then, I slip off my damp socks and lay them on a shelf under the illusion they will dry. I slip off my dirty sweats and fold them like pressed linens.
Then, I cross my wrists and grasp on to the bottom of my shirt to pull it up like if Sarah Michelle Gellar did Vipassana in 1999, like you try to do in front of your first boyfriend but get stuck.
I get stuck.
Then, I position myself in front of the mirror. I soften my jaw, the backs of my eye sockets and prepare for the reveal. Like a slow-motion sun salutation I reach up.
Fingertips, higher. Underarms, wider.
I have armpit hair.
I keep my arms up, my eyes move from my face to my armpits. My eyes move from my armpits to my face.
This is what it looks like for me, Sarah Ruth Brose, to have armpit hair.
I didn’t expect on showering every day, and although it crossed my mind, I didn’t expect not to shave my armpits.
I brought my orange shaver. I placed it in the shower on a shelf of its own. But soon my desire to shower became less about cleaning myself, becoming less dirty. It became about becoming more of, exploring more of. The parts of me I wasn’t use to seeing, feeling.
Day after day I reach up. Each underarm, an undercover garden. And-thanks-to-my-all-natural-tea-tree-oil-deodorant-that-does-not-clog-my-pores, my armpits stay moist, the most fertile soil.
Day 2, I reach up: What is typically smooth and bare and flesh-toned is speckled with black.
My eyes move from my face to my armpits, from my armpits to my face. I have armpit hair.
Day 4, I reach up: What is typically smooth and bare and flesh-toned is covered in black.
My eyes move from my face to my armpits, from my armpits to my face. I am that woman with armpit hair.
Day 6, I reach up: What is typically smooth and bare and flesh-toned is abundant and black.
My eyes move from my face to my armpits, from my armpits to my face. I am a woman with armpit hair.
Day 8, I reach up: What is typically smooth and bare and flesh-toned is beautiful and black.
My eyes move from my face to my armpits, from my armpits to my face. I am a beautiful woman with armpit hair.
Day 10, I reach up: What is typically smooth and bare and flesh-toned is wonderful and abundant and now kind of curly and black.
My eyes move from my face to my armpits, from my armpits to my face.
I am a beautiful woman with beautiful armpit hair.
My armpit hair is not separate from what makes me beautiful; my armpit hair is in fact part of what makes me beautiful.
It’s so easy to label the woman who has armpit hair, to categorize the woman who has armpit hair. She is “the other.” She is the free-spirited hippie who’s just a little too free.
The kind that looks good from far away but when you see the shaves the side of her head because she likes to feel the wind on her skull you place her in a specific category. She becomes the “the other.”
She is the deodorant over anti-antiperspirant wearing woman who is dirty. Not the “all-natural tea-tree oil” dirty, “dirt under the tree dirty.” The one who is actually comfortable being dirty, who wonders at the black bits between her nails because what is more beautiful than the soil of the earth, the soil of the earth inside her.
Vipassana is about tapping into the reality of the world as it is. By observing the reality of the world as it is, I started to observe the reality of myself as I am.
I started to observe the hairs on my feet, my ankles, my baby toes. I started to observe the hairs on my legs, the backs of my thighs, the few on my chest. I started to observe the hairs on my knuckles, my upper lip, beside my ears, the base of my neck.
I started to observe the feeling of my leg hair. I began to touch it. Sometimes while meditating I would reach down, slide my fingers under my sweats and stroke what was soft and fury. I was surprised at how full it felt, thick it was.
I started to observe my habit patterns. I noticed the tweezers, the nail file, the shaver. Before, I reached for these tools out of habit. This is part of what I do. I tweeze my eyebrows and I shave my armpits and this is how I maintain me.
The absence of my hair makes me more me.
I continued to observe my habit patterns. Every day I would place one hand on my low belly. Out of habit, I would place one hand on my belly to see if it felt smaller, flatter. I would do this particularly around 4AM, as it was now sixteen hours since my last full meal. My belly felt small and flat and my brain attached a positive meaning to this sensation.
I was conditioned to be more comfortable with the absence of what is soft and round.
Shorter, smoother, smaller, flatter,
As my eyes moved from my face to my armpits, from my armpits to my face, I discovered reality as it is cannot co-exist with “the other.” I am her,
I am the woman with the armpit hair. I am her and she is me.
My idea of beauty began to shift; what if beauty became the reality of what is, of what just is.
The reality of what is is that I have Middle-Eastern roots. I have hair on my toes, on my legs, on my thighs, on my bum, on my belly, on my chest, on my arms, on my neck, on my face. My hair is black and coarse and grows quickly.
My hair is abundant.
The reality is my low belly is softer than my upper belly—I get this from my mother.
My low belly is abundant.
I didn’t shave any hair until the 14th day—and it was actually really hard. Like a slow-motion sun salutation, I reached up. I saw what was smooth and bare and flesh-toned. I did not pair this absence of with beauty. I ran my palms along my smooth, body-buttered legs. I did not pair this absence of with beauty.
What if beauty became less and less the absence of? What if beauty became what is abundant? What is already abundant. What is. The reality is, is there is abundance all around us.
There is abundance in us, on us, always.
We are abundance.
This is the reality as it is.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise