Amy looked on the verge of tears for most of the day. In between classes she walked with her books to her chest. She hardly glanced up as the teachers lectured, and when they were done, she hunched over her work and put her head down.
Amy and Tanya only had one class together, so they usually couldn’t wait to see each other at lunch. But today she hardly ate or said a thing, and when the two close friends were together again in fourth block American History class, her mood hadn’t changed a bit.
Only now, over Skype, was she starting to speak up.
“Today was miserable,” Amy said. “Absolutely miserable.”
Tanya usually browsed the web as she and Amy chatted, but today she closed Firefox entirely.
“Why?” she asked. “I was so worried about you.”
Amy didn’t respond. Instead, Tanya heard tears seaping through her laptop’s speaker.
“I’m still worried about you,” Tanya added.
“Sorry I’m making such a big deal out of this.”
“Out of what? You haven’t told me anything.”
“It was Sarah. Sarah and Carly.”
“What did they do?”
“Gym class. After gym class. We were getting undressed. I had taken off my shirt, and they were across from me as I bent over to take off my shorts. I guess my bra slipped a little, because the next thing I heard was ‘Ew, why is your nipple so hairy?'”
The flood of words paused, and Tanya wasn’t sure if she should say something in the gap. The two of them hadn’t talked about their bodies much. They had talked about bodies in general, sure, and had plenty of abstract conversations about them as they went through middle school and everyone’s started to change. They had commented on actors and actresses, and more often, they imagined their favorite characters from books. But their own bodies, well, those details hadn’t come up.
“Of course they said this loud enough for everyone to hear. A few girls nearby looked in my direction. Some even walked over. But I had already adjusted my bra and reached for a shirt.
“But Carly knew what she had seen. ‘How did you get so much hair there?’ she asked, as if I have any control over where my hair grows. I said nothing and put on my pants.
“Then Sarah asked, ‘Why don’t you shave?’ She said it as judgy as she possibly could. Shave, not like shaving my legs, but like I had sprouted a man-beard and didn’t have the sense to do something about it. You could tell she was thinking, ‘You’re just going to leave that there. Really? Gross, ew, why?'”
Again, the stream started to slow. Tanya still didn’t know what to say.
“You’re disgusted too.”
“I’m serious,” Tanya said. “There’s nothing even remotely gross about hairy nipples.”
“Don’t give me that,” Amy said. “Even on guys hairy nipples are kind of icky.”
Really? Tanya saw her older brother’s hairy chest every day, and it never occurred to her to be bothered by it.
“I don’t think so,” Tanya said.
“So you’re into that?” Amy asked, a sort of sad judginess creeping into her own voice.
“I don’t care either way. Some nipples are hairy and some aren’t. It’s just a thing. Some people have them and some people don’t.”
“Guys have them, Tanya. Not girls.”
“What do you mean? You have them.”
“Because I’m a freak. I don’t know of any other girl with hairy nipples.”
“How many nipples have you seen?”
“Like, how many have you seen? I mean, it’s not like we have any idea what the other girls at school have underneath their shirts.”
Amy hadn’t, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have a good idea how nipples were supposed to look. And this wasn’t just from what she saw on TV, which she knew wasn’t like real life but compared herself to anyway. She had seen anatomy books and posters at the doctor’s office. She had seen paintings and sculptures and cartoons. Nowhere had she ever seen a woman with hair anywhere near her boobs.
“Who else?” Amy asked. “Name one other chick.”
Tanya thought for a moment. She was nervous. Despite Skyping with Amy just about every day, she had never touched the webcam. Her parents had taught her to be wary of cameras, but like many girls her age, wanting to avoid them wasn’t something she had to learn. It came naturally. But this time, this one time, was worth it. She put her hand on the mouse and clicked on the camcorder icon.
“What the—?” Amy started. “What are you doing? Put your shirt back on.”
“I didn’t take a shirt off.”
“You were just chilling there topless?”
“Naked, yes. I’m always like this at home.”
“Look at me,” Tanya said, not caring to have that conversation right now. The two girls had been friends for years, but not once had Amy ever visited Tanya’s house.
“What do you want me to see?”
“What do you see?” Tanya asked. She moved closer to the computer in case the webcam was making everything blurry.
But Amy could see just fine. She could see how her friend, at 16, had among the flattest breasts of anyone—something she knew. But she didn’t know that despite how small both were, one was clearly larger than the other. And both nipples were surrounded by a ring of long, scraggly hairs.
“You’re hardly the only one, Amy,” Tanya said. “Your own best friend has them too.”
Amy didn’t know what to say. If her closest friend had this in common without her knowing, how many of her peers did as well? It’s true, she had never seen any of them without their bras. She had barely even seen any of them in their bras. She kept her head down when changing in gym class, and that was the only chance she got.
“Point made,” Amy said. Then, after the feeling of awkwardness subsided a little, “But really though, why are you naked?”
At that moment, Tanya’s mom knocked briefly on the door before pushing it open. “Dinner time,” she said, her own uncovered breasts swaying slightly as she turned to leave as quickly as she came, leaving Tanya with only the briefest glimpse of her bare behind.
“You heard her,” Tanya said. “I have to go eat. We’ll talk after.”
With that, Tanya closed her laptop and rushed out of her room to join her family at the table.