Laura Woodhouse // 21 September 2007
I just realised that it’s a year now since I stopped shaving my armpits; over 14 months since I last shaved my legs, and in my eyes that’s call for a celebration, even if it does make one of my good friends retch!
Why the celebration? Well, it’s no coincidence that the last twelve months have also seen my levels of self confidence and body satisfaction leap to hitherto unimaginable levels.
My body hair background is one of constant struggle and paranoia. No one, but no one – long term boyfriends included – could be allowed to catch a glimpse of the evil hair. If I found I’d missed a patch on my thigh, I’d spend the entire day with my legs crossed to ensure no one could see it. I spent at least two hours defuzzing before visiting my boyfriend, and then spent the majority of the naked time we spent together worrying whether my bikini line was symmetrical, wincing where I’d irritated a bit of delicate skin with that nasty smelling hair removal cream.
I thought I was gross.
And it was no wonder, for with every stroke of that razor, as I attempted to reveal the goddess hidden behind my hideous outer shell, I reaffirmed what I discovered when, aged eleven, my new secondary school friends started teasing me about the fine hairs on my legs as we got changed for PE: female body hair is horrible, embarrassing, downright wrong. My girl’s body was developing into a woman’s body, but rather than celebrate this growing maturity, I had to remove all sign of it. The adult female body in its natural condition is, if not an abomination, at the very least a figure of fun.
And I was ashamed of it.
Now, I’m not saying my terrible body image was entirely due to society’s hatred of female body hair. Like every teenage girl I had to deal with the airbrushed and digitally enhanced images of women which are unavoidable in every day life even if, like me, you never touch a women’s magazine. I self harmed, cutting my underdeveloped breasts because they weren’t like the ones in my boyfriend’s magazines.
But I certainly believe the hair phobia contributed to my self loathing, and while my discovery of feminism helped me break free from the negative self image I had as a teenager, I was still afraid of exposing my natural female body in public. So I took the plunge. I shaved my legs one last time for a family wedding and then stopped. As my hair grew I forced myself to keep wearing shorts to the kids’ play scheme I worked at, and it appeared that no one actually gave a monkey’s that my legs weren’t silky smooth. As my confidence grew, so did my happiness. I moved to Paris a month or so later and decided to stop shaving my armpits. This was harder – I thought they were gross, I couldn’t look in the mirror. But I chucked my razor away and persevered, wearing sleeveless tops on nights out and forcing myself to dance with my arms in the air. I got some funny looks, which amused me more than anything else, and eventually I grew to love my hairy armpits. I grew to love myself, to accept my grown woman’s body and, more than anything, to love the freedom I discovered when I no longer had to waste time and money preparing my supposedly unacceptable body for the outside world.
I’m never going back.
I understand, however, that it is not as easy for every woman. I understand that it might not be so easy for me once I enter the professional world of work. And I also understand that not every woman – not every feminist – feels the same about this issue as I do. That’s fine. My declaration of freedom from the razor is not a criticism of any woman’s choice to use it. All I would perhaps ask is that those who seek so desperately to separate themselves – and the movement – from the hairy feminist stereotype consider why some of us do see being hairy as an important act, both personal and political, and, rather than rushing to condemn those crazy second wave man-haters, refuse to allow patriarchal mocking of feminism to be used as a basis for feminist identity, because trying to distance oursleves from the sneering that underlies that sterotype gives it as much credence as my hairy legs supposedly do.
Viva la hairy pit!