I was induced to shave my underarm hair by my mother, I think, though I don't remember it. It was high school, I was playing sports, and I reeked. My dry, stainless, odorless child body had shivered all over and metamorphosed into a stinking, sweating, oozing hulk sprouting hair. I found myself disgusting. I tried a few deodorants that only added the stink of perfumed toilet paper to my own smell and turned my t-shirts yellow under the arms. I sweated so much more than any of the other girls did. Whether I was losing to them or beating them, they looked the same: pink, a little moist. My sweat sprang off my face when I shook my head, ran down my arm and made the racquet grip slip in my hand. My gym clothes hardened into origami in my locker overnight.

If my mother did coerce me to shave it was to control the stench. Shaving was violent and painful. My blood made pink rivulets through the soap suds. I detested the stiff, shiny stubble springing up in the white skin, visible as a blue shadow even before the adamantine tip emerged. Deodorant stung like citric acid in my cringing pits. But armpit hair was grotesque, I thought. Then one day a fascinatingly bad girl made one of her rare appearances in Trigonometry with a bush of black underarm hair sticking out of her pale, fleshy armpit, in the gap between her green tube top and the shirt she wore open on top. I stared at the hair, trying to parse it. Bad girls had sex. She flaunted her underarm hair. Maybe people who had sex liked hair. I kept looking at it, to check whether I was disgusted or not. It made me feel like I was looking up her skirt. I disapproved of the hair, but was it possibly also kind of sexy? This idea hung on tenaciously. A few years later I grew my own underarm hair. It is profuse and sexy, and I feel strangely tender toward it, as if it were a small animal I carry under each arm.