In the middle of July, I made the decision to stop shaving my body hair.
Don’t run away screaming! WAIT, COME BACK!
Phew! Thanks. Please, stick with me.
It was, for me, the culmination of a lot of thought I had given over the preceding months to how I felt about my body, and my sense of ownership over it. I didn’t like how my armpits looked shaven; to paraphrase the amazing Caitlin Moran, ‘Not every armpit is going to look good bald, that’s like saying that every man would look good bald. It’s just not going to work!’.
I hated the itchy re-growth, both there and on my bikini line. I never even wear a sodding bikini. Die-hard baldness fans will here cry, ‘But you should just try waxing! You don’t get itchiness with that!’ I have no desire to try waxing. My dear friend with no concept of how much money 23-year-old admin monkeys earn said, ‘Why not just get laser hair removal? Now I have barely any hair at all!’
My problems with this attitude are numerous, but I’m going to try and explain my thoughts here without getting too… angry about it. I’ve summarised them into 3 main points for you, because I’m nice like that and know you don’t want to be here all day.
I apologise if this is a bit rant-y in places, but this is an issue that matters a great deal to me. I’ll be back to my usual, PMA and awesomeness self by point 3, but the first 2 points need to be said. Kindly bear with me.
1) It’s MY body, not yours, society!
I grew up, like pretty much every young woman in this country, feeling that I had to remove my body hair – not to be exceptionally beautiful or a member of an elite, cool, hairless club, but to be normal. To not be a ‘hairy freak’. I have distinct memories of a girl in my year at school being vilified at the age of thirteen for not shaving her armpits. She immediately caved, and is now, among my friends, one of hairlessness’s biggest advocates.
It came to me that I do not, in fact, like how my armpits look bald, nor my vulva for that matter. I prefer how they look hairy. I just do. Therefore, since it’s my body, I’m not going to shave my hair anymore. Aesthetically, I prefer it this way, both in those isolated areas and in the wider context of how it looks on my body as a whole.
Since growing my armpit hair, I have been met with support from a lot of my awesome friends in real life and on the internet. I have also been met with horror, from women I considered to be very liberated, including exclamations of, ‘Eww! Don’t get them near me!’ and, ‘No offense, but I’m not going to hug you anymore. Just in case it touches me. I hope you understand!’.
I shit ye not.
How, in this day and age, when a huge portion of society are bringing up their daughters to believe that the battle is won, we’re not in any kind of societal shackles anymore, can we still react this way to women who choose to let their bodies just be natural, without removing their body hair? Why have we let marketing executives convince us that body hair is ‘dirty’, instead of there to protect us? That it’s ‘unhygienic’?
If you want to remove your body hair, it’s your body, go ahead. I would ask you to accept these two things:
Firstly, that I am not dirty, or unhygienic, and that body hair serves a purpose, and that it’s perfectly fucking okay for me to be hairy, and that by accusing me of these things and reacting negatively to my hair you are perpetuating misogynistic myths and the concept that a woman’s body is not her own to do what she wants with, but rather something that should be subject to others’ opinions and society’s control.
Secondly that, in spite of whether you agree with the end result or not, you have been conditioned by society to think that ‘hairless’ is the only acceptable way to be. Research it. Educate yourself, I beg of you. If you still feel the same way, that’s totally fine; but please, make an effort to understand what you’re dealing with.
Please – I’m not asking you to change your mind, I’m asking you to work out why you feel the way you do and to delve a little deeper to understand not only your own psyche, but the ways in which that has been subconsciously influenced from your birth by society and people who want to make money off your body hatred (again, that’s a whole other article in itself, one that I promise to do some time).
This also feeds into number 2.
2) It’s MY body, not yours, dudes!
To clarify; I’m not talking about the ‘good guys’ here. I’m not talking about my own partner, who is extremely supportive of my right to have my body however the fuck I want. I’m not talking about guys like him, who do not participate in ‘banter’ that’s a cover for rape culture (again, that’s a whole other blog post in itself).
I’m talking about the ‘men’ that think that their thoughts on how I should have my body should matter to me one jot, and who are told by society, as outlined in point 1, that they are right to do so, because I’m a freaky hairy weirdo who needs to be brought into line and JUST BE FUCKING NORMAL. ‘Men’ who get very angry when anyone questions the misogynistic status-quo, because either to take that away would be to take away their sense of having power over women, or to take that way would be to make them question themselves and realise how utterly wrong and awful they have been to their fellow human beings for a large chunk of their lives, or both.
I am also taking about my rapist. His abuse of me spanned two years. I’m not going to go into details because it’s not necessary here and I don’t want to upset people, but as rape is far from an uncommon experience, it is extremely relevant to this whole debate and modern-day feminism as a movement. Here’s the gist that’s relevant to this article specifically:
He treated my body as something he had more right to than I did, something that was just there for him to use, rather than something that belonged to me – and I’m pretty sure that’s a feeling most women who’ve been raped could identify with. I don’t want anyone to get sidetracked here by feeling sorry for me; it was a long time ago, and I have worked through it mostly now, and I am so, so happy with my life, even though unfortunately that’s never going to be the case for a lot of women who have been through similar experiences. I, personally, am ok. I’m better than ok, I’m actually great. But I wasn’t until I worked through this whole mess of feelings that came from it, and shaving had it’s part to play in that.
Shaving ended up being symptomatic for me. It took me a long time to pin down this feeling and work through it. Every time I shaved, or did anything to my body that wasn’t true to my feelings about what I wanted to be doing, I felt like I was letting myself down. Like I was letting scared little teenaged me down. Why, when he had taken away so much of my sense of autonomy over myself and my ownership of my body, was I continuing to do that to myself, to let societal pressure do exactly the same thing to me?
That’s it. Why the hell was I doing that?
I couldn’t see any reason to keep doing that to myself, so I stopped. This has led, in no small part, to number 3.
3) I feel POWERFUL this way.
I feel, now, like I have total control over my own body, and comfortable in the knowledge that nobody else is having any say whatsoever in what I do with it. This has made me more confident. My partner has noticed this. Last month I met up with the woman who was my best friend through secondary school, who knew me during what happened in point 2, and she was staggered by the difference in me.
I go through life knowing that I am being 100% true to myself. This makes me feel calm. It makes it easier to chase down my dreams. It means I have more faith in myself. I still get unsure sometimes, but now I am surrounded by an amazing group of friends, both male and female, who boost me up whenever I doubt myself. I have ten times more friends, real friends, now than I ever did when I was trying to fit in and be what society wanted me to be (and I’m not just talking about shaving, I’m talking about the myriad of other way society tells women what to do and how to be and that if they deviate form this they’re wrong, wrong, wrong. Society can fuck right off). They love me for who I really am in a way that nobody loved me when I wasn’t being myself (apart from my family, natch, and my partner, who saw through that to the real me underneath and fell in love with that. I know how lucky I am). Doubting yourself and not being true to yourself and what you want means that you’re letting others wield power over you. Don’t let them do that!
My body is mine. It can do amazing things. I used to neglect it, back when I didn’t love it. Back when I felt alienated from it. I even deliberately damaged it. It didn’t feel really mine in the way that my mind and my soul did; it was, as Marya Hornbacher puts it, just ‘inexplicably attached to my head’.
Now, it feels like mine. Now, nobody else has any influence over it other than me. As such, it no longer feels unruly; I no longer feel the desperate sense of clutching at any type of control over it that led me to develop an eating disorder when I was seventeen and have a messed up relationship with food until oh, last year, when I read the amazing Susie Orbach’s ‘Fat Is A Feminist Issue’. Now, I’m working with it, rather than against it. As such, it can now run. It can roller skate. It can do amazing and cool shit. It’s awesome. For the first time in living memory, I like my body. Most days, I love it, at least for a little while.
Stopping shaving was a huge part of this for me, and I’m told that plenty of other women have experienced this awesome sense of autonomy over their own bodies when they’ve stopped shaving, too. It’s not just me!
…that’s my thoughts on this, condensed into a nutshell, or at least as much of a nutshell as nearly 2000 words can be. The friends that took issue with my hairiness have, on the whole, gotten used to it by now. I haven’t hidden it away, I’ve worn vest tops, it’s been summer. Now, they’re not really fazed by it any more.
This ‘getting people used to’ hairiness on women was one of the aims of Armpits4August, and it has been a great success for far, with them more than tripling their fundraising goal for Verity, the PCOS charity, over the course of the month. I am keeping mine; I was going to anyway. I hope that at least some of the hundreds of women who took part in Armpits4August this year will decide to keep their newfound fur. I hope that they, like I, will find it empowering, that they will like it, and screw what anybody else thinks.
My friend Emily is keeping hers, and has dyed it green. And, quite frankly: That’s damn cool.