"Why was I so disgusted by my own body hair?"Billie, Unsplashed

“What’s your type?” was a question posed by my 17-year-old brother, after one too many Christmas tipples, at our Family Christmas this year. After listing off a perfectly reasonable collection of attributes, or so I thought - makes me laugh, knows how to cook, stops to pet strangers’ dogs in the park, gives a cracking foot massage - I returned the question.

Unsurprisingly, my brother’s list was vastly dissimilar to my own, with (now I must be clear, these are his words, not mine) “she’s got to have junk in the trunk,” featuring first on his list. After a relatively impossible, unless you have access to Kim Kardashian’s plastic surgeon, list of exaggerated female features, he subsided: That is, until he caught a glance of my underarms as I went to scratch my back…

“Oh, and no body hair at all! No offence. I just think it’s horrible on women.”

I had stopped shaving after university because I had forgotten to bring my razor home and my pits were, and still are, in his defence, considerably hairy. When I asked (demanded) him to “whip his pits out,” I had already prepared my counter-argument: His were significantly hairier, and indeed smelt far more strongly, than my own.

“My understanding of body hair in relation to women was floored by one major sticking point”

When I was growing up, my understanding of body hair in relation to women was floored by one major sticking point - I didn’t know they had any. So, imagine my surprise when, at the ripe old age of 14, hair started appearing in all sorts of places on my body!

Fearing the worst, I turned immediately to Google. “Help! Is hair on armpits symptomatic of cancer?”, I desperately searched, only to find that it was in fact, shudder, natural. Without a boyfriend and deeply insecure, I decided then and there that this abomination had to be removed. I liked Frida Kahlo, but I was not growing up to be a disgusting hairy woman - my feminism only went so far! Without a further thought, I stole my Dad’s razor and dry shaved my armpits and legs. I was in agonising pain for the next three days.

But why was I so disgusted by my own body hair?

It’s a question I’ve struggled with for many years. But, most notably, it began at 15 when my dance teacher gave me some of her daughter’s old sociology books. When I read “Girls will be Girls” by Emer O’Toole, my relationship with my body hair changed forever.

O’Toole notes that, “deciding to stop shaving allowed [her] to really experience the complexity of choice in relation to socially conditioned gendered behaviours for the first time.” She goes on to note that she “never really “chose” to shave.” She discussed how up until her twenties she had always shaved unquestionably, just like me…

“When I was growing up, I never once saw body hair on women in the media”

I grew up seeing shiny, hairless, beautiful women on TV and in magazines and, without knowing it, I internalised this. From a very early age, we are usually, though not to the detriment of our parents’ intentions, unconsciously socialised into a role dictated by our genitals - our gender. Boys get plastic swords and girls get toy dolls. Boys are encouraged to be boisterous, and girls demure. Boys get hairy armpits while girls get discreetly handed their first razor. Of course, I am generalising, but you get my gist. When I was growing up, I never once saw body hair on women in the media. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough, but now it seems the tables are beginning to turn.


Mountain View

How being vulnerable saved me

It is only recently that I have become comfortable with my own body hair. For years I was desperate to conform to the role of “hairless female”. I had internalised the opinions of society so deeply that I believed as a woman I should and should not be/have/say certain things, until I got a job working in a kitchen as the only girl. The boys there didn’t care whether they were hairy/stinky/presentable in any way and being in that environment was a wake-up call.

Now non-shaving has become more than just not having a razor. To me, it’s now a matter of proving that I can do it, despite the niggling voice inside my head, encouraged by years of hairlessness, telling me to shave.

At the end of the day, it’s all about preference. To shave or not to shave - it does not matter! Put simply, it is a matter of personal choice. And male or female, hair or no hair, it is important that we accept people’s visual preferences. A little hair (or not) here and there, is perfectly fine. Each to their own. That is what I truly believe, but I can’t say it doesn’t matter to me what others think, yet - because that’s not yet true.

As I imagine hotter months on the horizon I wonder if, when the safety blanket of winter clothing runs out, I will still have the confidence to be so unabashedly hairy. Or, perhaps, along with the seasons, I too will change. After all, it’s easier to flout social norms and rebel against the expected when nobody's there to judge. That is, when nobody’s around to see it.