I consider myself mostly au naturel. My hair has been natural for decades. I’ve only lightly dabbled in makeup. I’ve been pretty much what-you-see-is-what-you-get into adulthood. But of course, when I really think about it, I’ve been sucked into all kinds of culturally mandated body modifications since puberty.
In high school, I joined the cheerleading squad. During football season we were bundled up tight, from leggings to earmuffs. But then, basketball season started. And it was bare legs, short skirts and sleeveless tops. We wore high-waisted briefs over our underwear and then it was time to somersault all over the place—bikini area fully on display.
Before our first game, the captain of the squad took a look at a few of us as we got dressed and handed out razors. The message was clear: Handle that. I started shaving under my arms and on my bikini line that day. (I butchered myself as I didn’t know your skin absolutely had to be wet. Oof!) Fast-forward 30 years, and still the need for hair removal remains.
I’m in my forties now and I’ve been secretly (and not so secretly) thinking about modifications that go way past hair-removal. What does that say about me? Does it mean I’m not confident and satisfied with who I am? Is covering grey considering a modification? Or is that just cosmetic—like mascara and lip gloss?
As I think about how I navigate these space, I think of Lauren, my 20-year-old stepdaughter, who has just finished her second year of college. (She’s been a part of my life since she was three, and was the maid of honor at my wedding to her dad; we have a super tight family, and Lauren counts three parents—her bio-mom, her dad, and me.)
I get so much insight on my own stuff by talking to Lauren about her experiences both past and present. I called her up at school to talk about stubble, butt injections and how black really does crack.
First, let’s set some parameters for what body modifications are. Is shaving your legs part of this conversation in the way butt injections would be?
I think they are. Butt injections are extreme but either way you’re still making yourself look a certain way—and more importantly, it’s often to fit cultural ideals.
I tried to instill in you the idea of loving your body as-is. How did I do when it comes to accepting yourself and your body?
You definitely wanted to normalize everthing. I remember being super young, maybe five? And we started talking about body parts and the right names and stuff. We were talking about nipples and areola. I wanted to see a picture and you showed me and I was like, gross, there is hair on there! And you said it’s totally normally to have hair there. And I remember thinking to myself, no way. That ain’t normal.
Hilarious. I wonder why it stood out to you as being not normal?
I don’t know but I have tons of hair there now and I’m like, well, I’m glad my stepmother gave me the heads up. Or I would have been freaking out.
I think for most of us, needing to fix something usually starts with hair removal.
For me, it was shaving my armpits, definitely. I started in middle school.
I started a bit later. But I’ve never stopped. Thirty years and I’m still at it. When did you start shaving everywhere else?
When sex started to enter the scene. I only knew about what I saw in porn. So I shaved every single hair down there every other day.
Every other day! All of it?
I was a bald eagle. All the guys whispered about how gross hair was. And my friends were all shaving regularly. Even before I had sex, if I felt like if anyone could possibly see or touch anywhere near there—it would have to be completely hair-free.
Thanks porn industry!
I know, I remember apologizing a few times to guys if it was the least bit stubbly.
Where are you now, at 20 years old?
I know it’s cliché but when I got to college I would see women who were like, whatever. Some shaved. Some didn’t. All were very clear—if dude is not okay with me as-is then keep it moving. So I still shave but not like before. And I definitely don’t feel the same kind of pressure.
Seems like after hair removal—it’s such a huge leap into other body modifications. What’s next?
I feel like there’s gotta be something between shaving and butt injections.
Maybe nose jobs? I remember a few years ago, the girls at my school would come back after break with bandages on their nose. It was like, a cool thing for people to know you got a nose job. I don’t see that as much anymore.
Maybe even before that—lip fillers?
It’s definitely a modification but not as risky as others.
I hear lip filler and I think of Kylie Kardashian.
Her name is Kylie Jenner. And yes, she was the face of lip plumping for a while.
Didn’t she sell a product to increase lip size?
She actually didn’t. She admitted later that she was getting injections. Now she has a “lip kit” which is basically just lip color.
So what was the Kylie challenge?
People were looking at her and trying to create her full lip look with ridiculous things like suctioning their lips with shot glasses and—it was just awful.
Injections seem so awful. Painful and risky.
So you wouldn’t do Botox?
Oh my god, yes. I forgot about that. I would LOVE to. I have these lines in between my eyes. They keep deepening and I hate them so much. Every time I see a photo of myself, I zero in on that spot. I could be having a great hair day, awesome outfit—all I can see is what they call the 11s. I hate saying this to you! If you told me you wanted to have this done I would be like, are you kidding me, you look perfect! Stop this nonsense!
But I get it! I understand!
So let’s say you had to get plastic surgery…
Nah, I’m good.
What if you HAD to?
No choice? That’s a weird premise.
Go with it. You have to pick a procedure. No cost. No complications.
I can’t believe I’m going to say this.
Yes! I would get more junk in the trunk. Terrible, I know. But yeah, I tell my friends all the time: I’m trying to get thick! I want thighs and stuff.
And where does that come from?
I have no idea. I mean, of course, thickness is a Thing. When I was in middle school I wanted to have the widest thigh gap possible because that was the Thing with my peers. What would you get done?
Okay, hold on. Let me get my list.
Botox, for certain. Also, a boob lift with a one cup increase. I really miss my perky boobs. I’d get a tummy tuck and—
Wait. A tummy tuck?
I know. I could get the tummy I want by not eating Reese’s Cups every day. But that’s besides the point. I want a tummy tuck. And some kind of fat-removal from my thighs. My butt can stay as-is. Also, not sure if there’s surgery for stretch marks and cellulite. I’d do that too.
I’m not done. I would get surgery on the back of my hands.
I didn’t even know that was a thing.
I didn’t either. But once I found out… Here’s the thing. I say all those things I would get done. But in reality, I’m pretty okay with most of my “flaws” and the ones I’m not okay with—-I know I can improve it myself. But your hands tell the story no matter how fit you are. 43 year olds have 43-year-old hands. Period. One day I saw a picture of Madonna and the story was about her hands—they were veiny and wrinkled. And then I looked down at my own hands and thought, mine kinda look like that. And I’ve been insecure about my hands ever since.
Does the surgery even work?
Seems to. But I’m not sure. I think part of the issue for me is this notion that Black Don’t Crack. In the Black community, because we typically do age well, there’s this idea that when you’re a 43-year-old woman, you should look 23. And that is not my story. Especially not with my hands.
This is not only a woman thing. Dad called me the other day and said he has these lines around his mouth that he doesn’t like.
Wow. Would he get Botox?
I don’t know. But he did ask if he could use makeup on them. I told him sure.
You know, I just remembered that I actually got a body mod that I didn’t even ask for. When I gave birth to your sister, the midwife stitched me up after because she had to make a cut to get the baby out.
I remember! I was standing right there and I was like, she’s using a needle and thread on you!
Right. So one of the lovely things no one tells you about pushing a kid out of your nether regions is that the first time you have to poop is a serious situation. Because the stitches are there to keep you together. But to poop you need things to—be apart.
Right. So it was a pretty bad scene. When I saw my midwife for my check up I told her it felt like, super tight down there. She winked and said, yeah, I threw in a couple of lover’s stitches for you. I’m like, what? I looked it up later and I was so enraged. Doctor’s will literally stitch you up more than necessary so your vagina can be tighter.
So like, let’s stitch it up tighter not for YOUR pleasure but for your partner.
Exactly. There was so much wrong about that! But what if I had chosen to get the Lover’s Stitches. Some women pay to get that done.
Of course we can’t judge. If you choose to do it (unlike your lover’s stitch!), and it makes you happy, go for it. Although I will say, we should think about the why when it comes to this stuff. Pretty much every bod mod comes down to the desire to fit a cultural ideal in some way or another.
All the way back to shaving. Where we began.
Well. I guess.
Wait. Isn’t the decision to shave your armpits meeting an ideal?
Look. My body odor is serious. So I’m shaving these pits daily for everyone’s benefit. And I’m still a feminist. You can’t exclude me!
Devin Anderson has written professionally since 1998 and currently works as a full-time freelance writer for various outlets. She’s also written five books, three non-fiction and two novels. The name Devin Anderson is a pseudonym. The writer is changing her name to protect the innocent, the guilty—and her mom.