Why it’s OK to have hairy legs (and other conversations you have with your two-year-old)

funny-hairy-legs-cat-sleeping

“Mummy, you have hairy legs. Shave them!” My two-year-old says, pointing an accusatory finger at the offending stubbly limb.

“What? They’re fine,” I reassure her. Truth be told they’re abominable. The hairs are curling in on themselves; I’m two lazy weeks away from man-leg territory. Madame Tussauds wouldn’t have enough wax to sort these babies out. And that’s just the hair! My skin had taken on a Godzilla-like appearance. Very beastly indeed.

“No mummy, they’re hairy. It’s dis-CUST-ing!”

“I like my hairy legs!” I protest. Great, she’s only two and I’m already an hypocritical liar. “Sometimes I choose to shave them,” I continue, weakly, “But there’s nothing wrong with hairy legs. You ask Aunty Katelin, she doesn’t mind when she has hairy legs. She even has hairy armpits; she likes it that way!” Damn you Aunty Katelin, gallivanting around Europe when I need you here to prove an important point.

When you’re raising a two-year-old the questions and criticisms come thick and fast. Generally, they can be filed under the Harsh But Innocuous category:

“Mummy, NO SINGING!” she cuts me off, mid-chorus during my rendition of The Little Mermaid’s Under The Sea.

“What? Are you saying I’m a bad singer?”

“Don’t talk! Don’t SING! Don’t try it!”

“I don’t like Mummy’s beans,” she says, pushing them off her plate. The kid will eat prawns, chilli pasta, mushrooms, kalamata olives but it’s my bloody green beans that cop criticism.

“I’m pretty sure you don’t like any beans. Give them a go anyway.”

“No, I don’t like MUMMY’S beans.”

“Mummy, you stink,” she points out as I alight my exercise bike.

“Yep. Exercise can make you sweaty and stinky, it’s fine.”

“You need a bath.”

Most of the time her harsh observations are met with a tinge of amusement on my part, but the hairy legs comment was different. Sure, I’d already dealt with the arguably hairier (pardon the pun) topic of pubic fuzz when she was almost two (she confronted me in the shower with much pointing and eyebrow raising: “Mummy, hair?” before returning her gaze downwards for self-inspection, “No hair?”), but this time her self-awareness flawed me.

“I’ve got hairy legs too,” she observed one afternoon while we had a bath, pointing to the wispy layer of barely visible down covering her limbs. I suddenly regretted the times I’d jumped in the tub with her and felled my leg forests without a second thought.

She had watched my enthusiastic shaving, registered my anti-hair grumblings and processed that as hair on legs = disgusting … hair on my legs = disgusting.

I’d expected some sort of hair curiosity or backlash at 12, maybe 10, after noticing subtle differences in the bodies of friends and women around her – at the beach, during sport, at swimming. I didn’t expect it at two.

Instead of flipping out (my first reaction) I did a mental review of anything else that might be influencing her body image. Should she see me apply make-up? Is it wrong to paint her toenails? Should I refund the Barbie I’ve bought her for her 3rd birthday? Should I enforce a ban on Disney princesses? Should I set a hairy example until we’re able to have a mature conversation about bodies, appearances and choices?

Well, while I’m not about to go all Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy just yet, it seems like the right time to keep my shaving habits to myself. (I’d love to say I’m a big enough person to ditch the razor altogether but let’s face it, no-one wants to be  that woman at the beach with the two children and WHOPPING BIKINI BEARD.)

I’m also going to cave on the Disney front, because she is nuts for Belle, Rapunzel and Ariel. (“Belle likes reading books too, Mummy!” she tells me. How can I deny her that? I also happen to know many intelligent, independent, confident women who grew up watching Disney and are seemingly unaffected by its representations of female bodies and misogynistic overtones. Perhaps there is room for balance?)

Instead I plan to maintain a positive dialogue about my body and hers. There will be no mention of anything being too fat, too wobbly or dimply. There will be no talk of weight or scales (we don’t own any). I will stop lamenting my no-existent bust (and instead applaud the advantages – hooray for exercising in comfort and a lack of sagging).

It’s never too early (or too late) to start building a positive body image.

Want to join the discussion? Have any advice about children and body image? How do you feel about young girls watching Disney movies? Feel free to leave your thoughts below.

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