“Gosh, you’re hairier than you look,” said the physio as she leaned in to shave my knee.
It’s fair to say this appointment with the physiotherapist had taken a curious turn. One minute she was stretching my hamstring, the next my kneecap was having a haircut and I was enduring comments on my appearance.
My immediate response was something between a cough and a laugh. What on earth was I supposed to say? It didn’t sound like a compliment, or indeed a criticism, but more of a genuinely surprised observation.
When I told Naomi what the physio had said, she clapped her hands with glee and said, “Oh my god, that’s so true! You are hairier than you look!”
“But what does that mean?” I pleaded, desperate to understand this strange diagnosis. It’s like when people say, “That photograph looks nothing like me.” I didn’t understand how my body could be so ambiguous. And do some people look hairier than they actually are?
Back on the treatment table, I struggled to think of a proper reply. Having your leg pruned by a stranger is awkward enough already, without discussing the nature of one’s bodily vegetation. But I had to say something. You can’t leave a comment like that hanging in the air.
“Oh, right,” I said vaguely, incapable of mustering a snappy comeback.
The physio narrowed her eyes in concentration as she finished shearing my kneecap, ready to apply sports tape that would support my poorly joint. I decided to leave the conversation there and leant back against the itchy pillow.
I’ve always been aware of my furry complexion, ever since my nipples started to sprout hairs at the age of eighteen. I was a late bloomer, you see. Smooth as a cue ball throughout adolescence, and then, once school was over and university began, my body decided it had some catching up to do. My once pristine chest grew a dense foliage, which slowly crept down to my stomach and over my shoulders, like a weed that was determined to one day join the mane on my head with the newly-grown whiskers on my feet. A continuous meadow from temple to toenail.
Despite such an ample covering, my fur has a deceptive quality, and once I was free from the stuffy physio room and could talk it through with Naomi, this started to make sense. From a distance of, say, a metre, I don’t look like a hairy person. I don’t have a bushy beard or unruly eyebrows, my nose hairs don’t protrude from my nostrils (yet), and my leg hair doesn’t appear overly luscious in a pair of shorts. But lean in a little closer, or take a peek under the hood, and the true horror of my hairiness is revealed.
Not everyone can stomach such defiant fleeciness either. I once heard a woman on a train declare, “If my man had any hair on his back I’d send him straight to the waxers. Back, sack, and crack for him,” she said with a cackle. Poor chap.
We seem to be stuck idolising the smooth torsos and pristine legs that get plastered on billboards. Women are forced to be bald from the eyebrows down and men are cajoled into waxing salons. I suppose, coming from the humble ape, we’ve evolved to shed our shag in favour of shelter and warm clothes, so it’s easy to see hairiness as a sign of stagnation, as something primitive and ugly.
But underneath our conformity, there’s a collective longing to move forward. We’re tired of succumbing to strict bodily standards. We just want to feel comfortable in our own skin.
And so I waver between defiance and shame. I want to embrace the fuzz but can’t help concealing it from the wider public who might take offense. I’ve even developed a few nifty techniques to disguise my fluffy flaws.
Wearing clothes is a good start. They do an excellent job of hiding the less savoury aspects of our bodies, like a hairy bottom.
Along with clothes, it’s a good idea to keep the visible appendages neatly groomed. A sharp haircut, plucked eyebrows, and clean-shaven face all help to deceive any onlookers. I’ve also taken to plucking the hairs around my Adam’s apple to maintain a clear pathway between beard and chest hair. That narrow thoroughfare is vital - the Suez Canal of my body, you might say.
Finally, and most importantly, I keep my distance from lesser-known people. As the physiotherapist kindly confirmed, it’s only once you get up close and personal that my faults emerge. I’m best viewed from six feet away, like a weather-beaten statue. My chips and cracks are reserved for a select few - those who can be trusted to accept what they see - and to them I can only offer my sincerest apologies.