Anyone who has a teenager knows that some conversations can be like stepping through a minefield. Even the most slightly sensitive topic must be approached with love and care — every single conversation. If you approach it wrong, any chance of discussing this topic (and others) in the future may be squashed.
Like talking to them about hygiene. Some kids get embarrassed, some embrace it. Some ask for deodorant that is marketed to the pubescent teen (like, for instance, Axe), and some have more unique tastes. I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever they choose to use on their bodies, as their parents we should support it. When my son asked for Old Spice — following in his seventy-something-year-old grandfather’s footsteps — we headed straight to Walmart without any pit stop (no pun intended). To be honest, I embraced his desire to even put on deodorant, since soap was a whole different conversation.
Most teens find it difficult to discuss anything related to their ever-changing bodies, and body hair is no different. As their parents, it can be hard to know exactly what to say (and what not to say) or even how to approach the topic of body hair, but we must.
The bottom line in any of these discussions is that their bodies are, indeed, their bodies. They are learning all the time about how their bodies work, and how they change. What they feel comfortable with, how they want to look, and all of that. We need to give them the space to make these discoveries.
Think of how you felt as a teenager when someone said something insensitive about your appearance, like “Wow, that is a lot of makeup… you look like a clown,” or “Girls aren’t supposed to have mustaches,” or “Why not wear clothes that fit your body better?” I got my fair share of these comments growing up — just not the one about makeup, since I never chose to wear it, and in my family that was supported and embraced. Many of us have had experiences where we’ve been on the receiving end of comments like these, and those comments stay with us for a very long time.
When it comes to speaking to your teen, the American Psychological Association suggests, “Adolescents, despite their protests, need adults and want them to be part of their lives, recognizing that they can nurture, teach, guide, and protect them on the journey to adulthood.” One way to show your kids that you support and embrace who they are is allowing them to make choices about their own body, including their body hair.
Everyone’s body is different and matures at different rates. There are some teenage boys who have beards and full arm and leg hair at the age of thirteen. There are some girls who have hair on their top lip and no underarm hair. Our kids’ bodies vary, just like their personalities do. We can encourage them to live in and with what they’ve got. Do they have hair growing in the places one would assume? Possibly. Do they have body hair growing in places atypical to their gender? Maybe. Let’s normalize this for our kids too. And then let’s take that a step further, and embrace the choices they make — to shave, or to let their underarm bush grow into all of its glory. The least we can do is give them that, give them the power to choose to be in the world as they want to be — hairy or hairless.
If boys want to shave their bodies from head to toe, let them. It does not mean they are gay (and if they are, that’s OK too). If girls want to let their underarm (or leg) hair grow, let them. It does not mean anything, it’s literally just body hair, their body hair on their body, so let’s give them the autonomy they need (and deserve) to decide how they feel about it. If you have questions about what your kids are doing, ask. But tread lightly, cautiously, and most importantly, don’t project your own body issues or body image issues onto them.
There are entire “How-To” guides to help parents talk to their kids about shaving. If they choose to shave, that is, again, their choice: embrace it and teach them to do it properly, with or without a how-to guide. Help them access the essentials they will need to achieve their desired look. In 2019, a young woman named Laura Jackson ran an Instagram campaign called “Januhairy,” encouraging women to grow out their body hair and post selfies of their hair. With over 13,000 posts, I’d say her attempt to encourage women to love the bodies they are in, caught on.
The conversation about what they want to do with their own bodies may be one they don’t even want to have with you, and that’s OK too. You can invite them to speak with you, and let them know you are available to listen, but take the time to affirm their bodily autonomy and let them lead the way.
Let’s be real, every conversation can be a tricky one with our teen. And yet we should approach these conversations all in the same exact way: keep your own emotions in check (and out of the conversation), to provide an open and safe space for them to honestly share their perspective. Actively listen to them, and be real with them about your own experience with your own body hair journey (even if it’s different from theirs).
Above all, be open-minded. You don’t want the conversation about body hair to make them feel shamed or judged. You don’t want these conversations to push your kid away. Hell, it’s body hair. If they choose to shave, it will grow back; if they choose to grow it, they can always shave it later. It’s not that deep, unless we make it so.
On this one, parents, stay in your lane. Their body, their choice. You have the power to decide what to do with your own body. Give them the same opportunity.