Age eleven was the first time I picked up a razor. I can’t even remember why I wanted to shave, but I guess I just felt like it was time. I wanted to enter into womanhood and decided this was a way in. I hadn’t even had my period yet and I was desperately trying to enter into these “female experiences”. I shaved the little hair I had on my legs, armpits and arms (I DIDN’T KNOW), and cut myself numerous times in numerous places. But I had done it! A woman at last! And I continued shaving consistently up until November 2016.
Shaving wasn’t something I thought about very often. I didn’t feel as though it was taking it up so much of my time and I didn’t feel pressured to shave; I started doing it on my own, I wanted to. Shaving made me feel clean and just avoided unnecessary embarrassment. Overall, shaving felt very much my decision and it was also my decision when I decided to stop.
I became passionate about feminism in the 10th grade. I remember finally questioning these “norms” with my friends and having numerous discussions about body image, body hair, makeup, revealing clothing, and thinking about things I participated in everyday in a whole different light. I agreed that shaving shouldn’t be expected and we should all have the liberty to make our own personal choices. But I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t shocked and/or disgusted when I saw a women’s armpit hair or leg hair. As a feminist, I’d never voice those opinions out loud but I was definitely judging women who didn’t shave. I went on like this for quite some time, and even though I was surrounded by feminist women, almost of all them were shaving too. I verbally rejected the concept of this norm but internally accepted its expectation and practice.
After I graduated high school in 2016, I went longer and longer without shaving. I couldn’t give you a specific reason. Maybe it was because there were no boys I was trying to impress? Maybe it was because I was trying to see just how long I could stand it? But throughout that summer I only shaved once or twice and then in November I stopped shaving altogether. I wanted to see how long it could get because from the time I started growing it, I had been shaving it off; I’d never actually seen myself with proper body hair. I also wanted to see how it felt, living with my hair; I wanted to know if it would be as uncomfortable as I anticipated. And lastly, I wanted to see how people in my life would react, as well as the public.
In January of 2017, I flew to Australia and traveled around with three of my best friends. We spent most of the days on beaches or in the cities and it was hot (obviously). Most days I was in shorts or a skirt, and usually in short sleeves, that meant a whole lot of leg and little glimpses of the underarm area. At first, I was so insecure. I had a noticeable amount at this point and I was honestly just afraid people would think I was homely, and since I’ve always been very passionate about frequent showers, deodorant, and the use of perfume, this stressed me out! I caved in about a month into my trip. The four of us were about to go to a party. I was going to be meeting a lot of new people, and up until this point I’d pretty much just spent time with my girls. I was so afraid of making the wrong impression or being stared at the whole night annnddd I shaved.
For the first few days I realized how much I missed feeling so smooth! It also made me feel more feminine. But after two weeks with these shaved legs and pits, I just felt disappointed in myself. I had gone almost 3 months without shaving, the longest I had gone since I started! I shaved for what! For fear of what people would think about me; and truly, I thought I was stronger than that. Even if that party would’ve been more stressful if I hadn’t, it would’ve felt better knowing I wasn’t making decisions based on fear of judgement. So I stopped.
I haven’t shaved since February 3rd, 2017. When I came back from Australia my mom was pretty weirded out by the fact that I came back hairier than when I had left and we got into a few arguments about it. It was hard for her to understand how I didn’t feel gross and uncomfortable with my hair and the truth is, you just get used to it! Growing out my leg hair wasn’t some magical experience, where everyday I felt more and more like who I was meant to be! It just felt like I was me with more hair. Yes, I feel as though it is a much bigger art of my identity now, but not throughout the process itself. Eventually we moved past this once I expressed how deeply her approval mattered and that I didn’t expect her admiration, I just needed her support! I’m not on a mission to destroy razors! I just want people to respect my decision and to also show girls (boys too!) that you get to choose how you treat your body.
While I faced some harsh opinions from some family, I also received ridicule from strangers. One specific instance was during my job last summer. I worked at a Tourism center and also did tours on our old trolley. My job consisted of standing in front of a group of people and talking at them for an hour, and since it’s summer and since it’s Saskatchewan, it is hot. I’m usually dressed in a skirt or shorts and I would get a few stares throughout each tour. It didn’t bother me that people were staring; staring didn’t inherently mean they had negative feelings towards it. I know it is not typical to see a woman with body hair in North America – it’s abnormal, I expect people to notice. One afternoon on the trolley I had two women in their early 50’s. While I was giving my introductory speech, I saw one of them take note of my leg hair. This usually starts off with a double take, then wide eyes, and then a prolonged examination of the rest of my legs and body. She went step by step but I was surprised to see her take it a step further by then whispering to her friend. I watched her friend go through my examination process and heard them start giggling. In my head, I just rolled my eyes but then I heard one of these women say, “I’m going to take a picture”. She pulled out her iPad (yeah, she’s old), and very obviously, I might add, placed the iPad away from her, outstretched towards my legs, with the sound on. I did not know how to react. In the moment I was flustered and partially didn’t want to embarrass them as they were not subtle at all, but I ignored them and proceeded with my tour, very thrown off. Looking back on it, I should’ve addressed them, not with contempt or anger but a simple, “Hey, if you guys want pictures of my legs, wait till after the tour and I’ll even pose for you!”, or whatever. I was so surprised women so much older than I am, were blatantly laughing at my hair, hair that they grow! I didn’t expect to be treated like a circus sideshow, but every once in a while I felt like I was a spectacle.
That, by far, was my most dramatic event concerning my body hair. One more notable conversation was with my dad before I left for university. It is always confusing to me when men are so bothered by female hair. Sure, it’s not customary to see a lot of women with grown out hair but men live with it. For women who have shaved since they’ve hit puberty, it kind of makes sense; they’ve never actually had body hair. But men (unless they shave everything) know it’s not gross! We don’t consider men with leg hair or pit hair gross or unhygienic, they’re just normal. My dad did (and probably still doesn’t) fully agree with my choice, and when we were arguing about it he posed the question of “how are you ever going to find someone willing to date you like that?”. My quick reply was rather feminist of me, stating “I’m not walking around my life like it’s a job interview for a boyfriend!”. The presence of my leg hair was a very apparent statement that I was trying not to make decisions based on other’s expectations.
Now my parents’ distaste for my choice isn’t because they’re mean or don’t love me; they have always just wanted to be sure I was presenting myself with the image I wanted, and they’re also conditioned to think it’s gross! We all are! I felt gross for months, and every once in a while I still feel like that! When I arrived to university, I wore pants. I wasn’t necessarily trying to hide the fact that I had leg hair but I was already so nervous, and didn’t want to add to the fact that I was terrified of making good impressions. The second day we had to participate in a water related activity, forcing me to wear shorts and come of the “body hair closet”. That was also the day I met my boyfriend. Those couple of weeks before we started dating, I felt an undeniable urge to shave. I wanted him to like me sooo bad. I was so close to losing it all to impress him, but I resisted. Once we starting going out, I asked him what he thought of it. He replied, “I mean, growing up it wasn’t unheard of [he grew up in Vermont], and when I noticed it for the first time, I thought ‘interesting, wonder why she doesn’t shave’, and that’s it”. So unless Liam was trying to be sweet and lying to me, he didn’t think I was gross or crazy or really lazy, I mean he did decide to pursue a relationship with me; a relationship with a hairy girl. And I explained to him why I don’t shave. My reasoning has evolved over time. At first, it was an experiment. How long could I go? How long could it get? What are people going to think? And once I realized how big a deal it was to both family and friends and even some strangers, I learned how important it was that I stop shaving.
This is my choice. It is my choice to live as a hairy woman and take on the judgement that comes with it. Nothing will ever be normalized without exposure. I face very little oppression being middle class, being young, being able-bodied, being well-off, the least I can do is take some heat for my body hair. If all my hairy riot accomplishes is one little girl seeing my legs and learning that shaving is a personal preference and not an expectation, I’ll have done my part. I reiterate, I’m not anti-shave. I still participate in practices such as wearing makeup, dyeing my hair, etc, and I enjoy these things! And honestly, I probably enjoy them because I’ve been conditioned to think without it I’m kind of ugly. If I felt just as beautiful with no makeup, I probably wouldn’t wear it. It would probably be more “feminist”of me to go makeup-less, but feminism implies choice and some of my choices are more systematically challenging than others. My choice not to shave does more for women than my choice to continue wearing makeup. It doesn’t make me any less of a feminist though! And I also like being a bit of a contradiction. I’ve always loved surprising people and the bulk of women with body hair are fairly low maintenance, free and easy women! I’m not the person you’d expect to have hair because, like I’ve said, I wear makeup and do my hair and generally put a lot of effort into my appearance, and my choice to stop shaving hasn’t changed that. And I’d be lying if I said I don’t want people to stare. Of course I do. If people don’t stare, people don’t notice. If people don’t notice, people don’t see female body hair. I want people to see it and get used to it so that, shaved or hairy, women get to choose regardless of prejudice or judgement. Keep shaving if it makes you feel better or if you just like feeling clean sheets on smooth legs! You are allowed to enjoy that! All I’m trying to say is respect choices that don’t look like your own.
This is a poem I wrote:
memoirs of a hairy girl
To the men who find my body hair disgusting:
To the women who find my body hair disgusting:
Once I learned I was not a meal
Or a trophy head
I stopped skinning myself every morning in the shower
I won’t lie
It felt nice to be digestible
I don’t blame women for disguising ourselves as snacks
Men are so hungry
It’s nice to feel like we can subside their appetite
But we can’t
because we are not food,
not even girls
We are women,
we grow hair
And hair is not dirty
We may be made of dust and a rib,
but we are creation
We have life in our lungs
Strength in our hands
Hair on our skin
The flesh we live in was formed perfectly and purposefully
And didn’t God say it was
All the best,