My Forever Evolving Relationship With Body Hair

Late December I came to the realization that since I was in middle school I have always shaved my legs and armpits. At times this included disastrous occasions with too many cuts and Bandaids on my legs to count. At times this was an exciting endeavor to explore as a young girl who was fed certain ideals of beauty and femininity. Shaving was something I understood as a woman once you reached a certain age, like your period, you just dealt with and did it. But at the age of 21, I thought what the hell. I have done this my whole life without much reflection; let me see what it feels like to stop…the non-shaving journey began.

That was eight months ago and my armpit hair is now at its natural length. My legs though didn’t last long. I only went a month before I broke out the razor. For some reason, feeling and seeing the hair on my legs irked me to a point where I felt the desperate desire to shave.

I think a lot of women who choose not to shave, don’t shave their legs or armpits but I’m a lopsided weirdo who has decided to shave one and not the other. Last night, I shaved my legs for the first time in weeks. I had no razor previously and was simply too lazy to go purchase one but when I got into the bathtub and began shaving my legs it was almost a spiritual experience for me. As I sit in the bathtub shaving, I think WHY DOES THIS FEEL SO DAMN GOOD?! My feminist theory reading self felt the need to analyze this situation. Why don’t I mind not shaving my armpits but I mind not shaving my legs? The only analysis I could really come up with was that my legs cover up a larger space and therefore I feel less in control as the “hair takes over”. My armpits are in a contained area and therefore seem tight and manageable, in their own hairy way. Probably all bullshit but it’s what my analysis hesitantly concluded.

Taking a step back from the logistics of shaving, this whole experience has taught me how much our body hair interacts with our everyday interactions. As summer hit, I realized that more people are going to be seeing my armpit hair than had in the winter. Something I have consistently struggled with since beginning this process is how I feel my body hair exposed is not “professional.” It infuriates me that I feel this way, but I do. I am on a job search currently and have been very aware in interviews, how I am exposing the hair. Although, my potential employer might be feminist, hairy armpits might not cut it for them and at the end of the day, hey I need a j-o-b.

I have had a new coworker over the summer who I noticed did not shave her legs. I asked her with a bit of hesitation one day, “Do you shave your armpits?” She said “No.” I then went on to explain my current dilemma. I do not shave my armpits but I am wondering how to approach the issue of what is “professional” and what is not. We talked for a bit and she said something very interesting, “I know that not shaving my armpits and walking down the street for people to see is making a political statement.” It is so true. I wear a tank top one day and I raise my hand to press the cross button on a street, the man next to me DEFINITELY notices my armpit hair. When I really think about why I stopped shaving though, that sort of interaction is why. The two minutes it takes in the shower, truly doesn’t bother me and when I’m not too lazy to run to the drug store it doesn’t kill me to spend the $2 on the cheapest razors in the store. What does make me mad is the expectation. It makes me mad it is assumed that all women do and want to shave. It makes me mad that so-called beauty companies capitalize on the insecurities of individuals, telling them they have to look a certain way to fit our standard of beauty. I have completely cut make-up out of my life and have never looked back on this decision. I am tired of being manipulated into spending money on products that tell me I am not enough.

The whole body hair thing comes up in weird ways such as sexual partners. Do you tell them in advance that you don’t shave? Do you let them casually see your armpits and wait for their reaction? When a friend of mine stopped shaving for the summer, she told me something along the lines of “If a partner is okay with you not shaving, that’s another way to assess a partner.” I love this and think about this often. A partner might not be used to a woman who chooses to omit shaving but they could be open to being open about it.

I truly have no idea whether or not I will shave my armpits ever again. At this point, it is a bit of a pride competition for me. “Shoot, I’ve gone this long, why would I stop now?” Whatever I decide to do, I know it will be with more thought than I had a year ago. Yesterday as I was in the car with some friends, I looked down at my legs (pre-spiritual shave) and almost said “I need to shave” but caught myself, “Nope, I do not NEED to shave, I want to.” The reason why I want to can be analyzed and deconstructed in a million ways, probably coming down to patriarchy and capitalism but it is not a bodily need.

With all of this being said, I acknowledge that I am in a privileged position because of my race, educational degree and class background to be able to make this decision and still get by fine. Many women must present themselves in a specific manner for their job and other reasons and I fully understand the necessity of doing what is needed in your day to day.

I found out today that perhaps thousands of women are participating in Armpits4August. How we present gender is a fascinating concept. I find that often when we are challenged to challenge gender norms, it is for women to be more “man-like”, whatever the hell that means. I do not like this concept. If you wanna act feminine, whatever that means to you, go for it. My only advice is think about how you act, why you act this way and how it feels to you. There is nothing I love more than grabbing a new pair of earrings to rock, along with that I’ll skip shaving my armpits for a while. That’s how I rock my womanhood.

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8 thoughts on “My Forever Evolving Relationship With Body Hair

  1. tigervolleyball says:

    Super Interesting Sarah! I had a similar experience in that I had a lot of discomfort from shaving my armpits and decided to switch to waxing. But if you wax you have to let the hair grow out in between. So when it was last at its long point I had to give some subtle feminist messages to my bf’s 6 year old son about how it’s not gross to have armpit hair and that girls have it too, just most of them shave it.

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  2. Jared Smith says:

    Thanks for writing about this, Sarah. One of my close girl friends struggles with some of the same questions, but she’s also lucky to be a blonde (you can barely notice her leg hair). I think for her the biggest issue when it comes to shaving/not shaving her armpits is SMELL. Her “evolving relationship” with body hair intersects with a health-conscious desire to not use deodorants/anti-perspirant, and she feels that when she has armpit hair it’s significantly more difficult to wash away the stink. Regardless, I admire her effort, because as you said, she’s making a statement by pushing body hair norms.

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  3. meganleys says:

    Bam! Sarah I love this post so much! I actually sometimes go weeks without shaving my armpits or legs and it’s crazy how normal and how socially acceptable it is to hear, Megan you need to shave your legs. I can honestly say I don’t really care now… I’ll shave when I want and not shave when I don’t want to shave. However that wasn’t always the case. This post made me think about my definition of beauty and how it is has evolved over time. I can clearly remember being in high school and talking to my friends about older girls who had long arm pit hair and harry legs and how straight up I just could not understand this, I thought it was disgusting. But now sometimes when I look in the mirror I see my own armpits harry. Now when I see a random girl with long hair armpits I find myself being able to see the beauty and I always find myself smiling because I think to myself shit… you are cool!

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    • lexismanzara says:

      I agree, this post is the shit! I think about these beauty standards and how I feel about aligning with them a lot. Megan I’m so glad you don’t shave regularly and have been seeing so many girls lately breaking out that. I like how hairy legs and armpits look, but for some reason shaving does not hit home in the beauty standards department like some other things.
      What kills me the most is makeup and I had a hard time learning to not wear in, especially in certain situations. Now I feel very comfortable not wearing makeup and I love it! I think of it as a special occasions addition to anytime I would want to dress up, but not a daily hassle like it used to be.
      I still have a lot of work to do though, thanks for the inspiration!

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    • rosemichels says:

      Great article, Sarah! Perfect timing, because I’ve actually been thinking about this so much in the last few days. I just arrived in Mérida, México this week and am having a little bit of trouble adjusting to the gender expectations. At home, I shave my armpits maybe once a month and I don’t shave my legs at all. And it doesn’t bother me at all, and I’m pretty proud to say that I’ve grown to actually really like my body hair! But now I feel so much pressure to shave everything, and it’s very hot and humid here so everything is visible, too. The director of our program (we’re 95% women) even had a whole slide in our orientation presentation suggesting us to take advantage of the cheap beauty services here (lazer remove everything! teeth whitening! join a gym so you can eat more!). It’s so interesting how our surroundings influence a seemingly minor issue, but I can’t help but think that if I don’t shave it will actually be a major issue! However, I’m in a different country with a different culture and set of social expectations, and it’s maybe the better option to be respectful of them first.

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  4. Magdalena says:

    I am so grateful for this post, Sarah. I first stopped shaving last summer. It was a result of my surroundings and my comfort-level because, you’re right, interactions change based on how you look.

    At my summer job, most of my lady coworkers didn’t shave – I almost felt insecure shaving! It was empowering to be around people who made female body hair the norm. My partner at the time was also super supportive – I shaved my legs at one point and he asked me, “Why?!” I returned to shaving when I returned to school because I would have stuck out like a sore thumb and I wasn’t ready to take on all the stares.

    I’ve been back to not shaving for several months now and I start a new job today. I am unsure of what reactions I’ll get (the professional thing is a very real concern) but I’m going to feel it out. This was great for me to read before entering that new social situation – thank you.

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  5. Thank you Sarah!

    This post makes me think and question so many of my own beauty routines and why I do them and how I would feel if I didn’t. I grew up struggling to shave my legs with those shitty one or two blade razors that my mom would buy in a bag of about thirty. I never had shaving cream and it always seemed like such a luxury when friends had skintimate and seven blade razors on deck. How Lux!

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that it’s funny how glamorous the media has made shaving, and on the other hand how dirty they have made non shavers appear.

    I wish not that everyone would stop shaving but that girls would accept earlier that it is always a choice, because that’s something I definitely never felt like in high school or earlier. And to think that jobs are saying no because of some pit hair, ugh.

    We have some work to do..

    Thank for the post!

    Like

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