When It Comes to Changing Your Body, How Much Is Too Much? A Mother and Daughter Discuss

Illustration by Jim Cooke/GMG.

I consider myself mostly au naturel. My hair has been natural
for decades. I’ve only lightly dabbled in makeup. I’ve been
pretty much what-you-see-is-what-you-get into adulthood. But of
course, when I really think about it, I’ve been sucked into all
kinds of culturally mandated body modifications since
puberty.

In high school, I joined the cheerleading squad. During
football season we were bundled up tight, from leggings to
earmuffs. But then, basketball season started. And it was bare
legs, short skirts and sleeveless tops. We wore high-waisted
briefs over our underwear and then it was time to somersault
all over the place—bikini area fully on display.

Before our first game, the captain of the squad took a look at
a few of us as we got dressed and handed out razors. The
message was clear: Handle that. I started shaving under my arms
and on my bikini line that day. (I butchered myself as I didn’t
know your skin absolutely had to be wet. Oof!) Fast-forward 30
years, and still the need for hair removal remains.

I’m in my forties now and I’ve been secretly (and not so
secretly) thinking about modifications that go way past
hair-removal. What does that say about me? Does it mean I’m not
confident and satisfied with who I am? Is covering grey
considering a modification? Or is that just cosmetic—like
mascara and lip gloss?

As I think about how I navigate these space, I think of Lauren,
my 20-year-old stepdaughter, who has just finished her second
year of college. (She’s been a part of my life since she was
three, and was the maid of honor at my wedding to her dad; we
have a super tight family, and Lauren counts three parents—her
bio-mom, her dad, and me.)

I get so much insight on my own stuff by talking to Lauren
about her experiences both past and present. I called her up at
school to talk about stubble, butt injections and how black
really does crack.

First, let’s set some parameters for what body
modifications are. Is shaving your legs part of this
conversation in the way butt injections would be?

I think they are. Butt injections are extreme but either way
you’re still making yourself look a certain way—and more
importantly, it’s often to fit cultural ideals.

I tried to instill in you the idea of loving your body
as-is. How did I do when it comes to accepting yourself and
your body?

You definitely wanted to normalize everthing. I remember being
super young, maybe five? And we started talking about body
parts and the right names and stuff. We were talking about
nipples and areola. I wanted to see a picture and you showed me
and I was like, gross, there is hair on there! And you said
it’s totally normally to have hair there. And I remember
thinking to myself, no way. That ain’t normal.

Hilarious. I wonder why it stood out to you as being
not normal?

I don’t know but I have tons of hair there now and I’m like,
well, I’m glad my stepmother gave me the heads up. Or I would
have been freaking out.

I think for most of us, needing to fix something
usually starts with hair removal.

For me, it was shaving my armpits, definitely. I started in
middle school.

I started a bit later. But I’ve never stopped. Thirty
years and I’m still at it. When did you start shaving
everywhere else?

When sex started to enter the scene. I only knew about what I
saw in porn. So I shaved every single hair down there every
other day.

Every other day! All of it?

I was a bald eagle. All the guys whispered about how gross hair
was. And my friends were all shaving regularly. Even before I
had sex, if I felt like if anyone could possibly see or touch
anywhere near there—it would have to be completely hair-free.

Thanks porn industry!

I know, I remember apologizing a few times to guys if it was
the least bit stubbly.

That’s just—

I know.

Where are you now, at 20 years old?

I know it’s cliché but when I got to college I would see women
who were like, whatever. Some shaved. Some didn’t. All were
very clear—if dude is not okay with me as-is then keep it
moving. So I still shave but not like before. And I definitely
don’t feel the same kind of pressure.

Seems like after hair removal—it’s such a huge leap
into other body modifications. What’s next?

Butt injections!

I feel like there’s gotta be something between shaving
and butt injections.

Maybe nose jobs? I remember a few years ago, the girls at my
school would come back after break with bandages on their nose.
It was like, a cool thing for people to know you got a nose
job. I don’t see that as much anymore.

Maybe even before that—lip fillers?

It’s definitely a modification but not as risky as others.

I hear lip filler and I think of Kylie
Kardashian.

Her name is Kylie Jenner. And yes, she was the face of lip
plumping for a while.

Didn’t she sell a product to increase lip
size?

She actually didn’t. She admitted later that she was getting
injections. Now she has a “lip kit” which is basically just lip
color.

So what was the Kylie challenge?

People were looking at her and trying to create her full lip
look with ridiculous things like suctioning their lips with
shot glasses and—it was just awful.

Injections seem so awful. Painful and risky.

So you wouldn’t do Botox?

Oh my god, yes. I forgot about that. I would LOVE to. I
have these lines in between my eyes. They keep deepening and I
hate them so much. Every time I see a photo of myself, I zero
in on that spot. I could be having a great hair day, awesome
outfit—all I can see is what they call the 11s. I hate saying
this to you! If you told me you wanted to have this done I
would be like, are you kidding me, you look perfect! Stop this
nonsense!

But I get it! I understand!

So let’s say you had to get plastic surgery…

Nah, I’m good.

What if you HAD to?

No choice? That’s a weird premise.

Go with it. You have to pick a procedure. No cost. No
complications.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this.

What?

BUTT INJECTIONS.

Really??

Yes! I would get more junk in the trunk. Terrible, I know. But
yeah, I tell my friends all the time: I’m trying to get thick!
I want thighs and stuff.

And where does that come from?

I have no idea. I mean, of course, thickness is a Thing. When I
was in middle school I wanted to have the widest thigh gap
possible because that was the Thing with my peers. What would
you get done?

Okay, hold on. Let me get my list.

What?!

Botox, for certain. Also, a boob lift with a one cup
increase. I really miss my perky boobs. I’d get a tummy tuck
and—

Wait. A tummy tuck?

I know. I could get the tummy I want by not eating
Reese’s Cups every day. But that’s besides the point. I want a
tummy tuck. And some kind of fat-removal from my thighs. My
butt can stay as-is. Also, not sure if there’s surgery for
stretch marks and cellulite. I’d do that too.

Wow.

I’m not done. I would get surgery on the back of my
hands.

I didn’t even know that was a thing.

I didn’t either. But once I found out… Here’s the
thing. I say all those things I would get done. But in reality,
I’m pretty okay with most of my “flaws” and the ones I’m not
okay with—-I know I can improve it myself. But your hands tell
the story no matter how fit you are. 43 year olds have
43-year-old hands. Period. One day I saw a picture of Madonna
and the story was about her hands—they were veiny and wrinkled.
And then I looked down at my own hands and thought, mine kinda
look like that. And I’ve been insecure about my hands ever
since.

Does the surgery even work?

Seems to. But I’m not sure. I think part of the issue
for me is this notion that Black Don’t Crack. In the Black
community, because we typically do age well, there’s this idea
that when you’re a 43-year-old woman, you should look 23. And
that is not my story. Especially not with my hands.

This is not only a woman thing. Dad called me the other day and
said he has these lines around his mouth that he doesn’t like.

Wow. Would he get Botox?

I don’t know. But he did ask if he could use makeup on them. I
told him sure.

You know, I just remembered that I actually got a body
mod that I didn’t even ask for. When I gave birth to your
sister, the midwife stitched me up after because she had to
make a cut to get the baby out.

I remember! I was standing right there and I was like, she’s
using a needle and thread on you!

Right. So one of the lovely things no one tells you
about pushing a kid out of your nether regions is that the
first time you have to poop is a serious situation. Because the
stitches are there to keep you together. But to poop you need
things to—be apart.

Oh goodness.

Right. So it was a pretty bad scene. When I saw my
midwife for my check up I told her it felt like, super tight
down there. She winked and said, yeah, I threw in a couple of
lover’s stitches for you. I’m like, what? I looked it up later
and I was so enraged. Doctor’s will literally stitch you up
more than necessary so your vagina can be tighter.

So like, let’s stitch it up tighter not for YOUR pleasure but
for your partner.

Exactly. There was so much wrong about that! But what
if I had chosen to get the Lover’s Stitches. Some women pay to
get that done.

Of course we can’t judge. If you choose to do it (unlike your
lover’s stitch!), and it makes you happy, go for it. Although I
will say, we should think about the why when it comes to this
stuff. Pretty much every bod mod comes down to the desire to
fit a cultural ideal in some way or another.

All the way back to shaving. Where we began.

Well. I guess.

Wait. Isn’t the decision to shave your armpits meeting
an ideal?

Look. My body odor is serious. So I’m shaving these pits daily
for everyone’s benefit. And I’m still a feminist. You can’t
exclude me!

Devin Anderson has written professionally since 1998 and
currently works as a full-time freelance writer for various
outlets. She’s also written five books, three non-fiction and
two novels. The name Devin Anderson is a pseudonym. The writer
is changing her name to protect the innocent, the guilty—and
her mom.

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