Whilst Punk Rock was busy blowing popular music into oblivion, girls like me were simultaneously, unavoidably growing up. Punk’s new mantra’s about three chords or never trusting hippies, were bold and useful signposts by which to navigate this new cultural explosion, but there’s was nothing very new or radical about what was happening to our bodies as we arrived at the gates of teenage-hood. We were growing, just in the same way as all teenagers had grown before us; we were getting taller, stronger and, I think the polite term might be “becoming young ladies”.
Catherine’s mum had terrifyingly hairy legs, they were more noticeable in the summer, but even in the winter, her dark hairy bristles would poke out through her tights; like a silverback gorilla in slippers. On the other hand, (or shin) my own Mother’s legs seemed smooth and hair free, exactly like my own pre-pubescent pins. But by the age of 14, during one of those frequent self-examination sessions to which teens are prone, “Are my teeth wonky?” “Are my toes weird?”, and then the startling discovery of, “Is this grown-up under-arm hair?”. I soon began to notice hairs under my arms and if I wasn’t mistaken the hair on my legs seemed to be changing into something a lot more serious…to me they were beginning to look a bit like Catherine’s Mum’s.
What was girl to do? Obviously I scoured some back-issues of Jackie magazine, because despite all the punk rock goings on, Jackie was still the first emergency service as far as medical matters were concerned. There were ads for “lady razors”, advice on “dipilation” whatever that was, the advice being, that you should make it part of your weekly “beauty routine”. Well screw that. I even took the bold step of telling my mother about Catherine’s mum’s legs, countering it with “but yours aren’t like that…” leaving it nice and open-ended so she could jump in with some indirect advice. She didn’t. She wasn’t going to talk about it. I have since learnt that this kind of verbal lockdown might have come from a mid-century idea, proffered by the women’s magazines of the day, of “feminine mystique”. Feminine mystique was like a special spy code and required total secrecy on all matters concerning anything to do with body hair, grey hair, shaving, etc…it just wasn’t talked about, because talking about it, or admitting to any kind of shaving or dyeing, simply ruined your perfect image. That’s what the feminine mystique was all about.
The short-sleeved girls in Jackie didn’t have any underarm hair, and the cryptically worded adverts always referred to “unwanted hair” without specifying what might be so unwanted about it. I didn’t want to be the only hairy girl on the planet, with only Catherine’s mum for company, but neither did I want to buy into the strict and uptight “beauty routine” idea. I was trapped between a hairless past and a bag lady future, was there no alternative to this torture??
Then I saw the cover of Easter, by Patti Smith. Punk rock had unexpectedly come to the rescue again, I knew I’d rather be Patti Smith than a Jackie girl. I liked Patti Smith, and I started to see my new hair as being cool, and, for the time being at least, I would wear it as another F.O. to the system.