Illustration by Erin McPhee
We asked writers to share their relationship with the body hair for our upcoming alternative beauty issue. This is the [XX] instalment in our series.
TRIGGER WARNING: mention of sexual assault
I shaved my legs for the first time when I was 12. It wasn’t a groundbreaking experience. Shaving was just one of the things I thought I should do once I started going through puberty. I remember how it felt shaving my legs for the first time though, and it felt like I was gliding my way to maturity and by extension, desirability.*
Fast-forward to now - I just turned 21 - and I am affectionately referred to as fuzzy and often proudly tweet things like this:
Body hair was always something I was taught was “not attractive” on women. It was kind of a given that I would, and should, get rid of my body hair. I used to live in fear of missing a spot of stubble and having a boy point it out. Up until pretty recently, I thought of body hair as a nuisance, and something to manage and hide.
I stopped shaving my legs a couple of years ago, and it was partially because of feminist reasons - really interrogating who I was shaving for, etc., - but, honestly, I was also really lazy. I stopped shaving my armpits a couple of months ago, and then just stopped everywhere else. It’s complicated.
My body hair is a source of shame, sometimes, but I also wear it like armour. In the summer, when I often wear very little, I’ve seen the power in inciting disgust in some men passing by when I cross my legs coming over to try and talk to me. Especially just recently coming to terms with realizing I was sexually assaulted a couple of years ago and feeling increasingly unsafe navigating the world. I often feel resentful that my relationship to my body has become one where I can’t control my reactions to certain things. I was on the subway one morning after having a very disturbing nightmare related to sexual assault, and an unassuming man in a three-piece suit and briefcase sat down beside me. I started crying when his knee accidentally touched mine. This doesn’t happen all the time, usually just after I have a nightmare or get catcalled or grabbed or something, but it makes me hyperaware of how I relate to my body. In a very substantial way though, my body hair gives me control and a sense of security and power in grossing men out.
Sometimes though, feeling so unsafe and outside my body in these situations, it allows me to harness this really powerful anger that I use in other parts of my life to do activism around creating a culture of consent.
Sometimes, my body hair makes me feel ugly and undesirable. Sometimes it makes me feel safer and more powerful. Most of the time, it’s a neutral acknowledgment of this is how my body is, and I don’t think much of it. Sometimes, I have urges to shave every inch of my body in an attempt to avoid getting strange looks and double-takes… or, I mean, honestly, anyone who tells you shaving your legs and moisturizing them after isn’t the best feeling in the world is lying.
Lately, I’ve also been thinking about how my hairiness is a way to let others know I’m queer, since I am very often am read as straight, except, in my experience, when very cliché markers are visible such as the combination of my undercut and various kinds of body hair. I recognize that not ever queer girl is hairy, and I’m not suggesting they should be, but it works and feels good for me.
Letting my body hair just do its thing has also been really liberating in getting to a place of body neutrality, especially because body positivity is hard all the time. My body hair also has helped me embrace ugliness as something to revel in, instead of run from. When I was younger, and still now sometimes, I’m terrified of being ugly or unattractive. I realize it’s a privilege to be able to embrace ugliness as something transformative, as my systemic attractiveness as a white, cis, relatively thin-ish, able-bodied woman is constantly reinforced in every institution ever.
I also recognize the way my relationship with my hairiness is impacted by my identity. Women of colour, queer or trans women/people of colour, folks with disabilities, and folks with other marginalized intersecting identities can face very different and more systemic issues with being as visible with their body hair as I am. Body hair on white girls in feminist art and even now, more mainstream media representations are constantly reinforced as edgy and fashionable, and I benefit hugely from that. Often, white girls like myself - and I totally did when I was younger - were the same ones who mocked young girls of colour in elementary school for having hairy arms, and here I am now presenting my body hair as a badge of feminist honour or something. It’s a serious display of my own privilege, and something I’m constantly negotiating. An article by Niloufar Haidari says it infinitely better than I ever could: body hair, for white women like myself, should be low on the agenda of urgency and thought of critically. The article speaks to the complex and integral, and sometimes both literally and figuratively, painful nuances of body hair folks of colour can have for so many reasons.
From my own experiences, it feels really good to embrace not being a certain kind of hairless pretty for others, and be a hairy kind of pretty for myself. Being hairy also gives me a sense of control. I like being hairy when my body often feels subject to other’s scrutiny and opinions on what I should do with it. I like being hairy because it reminds me my body keeps growing even if I feel stagnant.
*I want to acknowledge that this post is entirely informed by own opinions and experiences, and I realize my relationship to body hair is unique and informed by my privileges. By no means is anything I talk about here a must-do.