An anonymous commentor dropped this one into the suggestion box:
Wondering if you’ve ever thought about/written about body hair. I’ve noticed that, despite my inclination to be completely fine with it, I’ve changed what I will/won’t wear in the summer to hide the fact that I don’t shave my armpits. Last year, I bought several short sleeved sweater/shrugs to wear over sleeveless dresses even though I usually internally bemoaned the fact that we’re an anti-hair society. Also, I go back and forth about leg shaving and if I’m supposed to hide it or own it.
Reader Erin responded in the comment thread by linking to this post from Manolo for the Big Girl, which I think is absolutely stellar. Miss Plumcake is hilariously candid, and covers a lot of bases in terms of her personal grooming and body hair-related routines. Do check it out.
As for me? Well, brace yourselves, kittens, because I’ll lay it all out for you. Possibly more bluntly than you’d expect. Or prefer.
I have a gorgeous, healthy, thick, curly mop of hair on my head. I’m incredibly grateful for it, truly I am. But the same genetics that gave me that gorgeous, healthy, thick, curly mop of hair on my head also gave me copious body hair. Everywhere. Like most women, I’ve got in my pits, on my legs and arms, and on my upper lip. Like some other women I’ve got it on my chin, my knuckles, and my fuzzy, fuzzy Hobbit toes. Like relatively few women I also get giant black hairs on my areolas, a thick swath of hair on my lower abdomen, and a few stubborn interlopers on my breastbone.
In addition to having a large amount of body hair and having it virtually everywhere on my body except my nails and eyeballs, I have incredibly sensitive skin that hates the very hairs that spring from it. If I shave more than about once per week, I get ungodly painful razor burn. If I let my body hair grow long, my skin becomes intensely itchy and eventually a good percentage of the hairs become ingrown. I’m sure that many of you have dealt with similar problems and have suggestions for me to try. But I’ve already tried them. I’ve tried them ALL. Potions, lotions, exfoliating, creams, waxing, waiting it out, combinations thereof … they all make me raw, itchy, or otherwise miserable.
Now, body hair is a hot-button feminist issue. Has been for decades. And I realize that what I’m about to say may sully my reputation as a feminist and as a body image warrior. But I’ve got to be honest. And having struggled with my body hair for my entire adult life, I have made my peace with this particular bit of hypocrisy.
I respect every woman’s right to leave or remove her body hair. And that goes for pits, privates, and everywhere else. But I prefer to keep my own hair to a visible minimum for grooming, aesthetic, and comfort reasons. And yes, those reasons are undoubtedly influenced by male-dominated notions of female attractiveness. I’m sticking to my guns on this one regardless. I will not shove half-inch-long leg hairs into my tights and suck up the discomfort in the name of ideals. I will not embrace my natural unibrow. I will not bear my chest and chin hairs proudly as a badge of my all-encompassing self-acceptance. I will not allow my toe hairs to undulate in the summer breeze. I will not grow out my armpit hair and flash it proudly in the name of feminism. My body hair irritates and annoys me both physically and aesthetically, and I will deal with it accordingly.
Does this mean I’m dissatisfied with my genetic lot? You’re damned right it does. Does this mean I’ve spent a lot of time and money and energy honing my personal hair removal routine. Indeed, indeed. Does this mean I’m willingly bowing to the patriarchy on this issue? I guess you could see it that way. But if the argument is that feminist bodies should be loved exactly as they are naturally and left entirely alone, here are some other related hypocrisies: Deodorant, haircuts, bras, cosmetics, belts, shoes that aren’t 100% flat, and absolutely any article of clothing that alters the appearance of a body. Everything we do to change how our bodies look, feel, and smell is a nod to societal norms. And I’m willing to nod occasionally.
Do I think you should all keep yourselves hairless from neck to toes? Not unless you want to. Do I think you should all allow every hair on your person to grow and prosper in peace? Not unless you want to. As in all things style-related, I trust you to make your own decisions. Your body, your choices.
But I think you’re all aware that Western society has very little tolerance for body hair on women. If you choose to go completely au naturel you will have a tough road ahead of you. If you feel strongly about your right to natural body hair and believe that the pressure to shave it off constitutes a form of oppression, grow it out and be proud, but prepare to be questioned about your choices. If you – like the commentor who asked this initial question – grow out your body hair only to hide it from view, you might want to consider your dedication to the cause and your personal priorities. I believe in picking your battles, especially when it comes to issues that affect your self-image, overall happiness, and personal comfort. If you wax and shave and bleach like me, you are not a villain. You are NOT. Just as you get to choose your clothing, your hairstyle, and your grooming routine, you get to choose how you deal with your body hair.