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Essay: Embracing My Nipple Hair

Contributor Mara Altman reflects on the stigma around women's body hair
Painting by Noah Saterstrom of a pink bra, hair clips, and a comb
Painting by Noah Saterstrom

I should be embarrassed, maybe ashamed—I know that—but I’m not, so I don’t know what to say to you. I have both an inordinate amount of nipple hair and the questionable resolve to tell people about it.

I tried to get rid of it for the first half of my adult life, believing this hair to be unattractive. And because no one talked about it, I didn’t know what was normal. Over and over again, I asked women how much nipple hair they had so that I could gauge where I stood on the continuum. My friend L said, “Oh, yes, I’m hairy,” then went on to tell me she had two hairs on one nipple and one wiry one on the other.

That’s when I realized we were living under two very different follicular paradigms. I was like, “Oh, so you don’t have a full ring of hair around each nipple like a cozy turtle-nip sweater?”

I made my doc test my hormones. She told me I was fine, that I must just come from hairy stock.

For a while, it was tough. I had shame and fear, like I was harboring a detrimental secret that could be found out if I didn’t pluck and wax like a type-A topiarist.

Then I started doing something strange. When I waxed, I kept the used Sally Hansen wax strips in a stack. I wanted to see what I was capable of. Over time, could my breasts produce enough hair to make a merkin? A faux mustache?

It was a creepy habit, but I was mesmerized by my output. It was awe-inspiring, kind of like the long thread of silk my husband grows about 2.3 inches off his left pectoral. We can go months without a sighting, but when we find it, it feels like magic.

Longest nipple hair recorded? According to Reddit, it was on an Italian man named Daniele Tuveri, whose hair measured 6.69 inches. He gets an award for a nipple hair longer than an iPhone and women are supposed to feel shame? It’s not fair.

Maybe I’m a Guinness Book world champion of female nipple hair and not even claiming my prize.

I decided to experiment. As the hair grew in, I felt gloriously subversive. I tweaked my perspective. Maybe nipple hair is okay. Maybe it’s great! I called it my lion’s mane.

I looked in the mirror and I was like, “Hey girl, you’re an animal, a mammal. Now go live your one wild and precious hairy life.” If eyelashes keep dust from an eye, I have no reason to believe my nipple hairs are malevolent—there to do me or my psyche harm. They are merely a pergola, offering partial shade to my pink pigmentation.

It’s like having two welcoming mini homegrown wreaths on my chest. What do wreaths do? They make everything more festive. I have festive nipples or, as I like to call them, “festipples.”

I mean, really, it’s just an extra hair patch to style—a startup waiting to be founded. I can envision it now: a day when bald nipples everywhere get jealous and a microblading empire develops around areola brows.

Recently, when I went in for a mammogram, instead of approaching the mammographer apologetically with, “I forgot to pluck, sorry!,” I said, “I’ve let it all grow out.”

She was neither impressed nor disgusted. She just wanted to smash my breasts into crêpes between two glass panes already.

But what I’m saying is, I’m just a girl, writing on a computer, asking for her nipple hair to be acknowledged—asking for all women’s nipple hair to be seen.

Once that happens, no woman has to feel weird or ashamed or outcast for a part of her body that’s as natural to have as a femur or some ear wax or toe jam.

As I age, I’m not sure what’s going to happen. My mom says her body hair has become sparser as she’s gotten older, but, on the other hand, as my dad has gone bald, he said his hair has migrated southward. Being the sum of their equation, I believe anything is possible. Which means, if one day boob barrettes are needed, I’ll be ready.

And whenever those old feelings of shame start to well up, I think of my ancestral grandmothers, sitting in a cave in the dark cold of winter. While all the other women cross their arms over their chests, shivering, my matriarchs spread their arms wide with joy, their nipples warmed by their very own fur coats.

By Mara Altman

Mara Altman is the author of two nonfiction books, Thanks for Coming and Gross Anatomy: Dispatches from the Front (and Back), which was a semi-finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor. Altman also wrote eight best-selling Kindle Singles and has written for publications such as The New York Times and New York Magazine. Earlier in her career, she was a staff writer for The Village Voice and daily newspapers in India and Thailand. She lives in North Park with her husband and twins.

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