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.