An adventure into the bush
I had never considered the question of why I am ashamed of my body hair before I stopped shaving. Now that I have a plentiful garden of armpit hair, a luscious bush, and furry legs; I find myself embarrassed and shy when I go out in public.
I first stopped shaving when I moved to Amman, I thought that it would be a fun experiment while I had to dress conservatively so my armpits would never be in the limelight anyway. However, as I read more literature on the subject, I really started to consider why I would ever shave my armpits. There is no hygiene benefit – I put deodorant on before and I put it on now – and in fact, shaving can often cause follucitis and cuts from shaving can become infected and painful. Not to mention that I am finally free of razor burn, the itchiest experience I have ever known (and I had nits as a child). Also, the majority of men do not shave their legs and armpits and so, why should I?
I am absolutely, unequivocally pro-choice. But I think it is important to acknowledge why you make choices. Shaving my legs was always an intermittent practice so it was not hard to stop, I am also fair so my leg hair is not particularly noticeable which means I do not have to deal with staring. Similarly, I never really shaved my pubic area unless I had a social event (which poses another question for later) so I did not have to change much in my routine there.
However, in regard to armpits, the curtains certainly do not match the drapes. I have darker armpit hair and I have been removing my underarm hair ever since it first emerged when I was twelve. I had never had armpit hair beyond a stubble.
The more I considered it, the more obvious it became to me that women shaving their armpits is merely a social construct. This may seem obvious to some, but I had never fully considered why I grew so anxious if I did not have time to shave before wearing a strappy dress. However, realising that it is a social construct does not free you from societal pressure. Once I realised that I was not shaving for my own benefit and that I did not have a burning desire to shave every couple of days, I decided to stop. I felt that to continue was allowing myself to further the belief that women should be hairless and smooth. Of course, many women shave because they want, and this is absolutely as it should be. I am not trying to suggest that women should stop shaving or waxing but I am trying to encourage that we think about why we shave and wax. If you conclude that you are not doing it for yourself, perhaps take a moment and think why you are continuing to do it.
It is very interesting to consider why hairless females are considered the norm. Obviously, a large part of this stereotype stems from porn and magazines which display the ideal woman. But why did we decide that less hair equals more beauty? Girls only start to grow pubic and armpit hair at puberty and it is the only aspect of visible puberty considered repugnant. Your breasts developing and your hips widening are seen as sexual ideals in our society, so why have we decided that hair does not carry the same sexual appeal. I do not have an answer for this conundrum but do message me if you come up with one!
With my long armpit tresses came ample opportunities. I very much enjoyed whipping out my hairy pits at parties and watching people’s reactions. To everyone’s credit, after the initial surprise no one cared much about how I was maintaining my armpit hair. This proves to me that, when faced with an unshaven underarm, no one really gives it much thought. It is more the idea that is revolting rather than the reality. My friends and I had great fun dying it pink and parading it around.
The only friction I came up against was from my sister and parents. She refused to see it on the grounds that it was disgusting. Yet, when older family friends came over she wasted no time in telling them that I had grown out my armpit hair and that it was pink. They then, of course, wanted to ogle at the novelty. While I was comfortable with my friends seeing it, there was still some shame attached to people I was not close with seeing it and judging me. My sister took my agency away from me and made me into an oddity rather than a person. I was then stuck between not wanting to show the two older boys for fear of them seeing me as someone different and strange, compounded by the dilemma that I did not want to be ashamed of myself for something natural. In the end, I did show them. They were, if anything, a little disappointed by the lack of length (sorry boys, I am working on it).
The lesson here is that it is okay not to be immediately comfortable with changes in your body. Feeling reticent or cautious does not make you any less of a feminist. Feminism intends to make life easier for women. If when summer arrives I choose not to wear a strappy top because I am not ready for the staring at my armpits and leg hair, so what?
At the end of the day, I am not ashamed of my hair but situations where it is on full display are difficult because some part of me believes that people will think less of me. This is an internal struggle which is fostered by growing up in society where I had only seen bald armpits. I hope in the future we will rid ourselves of our fixation on body hair and use our time for more meaningful issues.
Written by Phoebe, March 2020