I'm not the only one.
It began as a joke between my husband and I. He said there was no way in hell that he'd shave his legs, even if he were a woman. I said, "Really? Because I could stop right now. I don't do it for me." And he said, "Sure. I really don't care."
And you know what? He doesn't.
Or, more accurately, he'd probably prefer if I did it, but it's not going to stop him from snuggling close enough to steal my side of the bed. Or wrestling with our daughter and I on the sofa. Or, you know, other stuff. He doesn't think it makes me uglier or less desirable.
All of that is secondary to how I feel about my own hairier body, of course, and that is... more complicated. I don't feel less feminine. I don't gross myself out, not even a little. After a lifetime of body-shame conditioning, I did wonder if I would. I don't even find it ugly. But I do find that it makes me feel vulnerable.
Vulnerable? Yes, that's the right word. I feel like I'm setting myself up for awkward and potentially hurtful conversations. One person I told said, "You finally just decided to let yourself go." What? No. What part of myself have I let go of? What do those words really mean? Did I lose some part of who I am because I decided not to fight my body's natural functions?
I don't think I let myself go. I think I found something.
I found extra time not wasted in the shower or tub. I found that I grow very little body hair at all, but that in places it grows in nearly black. I found that long leg hair does not itch more, and armpit hair does not increase stinkiness. I found that, objectively, lack of body hair does not delineate between the male and female of our species. We all grow it pretty much everywhere.
I've also discovered that our cultural bias toward hairless female bodies runs deep, and people just don't know how to deal with girly body hair. Have you noticed that historical dramas (both on screen and in books) feature hairless ladies? What about ancient statuary? Classical paintings? It's true that women have been ripping out, melting, and shaving their body hair for thousands of years. But surely they aren't all so adept at it, and no one ever mentions that it's happening. I find it hard to believe that the lower classes had the money or the time.
|Venus and the Lute Player, ca. 1565–70|
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) and Workshop (Italian, Venetian, ca. 1485/90?–1576)
Oil on canvas
Let's be real here-- we're talking about thousands of years of self-mutilation. Many of the most effective methods of hair removal are excruciatingly painful, as well as time consuming and expensive. Yes, men remove their facial hair, but so do women. While shaving, for men, as been largely optional for all of human history, removing female facial hair is a societal requirement. Women are also supposed to remove nearly all the visible hair on their bodies from the neck down. Removing all of this hair is a lifelong commitment. It never stops sucking, and we only do it because we think we can't be pretty without it.
From a feminist standpoint, there's no question: removing our body hair is an act of self-oppression. Any time a group of people wants power over another group, they first have to figure out how to sell their innate superiority. When women remove most of their natural body hair, they look softer, more childlike. We can tell the sexes apart from a great distance, even from behind, even with a passing glance, because hairless women are so visually dissimilar from men. The greater the visible difference between the Oppressor and the Oppressed, the easier it is to get away with oppression. It's easier to say, "Well, we're just naturally different. It's the natural order for us to do different things." It's easy for men to say, "Women shouldn't do these difficult jobs. Look how soft and sensitive they are! And look how much time and energy they waste on their looks!"
Remember: None of this is natural. Women do not naturally appear so different from men. We are being told that it's natural, lied to about that, because it makes us easier to control. Do not believe these lies.
They told us we couldn't run fast enough because we wore high heels and tight skirts; we demanded a chance to try combat boots and khakis, too. When we demand the same opportunities, we prove--over and over--that we can perform just as well as any man.
But no one will even the playing field for us.
Woman have to do that for themselves.
(It's strange how hard it was to get photographs of my body hair. I feel like it is very visible in person, but it hardly shows up at all on film. Huh.)
Honestly, I am not sure I could personally hack the shave-free lifestyle in the Summer. I don't know if I am brave enough to rock natural body hair in a skirt and tank top. I just don't know. It makes me angry that I even have to consider this problem, when my husband gives it no thought whatsoever. I am also not prepared to stop grooming my facial hair. I am a part of the machine, too, folks. I'm just trying to understand the mechanisms I'm powering.
So will I shave again?
I'll let you know. Right now, I really am enjoying this strange new awareness of my body. It feels liberating and kind of naughty. It feels like a revolt. It feels scary and sassy and a little bit stupid, all at the same time.
Go on, ladies and gents. Give natural body hair a try. What are you afraid of?