Follicular Emacipation: To Shave or not to Shave?
A couple of years ago, while I was at the beach, a woman approached me. She looked determined and full of self righteous zeal. I was convinced that this could only mean one of two things: either I’d accidentally encroached on her towel space with my umbrella, or that she was a Scientologist on a recruitment drive. Either way, I was a bit nervous.
She leaned in, pointed at the crotch of my swimsuit and stage whispered,
You need to fix that up. There are children at this beach!
She strutted away, no doubt tingling with the satisfaction of successfully body policing an unsuspecting target.
For the first few minutes, I was a bit confused. Did she mean my swimsuit was too skimpy and I’d accidentally scarred some dewy eyed toddler for life by flashing my genitalia? I didn’t really understand what she was talking about, I was wearing a conservative one piece with no vulva visibility. Then it struck me. The little tendrils of hair that lined the corners of my swimsuit were the source of her outrage. I suddenly felt completely naked, as though a spotlight was shining on me and everyone on the beach was dry heaving at the sight of my unshaven bikini line. It boggles my mind how a little cluster of scraggly hairs can offend people to such an extent that they’d approach a stranger and basically act as though having visible pubic hair is the equivalent of being some sort of trenchcoat wearing flasher preying on beachgoing children.
My second most vivid body hair related experience involved the horrors of my first (and only) Brazilian. Words fail to do justice to those excruciatingly awkward and painful 20 minutes. Like a gynecological exam, except involving someone yanking out your pubic hair with hot wax whilst making small talk. Basically my version of hell. Sitting down was unpleasant for a week.
Also, from an aesthetic point of view, I didn’t really see the appeal of no pubic hair. Post brazilian, I felt infantilized, like I’d regressed into a pre-pubescent state. Brazilian waxing as a mainstream expectation is a relatively recent phenomenon, it’s a move away from the full bushes which were the norm in the 70’s. I’ve read articles hypothesizing that this normalization of pubic hair removal is linked to the advent of pornography and it’s impact on expectations of female bodies and sexuality. However, I do think it’s more complex than just porn. The images we’re saturated with, whether it be a Victoria’s Secret catalogue or a mainstream film, there isn’t a follicle of female pubic hair in sight.
Not at all a criticism of women who choose to go hair free (yay for body autonomy!), and for women that find body hair removal empowering, that’s 100% their choice. But my own experience was one where I felt obligated to remove pubic hair because of the fear of it being considered ‘disgusting’ and ‘offensive’ when I wore a swimsuit. It was an experience of internalized oppression, where I felt too mortified to enjoy the sunshine if I didn’t fit a hairless ideal.
This applies to all the body parts I choose to remove hair from, I resent the drudgery, expense and pain involved in ridding myself of underarm and leg hair, but I’ve been forcing myself to for years because of fear of retribution.
That’s why I love the depths of winter. I usually put on tights and cocoon myself in layers. No razors, wax or epilation. An epilator, for the uninitiated, is a little machine that rips the hair from the root, like a million tweezers simultaneously wrenching at your hair. It sounds like the love child of a lawnmower and an electric drill, it’s a terrifying death knell of follicles. A complete nightmare.
I’ve always felt as though my body is a site for judgement. I felt as though body hair as something to be embarrassed about, unsightly and unfeminine. So many times I’ve held myself back from wearing something because I just couldn’t be bothered going through the tedious process of hair removal.
It’s not surprising that I’m made to feel as though body hair is some sort of aberration, the ideals of femininity that we’re spoonfed celebrates smooth, nubile, childlike bodies devoid of hair. It’s no wonder women feel obligated to wax when insulting ads like this exist:
That’s why I celebrate Gaby Hoffman’s full bush on HBO’s ‘Girls’, or the amazing anonymous blogger behind the ‘Bare to Bush’ website. Their body hair seeks to question the narrative around ideals of female beauty and grooming.
Finding these gorgeous women that exist outside of our prescribed beauty norms and being friends with fabulously body hair positive feminist babes means that in recent years I’ve begun to worry less about my body hair. I don’t always have to be a perfectly shaved dolphin in order to wear the clothes I want to. Choosing not to shave isn’t even a political statement for me, it’s just a lot of effort and expense I’d rather not deal with all the time. There are so many things I’d rather do with my time and brainspace than rip the hair from my body in order to fit some arbitrary idea of what it means to be feminine.
Despite the beginnings of my follicular emancipation, I do still struggle with the idea that my body hair is confronting, and my relationship with hair removal continues to be fraught. I’m trying to find that happy medium where if I choose to shave my legs, it’s because I feel like doing it, rather than due to some unspoken social contract I have to adhere to because I’m a woman. I’m trying to channel my inner Gaby.
The point is, whether you choose to shave, keep things natural, or dye your body hair green and thread pearls through it, it’s your body and your business. It’s just hair. Everyone has it.