As a blonde woman, I’ve always been lucky with my body hair in that everyone insists (pretends) they can’t see it. But as an Irish woman, I’ve got thick coarse body hair to match the mane on my head. Despite this, I always thought my relationship with my body hair was fine: I sometimes shaved my legs in the summer, never shaved lower pubic hair (it’s just too itchy), and always shaved my armpits. I was lucky enough in my late teens to be surrounded by lovely women who didn’t shave at all and embraced that, and I thought I was confident like them. But throughout the first year of my first relationship, I shaved everything – legs, forearms (!?), armpits, bikini line – but never more down there because I don’t understand where everyone learned how to do that without hurting themselves.
My boyfriend never commented on my hair; I don’t know where, when, or why I decided the best thing to do would be to shave so much. Having prickly hair regrowing on my entire body was so unpleasant. I eventually gave it up, and it’s probably because I’ve been very lucky – I moved in with women who never shave, I’ve been with my partner for years, and I’m a fourth year with no time for shenanigans like shaving my fecking arms. I love moisturising my legs post- shower and feeling long soft leg hairs. I miss feeling like a slippery fish sliding around my sheets, of course, but I also am really enjoying my hairy body for once. It’s okay if that changes and I decide to remove all of my hair again; it’s also okay if I never shave again. The best and most important thing is that I’m comfy with where I’m at right now, which for a lot of people is nothing short of miraculous.
My body hair and I have been on a treacherous journey together. Starting at age nine, my mom, upon my sincere requests, began taking me to get my legs and underarms waxed. I didn’t question it when I was younger. Every piece of skin I showed was hair free and the pain was just an essential part of beauty. Waxing turned into shaving. At 15, I discovered feminism and the controversy of body hair. In a rebellious streak, I stopped shaving and showed off my hairy armpits on Instagram. They were pink for my high school graduation. I started shaving again after getting a gym membership. A large part of that decision came from the discomfort of sweaty, hairy skin in tight clothing. I also realized that not shaving my thighs made my chafing worse. My parents offered to gift me laser hair removal for my birthday. I see it as an investment if you are going to be shaving any part of yourself. I don’t remove my lower leg hair, however. I don’t see the point and the shame around it has dissipated. Guilt about body hair removal in a society that makes it seem as if feminism is all about rebellion is understandable. The thing is, feminism is much more than that. In a society like ours, we cannot escape complicity. We cannot expect women, or anyone at that, to constantly be doing the work to rid themselves of norms taught to them at a young age, as long as they are not harming anyone.
A surge of female celebrities sporting their natural body hair in the media has recently challenged the Barbie-esque expectation of a shiningly hairless body, an expectation I, and many girls, have been acutely aware of from a young age. For me, hair removal became a way to fit in, feeling judged for having dark hair easily visible on my face and body. Personally, this insecurity did not develop naturally; rather the influence of the people around me led to the internalisation that hair only belongs in certain places and ways on my body.
This recent exposure of female body hair signifies a step in the right direction in relieving societal pressures of the ‘perfect’ body image, with leg and armpit hair receiving a lot of media attention, though hair on the face and bikini line remains a greater taboo for females. Due to the nature of the sensitive areas where it grows, it is difficult and painful to remove, often resulting in irritated skin and even bleeding. The fact that many women risk harming their skin in order to adhere to beauty standards exemplifies the dangerous effects of societal pressure. In order to make a real change, more needs to be done to make sure that the choice to keep body hair is not just a ‘trend’, but an understanding of hair as a natural feature of the human body which has no need to be politicised.
Image Credit: Karolina Mis via Flickr