I remember the first time I was ever ‘shamed’ for having body hair. I was in year 6 at primary school and it was summer so we were all wearing summer dresses (is there anything more British primary school than the summer dress?!). I was sat on the wall with my friends when a boy came up to me and said ‘Ewwwwwww – you need to shave your legs! Girls aren’t supposed to have hairy legs!!’
For the first time, I acknowledged the hair on my legs negatively. Was I not meant to have hair on my legs? Where were the rules about body hair written down and why had no one showed them to me before? How did everyone else know what hair boys and girls should have and I didn’t? The boy had said ‘ewwwwww’ – did that mean that the hair on my body something disgusting?
I remember panicking, worrying why I didn’t look how I was ‘supposed’ to look. From then on, I paid more attention to the women I saw on TV or magazines, noticing their neatly plucked eyebrows and smooth, endless legs. I soon realised that there was a definite aesthetic that men and women were supposed to have when it came to body hair. Men were ‘supposed’ to have body hair to look more strong and manly, whereas the only place acceptable for a woman to have a wild abundance of hair was on her head. Even on TV shows about zombie apocalypses like The Walking Dead, the women were hair free. They could have been eaten alive at any moment in time, but I’ll give those zombies credit – they knew about societal perceptions of beauty and let those women finish shaving their legs first before they went after them!
I realised how different I looked to the women that were around me, not just on my TV screen. My mum had fair hair, with her hair being so fair that she could not shave for a year and you wouldn’t be able to tell. Unfortunately for me, I inherit my dad’s hair. I had, and still have, thick, dark hair. Until that moment in primary school, being dark haired had never bothered me, but from then on it was something I always felt that I had to consider. Overnight I felt like my perception of myself had changed from being a normal girl to a walking fur baby.
Arm hair used to really, really bother me. I realised quickly that my hair was darker than most people I knew and was terrified of it being commented on. In secondary school, I used to buy polo shirts that were too big so I could pull the arms further down in class to try cover my arm hair. I remember a time where I used to use hair removal cream on my arms. I’d walk around with goose pimpled, chicken leg looking arms, shivering even when it wasn’t cold, just to get rid of it. The hair would grow back sharp and thick, but I’d have had a few weeks of smooth, fur free arms so then I was pretty, right?
I’d wear tights in summer just in case any hair started to grow back during the day. For me, that was a real concern because it could really happen. I’m the kind of girl that can shave her legs and have to top it up the next day. I have shaved my legs until they have bled, until the skin is sore and red.
My eyebrows were like two untameable beasts desperately trying to meet up with each other. Controlling them was a painful daily battle, tweezers my weapon of choice. A few times when I have had my eyebrows waxed, I have bled simply because the hair follicle is so deeply rooted that it doesn’t want to be torn free. Every time I went for an appointment to help tame the beasts, it seemed that my eyebrow hair had become quite attached to being a part of me and just didn’t want to let go. Not only were these trips to beauty salons incredibly painful, they were also an annoying drain on my finances.
Body hair became an obsession and something to always, always worry about. It was exhausting. I can’t wear this because of arm hair, what if my leg hair grows back, my legs look sore from over shaving – what if someone sees? What if, what if, what if… exhausting.
Body hair has become a feminist issue and it’s a topic of conversation I’ve loved listening to, simply because it has challenged my own perceptions of myself and made me take a break from this relentless pursuit of Barbie smooth, idealised perfection that is simply unattainable 24/7. I saw a meme the other day that said something along the lines of ‘I can’t tell if I love my freshly shaven legs because they feel smooth or because society tells me I should only love them that way’. It made me smile because I recognised myself in those words.
My obsessive relationship with body hair began because I was told to be ‘normal’ and ‘accepted’ that I had to be hair free. I enjoyed the feeling of smooth legs partly because they felt nice but I suspect mostly because they made me think ‘I’ll fit in now’. To put it bluntly, I can think of no benefit I get from shaving other than the feeling of fitting in. But fitting into what exactly? If the only way I can fit in this world is to be plucked, scoured, sore and cold, then is it really a world I want to fit into?
Body hair just is what it is – it is body hair. If you have a body then the chances are you will have hair on it. Welcome to the club. Our body hair serves a purpose. We all are supposed to have it and that’s okay, that’s normal. The thing you’re striving for, smooth like a surfboard limbs, that’s actually what is abnormal.
You’ll be happy to know that I don’t hair removal cream my arms anymore. I’m happy to know that I don’t! What a waste of time, money and energy that was, never mind how weird it looked. I live in Australia now so I maintain a level of smooth leg because I’m often in shorts or a skirt, but I don’t do it to the point where my skin feels sore and I accidentally cut myself in doing so. I don’t feel the need to ‘shed’ because I am told to. I do it because I want to and I might leave it a few days because I want to, too.
I know I’m not the only one. I’ve spoken to so many friends who candidly confess to not shaving in winter or only shaving up to their knee when they go out. We share it over cocktails like it’s some big, guilty secret… but what is their to be ashamed of? So you shave every 3 days, every week, once winter has ended… so what? I still like you, hair free or furry.
I guess the point of this article is just to say ‘I have hair too!’ and to say it in a way that doesn’t make it out to be a dirty secret that you can only whisper in the company of likeminded female companions. There’s nothing shameful about female body hair, nor should we be made to feel like there is. Female = human = a body = body hair, it’s a very simple equation. Don’t forget it.