I was thinking the other day, as you do, about hairy chins. Specifically, hairy chins on old ladies or even, non-that-old ladies. Mum unsurprisingly has the odd rogue facial hair. Despite extensive depilatory techniques employed during the pre-dementia years, including lasering, waxing, shaving, plucking and threading, the wiry little buggers still occasionally appear – indeed, regardless of how one tries to destroy it body hair has a way of marching back across the landscape, resurrecting itself in the unlikeliest of places and popping out to surprise you. For a few years after the diagnosis we tried to maintain mum’s original high level of grooming. She continued to have regular manicures, her hair was highlighted and coiffed, we chose outfits that disguised the increasing girth, kept her in high heels until it became completely impractical and persisted with make-up. She was still having her bikini line waxed until a few years ago because a trip to the beautician’s was part of the pre-holiday routine.
Nowadays we still obviously endeavour to ensure that mum is clean and appropriately dressed for the elements but it is fair to say that some of the cosmetic presentation has slipped. The manicures still take place, the expensive but lovely hairdresser who mum has had for years, still goes through the motions (even though I’m sure that mum’s presence in his salon markedly undermines his brand) but her glorious bouffant has been shorn into a manageable crew cut – still expertly snipped and coloured, but a crew cut nonetheless. She has a single pair of hook earrings that she wears day and night because she can’t operate the butterfly and post type herself and dad is justifiably worried he may end up re-piercing her earlobe several times if he tried to put them in on a daily basis. She has other jewellery and the lovely Alison still perseveres with make-up when she comes to look after mum but in all honesty we have stopped bothering to do it (sounds pretty lame when I write that but it’s the truth and I try to be as factually correct as I can here even if it’s a little uncomfortable).
Yet in the middle of these cosmetic decisions there sits a hairy conundrum. None of the other things that we do to keep mum presentable cause actual pain. She may get a little restless having her nails painted or struggle to understand why we are putting powder on her face but the difference between these procedures and having somebody pull your hair out is vast. As anyone who has ever been waxed, plucked or threaded will tell you – these type of procedures are not dissimilar to being physically assaulted. A single hair being ripped out of it’s follicular bed is uniquely, eye-wateringly agonising. And yet, like childbirth, we go through with it because we are fairly certain there is a reward at the end, be it baby-soft skin or an actual baby. Of course we make that decision autonomously, how much pain and torture we are prepared to endure depends on our own assessment of the psychological trauma we would suffer in terms of our negative body image if we chose not to go ahead with any given procedure (i.e. this will hurt but probably not as much as my boyfriend recoiling in horror at the sight of my hairy pits). However, if we are making that decision on behalf of someone else we have to be very, very clear as to the benefits of the desired outcome.
And what are the benefits? Mum doesn’t gain anything from a hairless chin. She doesn’t suffer if a few stray wisps scatter her face. She’s not on the pull. She doesn’t need to conform to society’s female ideal of an alabaster-smooth, pre-pubescent girl. Equally if she goes swimming does it matter if a few pubes are on display? How about a whole carpet of them covering the tops of her thighs? We think nothing of swimming alongside a hirsute man in a public pool (although I have to say, once I was lane-swimming behind a very hairy chap and the aftershave / deodorant / synthetic aromatic product that was clearly trapped next to his skin by all the hair trailed in his wake so densely I could taste it in the water – grim, yes but should be have been evacuated from the pool? Well, maybe.)
My point, as always heavily made, is that inflicting pain on someone to make them a more appealing sight to others is wrong. I have a patient in her eighties, she is an articulate, fully cognisant woman in charge of all her faculties but she has the hairiest chin I’ve ever seen on a female. It’s a full goatee of grey and white. as if someone had trimmed off a wire brush and glued it to her face. She’d be well placed to audition for the bearded lady in the sequel to The Greatest Showman if there is one (Go on Hugh Jackman, you know you want to). She must know that her face looks like this (her vision is fine) and yet she does nothing. Why? Probably and hopefully because she just doesn’t give a shit. Her husband has pre-deceased her, she is happy and healthy, her clothes are comfortable and clean, she shows no other signs of self-neglect. If people laugh at her behind her back, or even to her hairy face, Sod them. She’s not going to routinely rip off half her epidermis for anyone.
So no, I will no longer be tempted to pluck out the occasional offending hair from mum’s chin because it will make her eyes water and she will look at me perplexed, as a kicked dog might, as if to say ‘Why would you hurt me? What for?’ Why indeed.
I will however continue to fight the good fight against my own hair follicles, until I too reach an age where I question the sanity of pulling bits off my body to make myself more appealing.