Laughter and Young Ladies.

15 05 2008

Proper young ladies do not laugh too loud… a little insight into how I may have escaped adolescence with my loud laugher intact.

When I was a little girl I was surrounded by boys. My mother and her social group were all having children around the same time and it just so happened that I was the only female-bodied baby born for quite a while. I have few and scattered memories from this time in my life, and due to the fact that most of the boys were not in my elementary school district (and by the time we all reached middle school we were, well, middle-schoolers) I have only “childhood friend” status with most of them.

I read Reviving Ophelia this past summer and mentioned the book to my mother in passing and subsequently obtained a small insight into how I, perhaps, became the person I am today. When I was a little girl surrounded by boys I was often the loudest. Everything I did was loud. I laughed loud I played loud and I was very excitable. My mom, apparently, had a hard time controlling her instinct to tell me to be quiet. Often she had to refrain from snapping at me when I would suddenly burst into particularly loud laughter. Often she bit her tongue. I wrestled with boys well into the point in time when other members of my sex had “crushes” and were “dating” (5th grade? 6th grade?) and she did not discourage this behavior though my dad wondered if, perhaps, I wasn’t acting Proper. I played rough and fell into pricker bushes and climbed trees and howled at the moon, the stars, the sun, the rain and the ceiling of our house.

And from the earliest age, my mother did not silence me. She let me be as loud as I was naturally and she never told me I wasn’t acting like a “proper young lady”. Perhaps she was thinking I would need all of that instinct to get through adolescence with my self intact. Perhaps she was thinking that, had I been a boy, loudness would be more socially tolerable and she was fighting back by letting me be twice as loud as any boy.

To this day I am excitable and loud and interested in everything and though I haven’t howled recently – I wouldn’t put it past myself. To this day I laugh loud and often and I have never once even remotely felt socially pressured to become quieter. Which is not to say that I have never had people remark how loud/often/sudden my laughter is, that happens frequently, but instead I have never taken those comments as anything but matter-of-fact and complimentary (even if they are not directly complimenting me.) I am delighted with my laugh.

Shaving, on the other hand, was one “proper young lady” issue that I did not escape from quite as cleanly.

In fourth grade I was told by another girl on my swim team that I had hairy legs and should shave them. I replied with “I like my hairy legs. It makes me feel more like a wolf.”

Around this same time, my mother stopped shaving her legs. She never brought attention to this fact, I did not actively notice until much later in life and I was unaware that it was a conscious choice on her part until this past summer. She wanted another point of reference for me and my sisters. She wanted to embody the fact that women don’t have to be hairless. I don’t know if she received any snide comments from her adult friends and acquiescences, but it’s very likely that she did.

Though I did not continue to take pride in my hairy legs throughout middle school and high school I didn’t shave them. I felt trapped between this social pressure for hairless legs (that my mother’s efforts could not even begin to defeat) and the fact that I knew it was all just a terrible system I was caught in. I fantasied ways around it (going to a new school where I would start off by showing off my hairy legs so that would be how people knew me as) and continued to wear long pants in school even on the hottest of days.

As I grew older, I became far more secure in my self and in 11th grade I dated a wonderful guy who, to my surprise, told me very seriously that he did not care if my legs were hairy. In college I became romantically tangled with another guy who also told me he did not care if my legs were hairy. In addition to receiving outside positive confirmation from males (I realize the male positive confirmation mattered significantly to me, and I wish my body-image security did not rest as heavily on that as it does even to this day) it also helps that I attend quite a liberal college on the female hairy-leg front. Regardless I no longer think about leg hair as a socially pressured thing to get rid of anymore. More often then not my leg hair once again makes me feel like a wolf, and in my opinion, wild is far more sexy than smooth.




One response

26 05 2008

Lindsay, you are one of the most pure, beautiful people in the world, and I haven’t realized how much I want to be like your soul until I’m gone from you. You are such a damn good influence on how I feel about me, and I think that’s awesome. But perhaps most of all the things I love you for, it is your laugh. I have NEVER been able to hear your laugh without at least smiling, if not bursting out into laughter myself. You have the single most amazing laugh EVER. (Seconded by Tara.) I love how loud and sudden and HUGE your laugh is. I love it even when it’s so loud and sudden that it scares the bejesus out of me. And anyone who judges you based on your wild heart needs to be drop kicked.

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