Shaving was never presented as an option, not really. I remember first deciding to shave my legs at the age of thirteen, aware that other girls had already been doing it longer. I barely had any hair on my legs; I was fortunate to be blonde with fine hair. My mum was disappointed to see I had started shaving, insisting I don’t go above the knee, which seems ironic now as she is quick to point out when I haven’t shaved. Maybe it’s because she knew that once I did it, once I entered this club, there was no going back. You could forgive a child for not shaving, but never a woman.
I started shaving before I had a chance even to know what the hair would look like. I started getting Brazilian waxes before anyone had ever seen the area. I have been partaking in the ritual of removing all body hair for so long, horrified by even a few prickles. To arrive at the gym and realise it had been three days, rather than one or two, since I last shaved my armpits. I was keeping them low, minimising my movements to hide this fact. To be about to leave for the beach when I realise that I didn’t shave my bikini line, imagine the potential horror. To be out in public, see my trousers rise, and the new hairs sprouting by my ankle. Convinced someone would notice, convinced that it was enough to change their perception of me.
These tiny hairs hold so much shame and embarrassment. Something natural has somehow transformed into a sign of poor hygiene. It marks the ‘radical feminist’ to actually grow bodily hair, yet all it truly marks is stopping the fight against mother nature. I am growing out my hair because every negative voice in my head tells me it is disgusting, unattractive and inappropriate, and I need to prove them wrong.
My mum told me that waxing my entire pubic area would make me look like a child, and now I see that she is right. By removing all of our bodily hair, we’re essentially infantilising ourselves. Take a second to google ‘school boy’ and then ‘school girl’, and see how horrifying the contrast in results are. We sexualise young girls, and part of this is by ensuring that even women appear as pre-adolescents through smooth legs, armpits and pubic areas. Did you know that women begin growing pubic hair to protect their vagina from potential bacteria? It also disperses odours for you. So by removing it completely, you’re essentially placing yourself at risk for vanity.
Many women comment on how they wouldn’t date a hairless man, and that without hair they’re ‘just a boy’. Why does this not apply to women? Why are we so quick to see hair as a mark of maturity on men yet force women to remain infants through removing their hair?
I don’t want to be a girl; I want to be a woman. A woman with a full figure, not determined to create the thigh gap of a child, and with hair where it naturally grows.
Even if you consider what I was told about a full Brazilian wax rendering me as a child, it only goes so far. I shouldn’t wax completely so that I appear womanly, yet I should ensure hair isn’t on the bikini line and trimmed down. I am all for hygiene and maintaining the area, but what does that have to do with shaving my bikini line? How are hairless legs anymore “womanly” or “clean”? You can still see the shape of my leg very clearly despite hair growing, so why must I conform to the ideals of what hair is and is not allowed?
I also always wonder how the hair on your arms even differs to legs, why that is permitted instead. I’m sick of conforming to the specific rules provided. It’s like the concept of being curvy, in that you can have big breasts and a big bottom, but god forbid there should be fat on your stomach or thighs. I’m tired of these allowances, where I can have fat, where I can show skin, where I can allow my hair to grow. I don’t want to follow the rules set to keep me in place when I’m not following them for my happiness.
I’m genuinely curious. I’ve rarely seen women’s hair grown, whenever I would there would be an almost morbid curiosity, my learned repulsion and assumptions flooding in. Will my hair look like my partners? This morning I raised my arms to stretch in the bathroom, and it was a surprise to see the little shock of dark hair. How thickly will it grow on my legs? Will the individual hairs reach one another?
If it does look like a man’s, will that make it okay? For if my hair appears just as theirs does, there would be no reason for mine to be incorrect and theirs to pass. The only difference is that society chose me to make a profit from, and decided to keep me further in line with how they view me. If you can’t tell my hair apart from a man’s, why must mine be removed?
I am genuinely curious to see what I look like with bodily hair, as I’ve never seen it. The slightest stubble was caught by someone else, mentioned and mocked.
Did you know that there are dozens of stock photos of men shaving, yet not a single one of a woman? Every ad for female razors depicts the woman as hairless before she shaves, how does that even convince us to buy one?
Women only really started shaving in 1915, when Gillette created the ‘Milady Décolleté’ and suggested that women should use them on their armpit hair. It was the first time that armpit hair was labelled as “objectionable hair”, perhaps because sleeveless dresses were becoming increasingly popular and so they finally had a reason to claim this. Harper's Bazaar ran an ad in 1915 which claimed that entirely bare underarms were a “necessity”. That’s just over one hundred years ago, and yet it feels so naturally ingrained in our society. As if women have been hairless for centuries because that’s how we present them to be when we tell the story because it fits the narrative we need.
So women were shaving their armpits, and legs came into the questions in the 1940s and 50s. World War II led to a shortage of nylon, which meant that women couldn’t wear stockings every day. Walking around bare-legged, it was the perfect opportunity to market razors as a solution for legs as well. Skirt lengths decreased, and so there was more and more skin waiting to be fixed with a razor.
But funnily enough, no one mentioned that men could start shaving more. After all, men were also wearing shorts without stockings, why was their leg hair deemed acceptable? Because there was no money in them, men were already shaving their facial hair and purchasing razors. The money lay in women and a market that was used to being told what to do and how to look. If we suddenly started telling men that waxing their entire pubic region was “so attractive”, few would actually do it, as they’ve been taught that they don’t need to change to look good. Yet women change their eyebrows every decade based on what they’re told, and they are more likely to get plastic surgery, extensions, waxes, laser treatment, and more. We’re used to being informed of what is wrong with us.
I no longer wish to be a pawn in the industry, paying exuberant amounts for products sold cheaper to men. I wish I could say that I’ll no longer use makeup, hair products and extensive skincare. That feels too difficult, and those things make me feel good about myself, so I’m more willing to invest. But shaving doesn’t make me feel better, it just stops me being self-conscious, and that isn’t reason enough.
It isn’t just the razor you pay for, it’s also the extra water each time you shave. It’s the additional time in the shower. It’s the additional mental load in remembering to shave and dreading if you don’t. I no longer wish to pay their fee.
I don’t shave for me; I shave for you. I shave to blend into the crowd, not even to stand out like I’d try to with makeup or hairstyles. I shave to conform. Don’t tell me that this is a choice, but when you don’t make it a fair one. If I don’t shave, I’m ‘radical’, ‘gross’, ‘unfeminine’ and more. That’s not a reasonable choice. That’s like saying women don’t have to be thin, but labelling them as unattractive, unhealthy and disgusting when they’re larger. To make it a choice, you have to allow both sides to be available, to have both sides seen as viable options that are up to personal taste.
I’m not shaving because I don’t know what my own body hair looks like. I can’t say that I ‘prefer shaving’ until I know the other choice. I want to love my body with hair as much, or even more than I do without it. It’s winter, and barely anyone will see me with hair, and so I don’t have to shave. I need to be able to go the gym or a spinning class and not care if people see the fuzz of my underarms. My partner supports this, for he doesn’t share society’s weird hatred of my natural bodily hair. And even if he didn’t, it is my body, and I get to choose what I do to it, and what I don’t. Maybe I’ll shave again before summer, perhaps I’ll grow comfortable enough to debut it into the world. I just want it to be my choice. So I’m forcing myself not to shave, even when I feel insecure, even when I wear something that will show it because I need to feel comfortable either way. I need to make shaving a choice and not have my body dictated by men. I’m not shaving until it longer scares me or makes me think that my body is ugly. My body is beautiful, and I need to learn that.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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