My battle with body hair and self-acceptance
For years I’ve struggled to accept being a hairy woman. I like to joke about it, but the truth is I’ve long loathed the dark, coarse hair on my pale arms and legs. I don’t want to encourage this view at all, but for years it’s made me feel unfeminine.
In my youth, shitty friends have commented on my body hair. They’d note when I didn’t do a good job of shaving — “Your legs are so prickly!” They’d point out my arms’ thatches of hair, or the wisps above my lips.
My insecurity over being a hairier lady developed long before these comments, though. I remember begging my mom to let me start shaving my legs when I was 11. I made her take me to a consultation for laser hair removal. Over some 10 years, I’ve tried bleaching, shaving, tweezing, waxing, epilating, and using depilatory creams. My body is Panama, and I’ve been bent on deforestation.
Even those methods for hair removal that are marketed as ‘convenient’ have been neither easy nor pleasant. Creams and bleaches are obviously chemical-based, and it seems there is no way to make them smell good. After about 10 minutes spent wearing a thick film of goop, it will be hours before the fragrance wears off, no matter how much you wash.
Tweezing is fine, but only for small areas. Waxing is painful, not to mention expensive. Shaving is expensive, not to mention environmentally unfriendly. Epilation’s only saving grace is it did a great job preparing me for the comparatively mild pain of getting a tattoo.
Basically, I hate most if not all methods of hair removal. I have never tamed my body hair because the act of doing so actually pleased me.
When I was in high school and middle school, I shaved my legs in an effort to fit in and to avoid being judged. As I got older, I only shaved when I’d be seeing my boyfriend: to feel feminine and ‘traditionally’ attractive. I’d joke that you could tell how long it had been since I last saw my partner based on the length of my leg hair.
Unfortunately, I know there’s also judgement on the other side, for those who don’t have ‘enough’ hair — as if there’s some theoretical, ideal amount of body hair to possess.
I’d like to pin these ideals of hair on media: how many advertisements have I seen for hair removal? How many movies, TV shows, and music videos featured women with groomed, perfectly plucked bodies? The media isn’t the cause of our cultural obsession with hairless (or hairy) bodies, though; it simply helps to perpetuate it.
I’m now more confident in myself, and I no longer associate with people prone to picking on prickly legs. Still, my comfort with going au naturel fluctuates from day-to-day, and I think it always will.
I’ve come to recognize though that femininity is highly constructed and very personal. The fashion trend of dying armpit hair is one example of merging both the traditionally ‘unfeminine’ and feminine. You can forgo shaving your legs entirely and still rock a dainty pink dress.
While it can be difficult to always do as you please — those social influences always seem to wriggle their way in — a person’s construction of femininity, masculinity, androgyny, or whatever else tickles their fancy is ultimately their own.
Originally published in The Peak.