My Relationship With… Body Hair

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Anyone who knows me will happily tell you I’m a raging feminist. As such, I support women’s choices to do whatever the hell they want with their bodies, and that includes shaving if they so please. Sure, there are patriarchal pressures telling women that they should look a certain way, but that doesn’t mean we can’t choose to present ‘femininely‘ if we so choose. I love doing my makeup and wearing pretty dresses, but I can’t say that I love ingrown hairs or pulling a hamstring trying to shave my legs in tiny student-house showers. I’ve repeatedly tried to convince myself that I shave because I like the sensation of silky smooth legs, but recently I’ve come to terms with the fact that me shaving my body doesn’t have anything to do with me. 

I’m not a very hairy person. I’m a blonde, pale, Swedish girl with bald patches in my leg hair. Yet, I shave everything. Armpits, legs, vulva – heck, I’ve even shaved my all but invisible arm hair once or twice. I first started doing it when I was around 12, after a boy in my class noticed some hair under my arms and loudly exclaimed “EW!” in front of everyone as I ran crying to the bathroom. Since then, I’ve learnt not to listen to the opinions of men, or anyone for that matter, when it comes to my appearance. However, part of that internalised disgust still sticks with me today. Women are taught from a young age that hair does not belong on a woman’s body. Just like menstruation or a bulging stomach, body hair is one of the natural phenomena women are disallowed. Look at any hair removal or razor advertisement and it’s clear that the thought of female leg hair is apparently so disgusting to the public that even in instructions for how to remove it, the models will be shown shaving already perfectly smooth legs.

I have plenty of female friends who never shave anything, and props to them, but no matter how many times I’ve told myself I’m going to stop, or that I can’t be bothered, I always falter.  I’ll go quite some time without shaving my legs (and even armpits, if I know I’ll be wearing sleeves) because it’s barely visible, but as soon as the prospect of someone touching my legs or seeing them up close comes up, the razor comes out. If there’s even a minuscule chance of me getting into bed with a boy, any and all body hair will inevitably come off even though he most likely won’t even have taken the time to wash his penis. That is, of course, a generalisation, but the pressure on women to manage the smooth body of a Barbie doll, while most men get away with a 12-in-1 body wash and mild body odour on the regular, is undoubtedly unfair. We drink pineapple juice by the jug and buy special creams solely for our left elbows if society tells us to. This isn’t the fault of women, but the fault of a larger issue in our capitalist and patriarchal society. Where does this leave the modern feminist woman?

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with removing your body hair. It’s your body, do with it what you like and I’ll support you no matter what. The issue is I do not like hair removal. I do not do it for me. In fact, I hate shaving, and dread getting in the shower when the time comes to do it. While I’ve always been too scared to try waxing and too poor for laser hair removal (trust me, I’ve looked into it), I’ve tested every other type of removal under the sun and I’ve got the scars to prove it, literally. I’ve got permanent scarring in my armpits from using chemical hair removal as a child. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be doing anything I didn’t wish to do to myself, but recently I’ve also come to the realisation that there’s no use in feeling down on myself for succumbing to the intense pressure women are put under every single day. Whatever I do as a young woman, there will be a man out there to tell me that what I’m doing is wrong. I fight the good fight, I stand up for women in every way I can, but sometimes you have to pick your battles. I cannot fight every single fight, and while I hate the idea of falling in line with a male ideal, I try to remind myself that even in our resistance, women are expected to be perfect, and that’s just not realistic,is it? So here’s to being imperfectly feminist. I may shave my vulva for the sake of being desirable to the male gaze, but there are more important battles for me to fight than that one. Once I start to love myself for who I am, despite society telling me I shouldn’t, maybe then I’ll put down the razor once and for all.

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Opinion Editor 19/20, Features Editor 18/19. Third year BA English Lit student with a passion for traveling, feminism, dogs and iced coffee.

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