Thursday, October 15, 2009

And Now I Look Like a Woman

I have been meaning to write this for a while now, but as with all new endeavors, I needed some time to process. I stopped shaving totally, all together about 2 months ago. Poverty put the idea in my head, and then fashion feminism cemented it. I couldn't really afford another razor blade, and my skin was so irritated from shaving with soap and dull razors that I just stopped for a week or so. I asked my husband if he "minded" and he burst out laughing, "It's your body and you are a woman, and grown women have hair. Of course I don't mind. And even if I did, why should you care? It's your body. You have a right to your hair. When did women start shaving anyway?"

I always considered myself a feminist in the true sense of the word. Why on earth would I ask my husband if he "minded"? Obviously culture has done some naughty things to my brain. So I did a little research and stumbled upon this article, "Caucasian Female Body Hair and American Culture" by Christine Hope. According to Hope's research, the fashion industry began "encouraging" American women to shave their underarms around 1915, when sleeveless fashions became popular. Harper's Bazaar featured an ad stating: "Summer Dress and Modern Dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair," which appears to be the beginning of degrading women's body hair in America. The war against leg hair appeared when fashion shifted and allowed women to display more than just an ankle. According to Hope, convincing women to shave their legs was more challenging, so advertisers got creative. "Some advertisers as well as an increasing number of fashion and beauty writers harped on the idea that female leg hair was a curse."

Well that was the last straw for me! I stopped shaving that day, permanently. Despite my new freedom, I still felt ashamed of my body hair though, so much so that I actually became anxious in social situations! I'm bisexual and have had both male and female partners, but it was always my previous male partners who felt strongly about my body hair, one of them saying he preferred "hardwood floors" which was his stupid euphemism for "the pre-pubescent girl style." (P.S. This guy was also physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive). The extent of my anxiety alerted me that something was wrong. What did I think was going to happen? Did I think that men, women, and children would shield their eyes from the soft black patches under my armpits? Did I think that the bus driver would strike me as I hitched up my skirt to step on the bus? And, more importantly, did I think they would be justified? What a scary world that would be! I had to think more seriously about this, about taking control over my own body, owning my natural womanhood, loving every little hair because it's mine and it's supposed to be there.

This blog post "The Politics of Body Hair" by Anji on her awesome feminist blog, Shut Up, Sit Down is a wonderful exploration of culture, body hair, and looking like a woman. I agree with every word! I quote,
"Much of this can be attributed to the fetishisation of youth. Like glossy hair, bright eyes and unlined skin, hairlessness gives the body the appearance and feel of a young girl’s, or what I once saw described on the website of a hair removal product as a ‘prepubescent appeal’. It is curious that in a society where paedophilia is so reviled and such a huge problem, it is thought of as harmless and ordinary that men live out their paraphilic fantasies by requiring that the women they are exposed to look as young as possible. Pornographic media advertises its ‘barely legal teens’. Actresses are routinely referred to as ‘girls’ rather than women. The image of the ’sexy school girl’ is accepted and even desired, not just in pornography but in advertising, music video and themed nightclubs. Women slather on creams and apply blusher to their cheeks in order to attain a more ‘youthful’ appearance. Cosmetic surgeons and expensive underwear promise to give the illusion of the ‘firm’, ‘pert’ and ‘perky’ breasts which generally only occur naturally in adolescent girls. Most curiously of all, women are required to remove the most visible, prominent physical sign that they have entered adulthood – their bodily hair."
Just now, two months after the fact, am I beginning to relax with my new, adult woman body. The belief that body hair is ugly was so strongly ingrained in me by my culture, my exes, and my mother (who tirelessly degraded my body) that it really took a lot of positive affirmation for me to become comfortable. But ultimately, it is people like Anji and my husband who reminded me of all the fantastic feminist reasons why I was inspired to give up shaving in the first place (and no, not because of dull razors and crappy soap, although that helped). Also, the idea that I am supposed to look this way for a biological reason certainly gave me a wake-up call. Anji says,
"Grown women are, after all, meant to have hair on their armpits, vulva and legs. There is nothing ‘unnatural’ about a hairy woman; if there were then the hair would not grow there in the first place. Likewise, there is nothing ‘unfeminine’ about a hairy woman; if femininity is defined as ‘like a woman’ then a woman in her natural state is by definition as feminine as she can be. Indeed, one could say it is the hairless woman who is ‘less feminine’, as she removes parts of her natural, womanly body."
The fact is, it is a totally unreasonable "standard of beauty" that convinces women that they want to shave, or that they "prefer" themselves shaved. It's just another way to control women, to keep them looking like girls, and to deny them their natural bodies, which are ultimately the paragon of beauty. So ladies, what's it going to be? Repression and Razors or Liberation and Fluffiness? I love my fluffy self. I look like a woman.


  1. thanks for this post. i've recently decided to stop shaving, and i've been doing a lot of research and googling to find out why women decided to shave in the first place. your post came up in my google search. i'm still working on accepting my own natural, hairy body as beautiful-- it's hard to unlearn 27 years of cultural and societal norms that say hairless is beautiful and hairy is "gross" and "dirty," but i'm working on it!!