by Belinda Hermawan
After receiving her diagnosis from Dr. Fields, Lauren returns to work. All she can think about is the absence of fruit. In the ad campaign artwork on her computer screen, juice splashes across a crisp, white background, the watercolored Natural Rainbow™. This is New Natural’s way of representing the essential foods: pink apple, beet, orange, lemon, and most importantly, three different shades of greens. Occasionally, blueberry or strawberry feature in a limited edition run. Fruits with prickly or furry skins are too much effort: kiwis, pineapples, peaches. To Lauren, getting through the fleecy flesh of a peach isn’t any less difficult than peeling an orange.
A year ago, when trying on a bikini, Lauren discovered—without the aid of a Buzzfeed personality quiz—that if she were a fruit, she would be a peach. Looking down at her spray-tanned belly, which had begun to hold weight for no apparent reason, Lauren admitted her new curves had taken on a ripeness. That was when she saw it: the fuzz.
If she could go back to how she looked in that dressing room, she would. What came after: hair growing around her lips and down from her sideburns; long strands, wiry and dark as pubic hair, crowning her nipples; and a vertical nest that bridged her bikini line to her navel. All three of the doctors she saw fixated on her sudden weight gain when Lauren was coming to them with questions about the fuzz. Extra weight in Los Angeles is an eraser—the larger you get, the more invisible you become. The doctors advised “exercise and diet” or liposuction. The emerging hair was dismissed as a sign of ageing; on turning thirty she couldn’t expect parts of her to remain as they once were. Lauren found this explanation ridiculous, like having to accept the relocation of her eyes to the back of her head.
The abnormal hair is parasitic in the sense that the fuzz won’t allow her to think of anything else. Earlier in the year, she shed some of the weight by working out three days, resting one and committing to a juice cleanse three days, resting four. Lauren can accept size six as her new normal, but the hair must be tamed. She has spent hours at her work computer canvassing solutions: depilating, shaving, trimming, prescription creams, waxing, intense pulsed light therapy, laser, bleaching, threading. She has sought quotes for the IPL and laser, balking when a plastic surgery clinic in Beverly Hills quoted eight hundred dollars per session. To raise that kind of money she’d have to spin her nipple hair into gold.
The clinic did help in some way. The nurse suggested Lauren try hormone therapy as a cheaper alternative. Lauren reached out to yet another doctor who ordered a new blood panel and an ultrasound, and arrived at a new diagnosis. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
“It’s a condition often missed by medical practitioners,” Dr. Fields says. “Thankfully there are no cysts, so your fertility should be fine. But your hormone levels suggest PCOS. Typical symptoms include irregular menstrual cycle, weight gain, risk of diabetes, hirsutism—”
“Excessive facial and body hair growth.”
A diagnosis is supposed to offer relief, a balm for uncertainty. Instead, Lauren feels acutely aware of her heart transplanted into her brain: pumping as one, throbbing as one, telling her body to grow more chest hair.
“Let’s stay calm,” Dr. Fields adds. “There isn’t a cure, but we can try to balance the hormone levels. It could be worse. I’ve had patients who can’t have children, are size twenty-eight, and have to shave their face every morning. You’re lucky.”
On the drive back from Dr. Fields’s office, Lauren makes the mistake of typing “hirsutism” into Google. She makes a further mistake by adding “PCOS.” Before today, her search results regarding the unwanted peach fuzz regaled her with tales of bearded women, sideshows at Coney Island. Now she is directed not to myths but to message boards on distressing medical conditions, the testimonials apocalyptic in nature and paired with before and after photos. Before PCOS I was worried about getting pregnant. After my back is carpeted in hair I’m obsessed with the possibility of my husband leaving me.
Lauren exits her Google app when she reads about how hormone supplements haven’t helped these women. The deleted Tinder square on her phone vibrates in her brain louder than the car around her. The empty space on her screen is a constant reminder: She must avoid men and intimacy until she can get the overgrowing hair under control. On her last date, Max, 31—a tall, John Cho look-alike from Burbank—took her back to his place. He called her “classically beautiful” like “an old Hollywood pinup,” her plum lipstick staining his lips a pale purple. He was straddling her in bed, hardness pressing into her belly, when he reached out and brushed the underside of her left breast repeatedly, as if trying to wipe something away. Lauren found a lone strand when inspecting her body the morning after, missed while waxing and more than once judging by its length. She tugged at the errant strand, her confidence unraveling like unspooling yarn.
To avoid the memory of Max, Lauren reopens her Google app at the next light and begins clicking on link after link to see where the internet takes her. A comment on a blog post about bearded women leads to a site selling home remedies for facial hair—concoctions of lemon and honey and oatmeal and turmeric and rosewater—which leads to a PCOS support group on Facebook claiming those remedies don’t work. Women claim that they still feel like Chewbacca, the replies to this post featuring GIFs of hairy creatures from movies in an effort to make one another laugh. From this, she ends up on a site that sells posters of 1940s monster movies. House of Frankenstein. The Wolf Man. The Ape. Frankenstein Meets Wolf Man. Cry of the Werewolf. She-Wolf of London.
If Lauren were in her own feature, she would title it The Reverse Werewolf. Hairiness is the norm. Human form once a month by way of traumatic transformation by waxing. The main character in The Reverse Werewolf spends most nights skulking in the cover of the Hollywood hills, watching the city lights twinkle under layers of smog and desperation. Her long fur is craggy and uneven—wild because the hair has to grow long before it can be stripped away again. She terrorizes smooth-faced, hapless women. Women who take their forms for granted.
In her car on Sunset Boulevard, Lauren straightens her neck and growls.
It hasn’t escaped Lauren’s notice that her boss at New Natural has started referring to Lauren as a “real woman.” Real women in the juice cleanse business have curves. What real women do not have is furry navels. Even if the hormone pills Dr. Fields prescribed work, it doesn’t mean the unwanted hair will stop growing completely.
Lauren asks her boss to call in a favor at a local wellness and rejuvenation spa that sells New Natural juice at its reception desk. Seated in a transparent plastic chair, Lauren stares directly at her own marketing campaign, the Natural Rainbow™ juice splashes a Rorschach test. The blots look like the splattered remains of bugs on a windshield. When the aesthetician leads Lauren to a small room with a treatment bed, Lauren lies flat on her back and tries not to focus on the IPL machine’s mechanical arm.
“Let’s take a look,” the aesthetician says with her too-white smile.
Slowly, Lauren pulls up her top from the hem to reveal her pale abdomen. Last night, she shaved a patch of hair near her navel as instructed. She hates the angry bumps that feel like braille whenever she runs her fingers over her shorn skin.
“And we’re doing your breasts too?”
Lauren imagines herself as a peach. Once the flesh of a peach is consumed, all that is left is a stone, and in that stone is a seed. Her stone is surely wrong inside, contains a seed that belongs elsewhere, or maybe there is no seed at all, replaced by something she can no longer expect to be in its normal place: an ear, a steering wheel, a bottle cap.
She forces herself to peel back her top higher, exposing herself to another person for the first time since Max.
The aesthetician purrs with satisfaction. “Good. Hopefully dark enough for the IPL to work. One of the only times where being blonde isn’t an advantage.”
The beam is in position. Lauren dons a pair of protective glasses, her arms locked by her sides. If her skin doesn’t react adversely to the test, she can return to have her whole abdomen and chest treated, maybe her face too.
The home-remedies website has other ideas for stymying hair growth, some that must be crackpot theories. One catches her eye, a method of deadening the hair follicle by repeated trauma. While this treatment remains unproven, Lauren thinks it can’t hurt more than the five o’clock shadow eclipsing whatever confidence she has left.
Lauren picks up a thick rubber band and flicks it onto her upper lip. She recoils, the shock bringing a tear to her eye. She persists, repeating the flick on her chin, her cheek. The lashings rack up, the stinging collective as hair roots are disabled in a controlled burn. She tells herself that if she can handle this, she can handle the full course of IPL treatments. She is preparing for her new un-werewolfed form. Except she can’t remember where she is in the cycle, what number of rubber band flicks she’s up to, if she’s starting or if she’s finished.
Through her tears, the colors of the Natural Rainbow™ on her computer screen bleed into one another, a mire of muddy green. Her gut howls, the peach she brought for lunch untouched on her desk. The rumble inside her is the sound made when a stone overturns and cracks.
Published January 6th, 2019
Belinda Hermawan's short fiction has appeared in Flock, Split Lip Magazine, Westerly, Going Down Swinging, and Typishly. She lives in Perth, Western Australia. You can find her on Twitter @bd_writer.
Jen Dwyer is a ceramicist who makes socially engaged ceramic sculptures, paintings and functional art objects. On her latest exhibition, Not For You, Bunny, from which Cherub Comb above is taken: The exhibition title, Not For You, Bunny serves as a double entendre, simultaneously rebuffing the act of objectification and asserting agency over one's own body. Heavily influenced by feminist theory and the Rococo art movement of eighteenth-century France, my research-based practice grapples with non-traditional representations of gender and power, defying the perimeters of what feminine expression is expected to be, as defined by the status quo. Teeming with references to notable women throughout art history, mainstream entertainment, Greek mythology, and contemporary girlhood culture, Not for You, Bunny utilizes ceramics as both a functional and allegorical medium, imbuing the exhibition with a fanciful, cheeky tone while implicating darker thematic beneath the exterior. In a nod to the extravagant aesthetic of my source material, I aim to weave together imagery from across centuries, juxtaposing rocaille ornamentation with five-and-dime kitsch, to challenge contemporary notions of value, substance, and the evolution of gender stereotypes. Not For You, Bunny was exhibited at Lucas Lucas Gallery in Brooklyn in fall 2018.