Hairy Feminist

I know what you might be thinking: “here we go again, another feminist who does not shave her legs and wants to rant about the reasons why. She burns bras and smashes razors all while yelling about the patriarchy.” While I will admit that that sounds like my Saturday nights, I will correct my title slightly, as I have a dramatic flair but also prefer the truth. I do shave. My armpits. But what if I told you that my reasons for shaving and not shaving my body has nothing to do with men or the patriarchy? What if I told you that it was purely practical? I will let that sink in for a moment because I know I just blew your mind (for those who are more literal, my flair for the dramatic also extends to sarcasm.)

My lower body is prone to horrible ingrown hairs. If you are wondering what those are, you are probably very lucky. But in all seriousness, an ingrown hair occurs when the hair you shaved or plucked away grows back under a layer of skin and becomes very itchy and red. Every time I shaved my legs since the time I first learned that we think “female leg hair” is gross, my hair would grow inward and I could not stop itching. It got so bad that I finally just got fed up, so I put down the razor and stopped wasting my time — simple as that. My body told me “no,” so instead of desperately trying a bunch of expensive products so that I could spend 15 to 20 extra minutes in the shower every week cutting the nasty hair away, I simply stopped shaving. I kept shaving my armpits because they didn’t have that god awful problem and because I noticed that having more hair there affected my body odor. That’s my big reveal. Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with feminism — or does it?

On paper, nobody really cares. I doubt you actually care whether my legs have hair or not. But the pressure to shave did not just pop into women’s brains one day and cause us to all go crazy over our body hair. That would be absurd. What did cause the shift towards shaving was cultural expectations and consumerism. Male, female, intersex or non-binary, we humans are very naked creatures, but we do grow body hair starting after whatever kind of puberty we experience. But only one gender that is “officially” recognized — I’m talking male-female binary — ever has body hair in any movie or TV show. Porn is perhaps the worst contributor because the attractive woman in any adult film has been shaved and waxed everywhere except for her head. So what does this tell a person who was assigned female and is watching any of the above? Or rather, what does this tell her about what is normal and attractive? I am pretty sure I do not have to spell it out: marketing has caused female body baldness to be seen as natural and products aimed at helping you whack that hair away pop up endlessly.

Even if you personally do not care about removing your body hair, the expectation still exists and the pressure still makes itself felt. So my choice not to shave is comes with anxieties about my femininity and attractiveness. When I see that all popular depictions of women come with smooth, hairless skin, that becomes normal and natural body hair becomes unnatural. It is not necessarily the attack on female hair anymore, it is the lack of it that now speaks louder. What should be a choice based on my sensitive skin and personal preference is now a political one associated with a movement for change. The saying “the personal is political” has resonated for a reason. So I did not stop shaving because I hate men or even because I am a feminist, though I very much am. I did it because of a legitimate issue, but because of the way our culture has been set up, I am made to feel less attractive, less worthy and like less of a woman. This is not just about body hair either — so many choices that women make for practical purposes become feminist simply because they are outside of expectations.

Abortion, family planning, clothing, makeup, career decisions, relationships, living arrangements, etc., are all full of controversy, and yet all of these things are personal and/or practical decisions. If I was truly allowed by our society to be attractive and have body hair, there would be more women in the public eye who were considered attractive and also had visible body hair. These personal choices are illusions, because they carry a stigma with them when applied to women. It is not just about being brave enough to make the “wrong ones,” it’s about being equipped to accept the consequences of those choices. My not shaving has practically no consequences except some personal anxiety, but my choice to dress ambiguously, to have a relationship with another woman or to have an abortion have more. Women have to forgo countless decisions that might be easier or less painful because our society tells us that those decisions make us less of a woman, mother or human. So, yeah, body hair is small and insignificant when it comes to all of these other issues, but it points to the exact same problem. People who are assigned female at birth are told to act, dress and exist in certain ways. To choose differently is to be radical, despite the fact that it may be just to avoid extra time in the shower and serious itchiness.