Writer Paulette Perhach and her closest friends have a pact with each other to be honest about their bodies; especially when it comes to any funky hairs growing. Here she discusses why this piece of honest - and potentially awkward - legislation is essential among her best friends.
I aim to be someone who sees a woman for the brilliant soul she is inside. I don’t aim to be the kind of person who fixates on someone’s faults, especially physical ones.
But when I’m talking to a friend, and I notice, perhaps, a stubby, stiff hair protruding from her chin, catching the afternoon sun and twitching up and down with every word she says, I lose the ability to focus on anything else.
What is my duty to my fellow woman here? Should I tell her? Does she already know, and not care?
Or would she die of embarrassment if she knew I knew, and she didn’t know?
Of course, I would want to know. I’m haunted by the fact that I will never see my own face. You can’t know how you actually look to other people, or if, right now, there’s a bit of kale leftover from lunch covering the better part of your front tooth.
Sometimes, when I’m alone, I descend into the hellscape of the magnified bathroom mirror. I inspect the sprouts on my chin that grow slightly longer than their peers. I wonder if I should pluck them, but I fear they’ll send out reinforcements.
I rotate my face so I can tell if the peach fuzz on my cheek looks like a straight-up beard to other people. I wonder if the mole on my jawline I got “removed” is in bloom with the light blonde, but persistent, hairs that still grow out of it. I wonder if other people notice.
If I want to know, then I should be the kind of person who tells. But I’m not always. This goes for any blindspot regarding the physical self: a zipper that’s down, sauce dripped on trousers, toilet paper stuck to a heel.
Each of these moments creates a decision: to tell or to ignore.
Mentioning it to the unknowing person will almost always result in some level of discomfort, a level that can be measured on the Scale of Awkwardness.
A smudge of mascara on your face ranks low on this scale. But a sizable obstruction dangling from someone’s nose as she leads the team meeting? That’s peak Awkwardness.
This is why it’s easier to ignore these gaffs: telling someone about their situation costs something. You have to both bring about and bear witness to their humiliation. Sometimes I simply want to avoid this cost, so I’ll let someone with their fly down move on and allow the next person they encounter to handle it.
But if you are considering telling someone, you must calculate the other dimension of the situation: how much the person would want to know about their blunder, and how thankful she would be that you told her. This is the Spectrum of Relief.
If I say, “Oh, just FYI: you have a hair coming out of your chin,” and the woman says, “Yeah, I know, so?” then I’ll look like an imbecile, because she’s not at all thankful I told her. In fact, I insulted her.
If I tell someone she has a curler in her hair as she’s about to walk on stage, and she says, “Oh, thank God you saw it!” Then that’s a high level of Relief. You get to feel like the hero.
A Low-Awkwardness, High-Relief situation requires little internal debate. I’ll tell almost anyone they have something in their teeth. Telling gets harder as you go up the Scale of Awkwardness. Someone has to be at least an acquaintance for me to tell them if they have a booger.
But telling someone about a hair growing on her face takes true friendship.
The opposite is also true. There’s a certain joy in watching your office enemy walk out of lunch with a bit of ketchup on her upper lip, and smiling politely as you pass (although I would tell her if I saw her skirt tucked into her underwear. I’m not a total monster.)
Here’s the problem with lady whiskers: It’s sky-high Awkwardness. Whether or not the woman cares, the level of Relief she would feel if you told her is unknowable.
Some women don’t worry about rocking some sprouts on their face. I knew one woman once - let's call her Gloria - and I remembered her name with the help of the hair coming out of her mole, which conveniently curved around in the shape of a G. It was black and a centimeter long. She must have seen it. She obviously just didn’t mind. But for me - superficial, neurotic me - I would want to know.
Which is why my best friends and I have enacted the Body Hair Pact (with the Facial Hair Clause). It’s a piece of friendship legislation I highly recommend for you and your best lady buds. Your friends must have your back, because you cannot see your own back hair.
“Basically, anything funky that’s going on,” one of my best friends said, circling an open palm around her face and torso as we had this conversation, perhaps the most important discussion of our 20-year friendship. “You have to tell me.”
I, Paulette Perhach, do swear to always let my friends know if there’s a noticeable hair poking out from their upper lip, if their unibrow is reforming, or if a mole on the back of their arm sprouts a creeper.
Friendship is a privilege, but it’s also a responsibility. There’s no built-in occasion where we talk about our expectations from our closest hive.
I support any woman’s right to luxuriate in the natural body hair she chooses to. But if you would prefer to not reveal all that Mother Nature has in store for your face fur, your very best friends should be your first defense, and they should know that that’s their duty.
My best friends and I see each other once a year now, and it’s an important yearly review of all the issues I’ve been wondering about since our last inspection, of all the things we can’t trust others to tell us. Beyond hair, we measure the changes time has inflicting on our bodies. Can I still wear these shorts? Are my armpits caving in?
On our last best friend trip, one of the girls came out of the bathroom pointing angrily at her eyebrows. “You guys are slacking on our deal,” she said. “Look at this!” Her eyebrows had overgrown into two shrubs. We hung our heads in shame.
“We failed you,” I said. “Sorry.”
At least we know it’s our job. For everyone else, I still wonder.
Images: Thinkstock, HBO