On female body hair and why it just isn’t fair

This year for winter I decided to stop removing my body hair. This is a statement I feel very apprehensive making and a blog  I feel somewhat nervous posting but I am adamant I am going to soldier on because I can’t possibly be the only person who feels the way I do about this.

Initially it was an experiment. Having conformed to societal norms and shaved my legs and armpits from about the age of 13, I had no idea what was going to grow out. It turned out to be not that much, in fact there seems to be almost no hair on the backs of my legs, but enough for me to feel squeamish about letting said hair out in public. I expected to be somewhat repulsed by my body hair because I have been conditioned my whole life to believe it was disgusting. However, I found it didn’t really bother me and my husband seemed to rather like it.

Last week it briefly got warmer and I started to think about wearing dresses again… ones without sleeves and tights and suddenly my love affair with my hairy legs and pits ended. I thought about the attention a luxuriant underarm bush might draw and as much as I wanted to tell society to fuck off… I shaved my armpits. I also paid a small, but efficient Asian lady to rip the hair out of my legs using hot wax.

Afterwards I felt defeated and a bit naked but also more comfortable with the idea of my legs and armpits being out in public. I guess I’m just not ready to be a hairy woman yet.

Now I know I do and have done several things to my body that are not natural. I wear make-up, I paint my nails, I dye my hair, I have tattoos and piercings. But unlike body hair I feel like these things are my choice. I could choose not to wear any make-up and to let my hair grow out medium boring brown and although I would feel less like me and less attractive, these would be considered valid choices. No one would stare if I didn’t put any mascara on. I don’t feel like choosing to let my body hair grow free is a choice that will currently be accepted by society as valid. It’s not my choice but rather something I am forced to do.

The normalisation of women removing their body hair has become so prevalent that even when we watch TV or films set in a time where no one was removing any hair, we see women with perfectly smooth legs and hairless armpits. Trust me… in the 1700’s they all had pit forests.

I am not disputing anyone’s personal choice to remove their body hair or make any cosmetic choice for themselves. What seems unfair is that it’s not a choice. You either get rid of it or face the fact that you are making a political statement, which is a lot of pressure just to put on your pits.

Maybe next winter I will be brave enough to stay the distance but for now I’m learning to live with my nude underarms and my cowardice. I know there are people who will read this blog and be horrified that I did not immediately remove all hair the minute it appeared and I am steeling myself for a potential onslaught of eew comments but if no one ever says anything how will we ever know how many of us feel like this?

16 Comments

  1. Deb M

    I think it is cool that you gave been hairy a try. I did that a couple of times and then gave in and shaved.

    1. Abbi

      Deb, I feel really defeated that I couldn’t go the distance. I’m irritated that I know I’m being “oppressed” but I don’t have the guts just to do it.

      1. Deb M

        Be gentle with yourself. It takes time to program us to be the way we are and it takes time to unprogram ourselves.

  2. Lucy

    Yay for you! I made the same decision a good few months ago and so far have not succumbed to the razor. I’m not sure how long into summer I’ll last though…

    1. Abbi

      Lucy, I’d be really interested to see what the response is from the general public and how it makes you feel.

  3. I totally agree with you. It isn’t a choice, like make up or hair dye. I bloody hate shaving all the time.

    1. Abbi

      Lizzie, that’s definitely where the difference comes from… in the choice. I think there are a lot of women who are less hung up on body hair than other things. e.g. I much more fussed with the colour of my head hair than if my armpits are hairy but I don’t feel like I can stop shaving my underarms. I do feel like I could stop dyeing my hair. That’s not choice.

  4. Sanna

    This is something I’ve thought about quite a bit recently, having been in the monastery most of last year, where I was covered top to toe (perhaps also counting the ~18 months leading up to that) and hence thought no more about body hair than I did about fried chicken wings, i.e. very little; and now being back in the world, in ‘worldly’ clothes, and in a relationship. Somehow it’s now an issue despite nobody having said anything.

    I agree with you on how it’s a personal choice that automatically becomes a political statement… Aside from my own thoughts/choices, it does REALLY get up my nose when crude remarks are made about women with body hair (for some reason, I’m thinking of Frankie Boyle talking about 70s porn stars, though can’t exactly place it…). And it freaks me out that it’s a unanimous social norm for people my sister’s age (she’s 18) from a very young age. I remember talking about it with her when she can’t have been older than 11 – and at that age it’s certainly not a sexual thing, so where is it coming from? Did she get it from me, from our female cousins, from TV, from things boys said at school?…

    But no matter how indignant I feel about it, I still ‘conform’ to that same expectation.

    1. Abbi

      Sanna, I think part of it comes from the fact that you NEVER see a woman with body hair in the media UNLESS she is making a political statement. It’s similar to weight pressures but I think even more insidious. We look at our own bodies and think, there shouldn’t be hair there. This also creates a norm for men where they come to expect hairlessness because they’ve never seen anything else. And even if they’re unbothered or would prefer hairiness they’re afraid to express it because it would be considered weird. Paul actually prefers my hairy armpits and was sad when I shaved them but he didn’t know he preferred it because he had never gotten to see it before. It’s definitely cultural though because my Icelandic ex was BAFFLED and disappointed that I removed body hair.

  5. As a man I feel that this is dangerous territory but let me wade in anyway!

    I do agree that the fact that women are expected to look a certain way is indeed unfair, and that shaving is a product of this. At the same time I think there are numerous expectations like this that go for both sexes. As a man I cannot walk down the street in a dress. If I did, I would be making a point, I’d have to be ‘in drag’ or ‘on a stag’, even so I would get some funny looks and unwanted attention. I definitely would not feel comfortable doing so. Modern women on the other hand can wear trousers or dresses, skirts or shorts. This is a freedom I don’t have. Ok ok, this is not the same as women having to physically alter their bodies, true. (Perhaps a better example would be male circumcision in America!) But there are equally rigid ‘do’s’ and ‘dont’s’ at play.

    Also, whilst I do agree that women are judged on a physical basis (although standards for men are also moving in this direction) but men, I believe, are held to equally rigid emotional standards. The reactions to men crying, showing emotion towards other men or being close to children are all examples of this. Little boys are brought up by society to be Vulcans, emotion in men is rarely seen as a positive thing.

    So… that got a bit off-topic. I feel bad for you ladies and the war you must wage against your pits for the sake of society’s seal of approval. And I don’t for a second claim that us XYers have it worse. But sometimes I think it needs to be appreciated that men are also fighting battles of their own. So if anything you’re not alone in feeling put out!

  6. Abbi

    Sacha, I think the title of this blog is a bit misleading. I don’t really mean that the body hair thing is necessarily unfair in comparison to men but rather than it is unfair when compared to other “body modification” choices.

    I don’t think men are excluded from being judged on physical appearance or that there aren’t areas where women have more freedom, such as in expressing emotion.

    I think you have hit the nail on the head though in terms of this being similar to the circumcision issue in the states. Where people are being forced to conform to a norm that they don’t necessarily care about out of fear of being seen as dirty or disgusting.

  7. The problem really was that it was too early… the weather was too cold still! Now that it seems – seems – to be warm, try again. And I hope I see the results if by chance I ever have an excuse to go to Wandsworth. To The Ship, perhaps.

    1. Abbi

      Err thanks, I think.

  8. I have hairy pits. Now the world knows!

    1. abbiosbiston

      Go on! I have gone back to summer hair removal but I am fuzzy in the winter.

      1. I’m actually more likely to be fuzzy in summer because I can’t stand the feeling of pants against hairy legs. But we all slack off sometimes, right?

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