Yes, shock horror, I have hair under my arms: I HAVE HAIRY ARMPITS! I also happen to be a woman - so what’s the fuss about?
It was at 10 years old that I started seeing the first traces of baby hairs growing underneath my arms – at the time, this sickened me. There was only one light in which I could see this transformation - dirty, shameful and polluted. And so immediately, I set off to GET! RID! OF! IT! The procedure: my mum showed me how to make the soap lather, applied it to my underarms and with a few quick movements of a razor it was all gone. I distinctly remember at this point feeling a conflicting sense of shame - why was I doing something I felt was so unnatural to my young body?
I have always had hair on my legs - going from bright white down as a kid to a more prominent (but still blonde-ish) covering, so PE lessons from year 8 onwards were interesting, to say the least. There was a running joke that my legs "would be good", if only I would shave. The reason I don’t is fairly straightforward and one I believe many women will sympathise with: I just can’t be bothered.
This is in no way a vanity project; I am not decreeing my feminism as ‘better’ than others’ or attempting to reach a higher moral ground. It is a personal choice for me to keep my body hair, whereas many other women feel that they do not want to, or that they cannot. Any woman who claims she is ‘more feminist’ than you are because she doesn't shave and you do is frankly, a bit stupid. I will also mention how I realise that it is far easier, and more accepted by today’s society, for me, a white woman with fair body hair, to make this choice as opposed to a Woman of Colour - as illustrated in this excellent Galdem article: http://www.gal-dem.com/shavingforwoc/ (Check this zine out - I have learnt and continue to learn so much from it everyday).
A study conducted by Indix, a product information platform, showed that the average woman spends $10,000 (£8070 at time of study) on shaving-related products in her lifetime. The study also shows that there is no significant difference between the actual design or mechanisms of the razors marketed to men and those marketed towards women. And yet, Gillette charges women nearly double (X1.7 times more) for the same basic disposable razor. Maybe because it’s pink it works better on my soft, fragile, feminine skin?
Another survey of 2000 women conducted by Escentual, a beauty product company, showed that women, on average, spend 1,728 hours – or the equivalent of 72 whole days – ridding themselves of body hair by shaving. The same survey also concluded that the “beauty chore” most hated by women is shaving their legs. So why do we still do it?
My leg hair doesn’t really bother me – it’s not that visible, people don’t really stare and to be honest I like it (my mum on the other hand does not). But my armpit hair? This is next level. Unlike my soft, downy leg hair: this is dark and really in your face. The mix of reactions I’ve received range from pretty laughable to downright offensive.
Staring is a granted, “is she a lesbian?”, the upcurl of the lip, the visible revulsion, the nudging of friends & snide comments are all fairly norm by now - from both men, and sadly, women. But it takes repeated psyching myself up in my room before adventuring out in a short-sleeve. It takes changing into another outfit to conceal it, and then forcing myself to change back, as a resounding fuck you. It takes guts, for something so trivial, for something that men have never had to think about. For men who can go out in a vest without worrying, who can go swimming without a second thought, who can easily sit out in the sun without the pre-planning of waxing, veeting, shaving, bleaching, plucking, epilating or whatever the fuck else women have to do to pass your standards of acceptable.
Has it really got to the point where I am reduced to a ‘fetish’ category on pornhub?
Undeniably, sometimes I do really worry about it - but only about the way that other people will react. I have come to realise that anyone worth spending time with won’t care about it. And so, it is heartening and encouraging to see so many of my female friends and other women deciding that getting rid of all body hair (and resembling a pre-pubescent girl) is not a priority, is not essential and is not important.
And to anyone who does care about how my body looks: do you really think that I exist for you to look at?
When I look back at the young kid I once was, I feel so sorry for her. I see a young girl struggling with a sense of humiliation and disgrace about her own body, feeling angry and confused about the dice she’d been rolled. Why did I have to have this ugly hair on me, when so many of my friends had come out of puberty with silky smooth underarms? Why was I always reluctant to raise my hand in the classroom, when I knew the answer? Why was I so reluctant to take part in PE, reluctant to play tennis, to catch a netball, to go swimming? Why did I have to shave every other day; spending ages nicking and cutting myself by accident, getting ingrown hairs in the most uncomfortable places? These are just some of the problems that young girls, teens and women encounter on the daily when it comes to shaving and ‘self-grooming’.
I am not at all saying that my actions are new, unique or revolutionary – it’s just something that I have grown up with and learnt to accept. I strongly believe in freedom of choice: whether that is to be hairless or to be hairy or somewhere in-between. But try this: next time you feel like I HAVE TO SHAVE BECAUSE PEOPLE WILL SEE ME; before you go to uni, go to a party, go shopping, whatever – give it 30 seconds of thought: who am I doing this for? Do I want to do this? Can I really be bothered?