Pit Hair, Don’t Care
I press my arms stiffly against my chest for fear a hair may slip from the crevice of my underarms. Sporting a spaghetti strap tank top–so little coverage–I fear the worst: that someone will notice I forgot to shave my armpits. As a middle schooler, there is nothing worse than showcasing your pubescence among your peers.
At school, I get through most of the day without my friends catching on. My awkward movements—a tense backpack grip, the permanent criss-cross of my arms, the inability to raise my hand in class—offer a conclusive "hint."
At some point I lift my arms just a little too high and my girlfriends see the stubble dotting my armpit. The teasing ensues.
Gentle pokes and prods from my friends alert the other middle schoolers. They sniff me out quickly, like a pack of hyenas tracking down an injured animal. When they find me they pounce. “Ugly,” the boys tease. “Gross,” a girl calls out. “What are you, French,” someone teases.
The rest of the day I choke back tears of embarrassment and wait eagerly to return home, hop in the shower, and shave away my shame.
My discomfort towards my body hair followed me through adolescence, as I am sure it did many other young ladies. I grew self conscious of my leg hair and the speed at which it grew back, became flustered when a boyfriend told me I needed to shave my armpits, felt mortified when I realized I had a small mustache, and fell to embarrasment when a friend commented on the darkness of my underarms and how they looked hairy even if they were as smooth as marble (dark underarms is a common PoC thing).
I felt as though I could not win. Underarm hair—paired with everything else young women are self conscious of—only added to my frustration of my appearance.
It was not until college that I started to accept my natural hair. And, if I'm being honest, it was because personal hygiene absolutely, positively flew out the goddamn window.
Often, I would hop in to the shower and forget where everything was. It dawned on me it had been three to five days since I had last bathed and now my bathroom was a foreign land. This happened more often than I’d like to admit.
Remembering to scrub myself with soap and water in between 18 credit semesters, part-time work, and hours of nightly homework, was difficult enough. Remembering to bath and shave off my “unsightly” body hair was even more of a struggle.
I forgot to maintain my hair for so long I gradually got used to the idea of being prickly. I was less embarrassed to go out in public with stubble on my legs; I met women in school who did not shave at all; and I learned about feminism, gender norms, and Western beauty standards. At the time, I did not realize my exposure to these ideas was quietly building up my confidence.
This year, I decided to stop shaving my armpits (and this time it was not because I forget to shower). I saw my armpit hair in the mirror and it made me feel confident…I suppose. And sexy.
I am not kidding—when I look in the mirror and see the plains of hair nestled in my underarms I do not think of stiff-armed, middle school Grace. I think of all of the confident women out there—the ones I met in school, the ones I read about in history class—who decided what beauty is for themselves, rather then what beauty is for others others. When I see my nest of prickles I am reminded that this attribute I admire has rubbed off on me.
And I love that.
I grow out my armpit hair and buzz it down a bit when I feel like it. I let my mini-mustache--which is mostly blonde with a few dark hairs--flourish and glisten in the light. I pluck nipple hair only when I feel it's too long. I shave my legs occasionally when I want to feel silky smooth. I clean up my bikini line when things are obnoxiously unruly down there. I do all of these things because I love the way it looks and feels. I can truly say it is not for others, it is for me. I no longer feel embarrassed to rock the hairs that commercials and Western society deem to be “unladylike”–but it took me a long time to get there.
Society and modern media have taught us that women's hair, though natural, is unsightly. From Veet ads deeming women's hair as "dudely," to Shick campaigns claiming leg hair prevents women from "dancing" or "getting numbers," to articles as stupid as Daily Mail’s “'Ideally no hair below the eyebrows'…what men REALLY think about women's body fuzz…” let alone the stares and rude comments from everyday people, it is no wonder women feel the need to shave. I sure did.
Though my shaving regimen is a mix between shaving/not shaving/buzzing, I have nothing against women who do or do not shave areas of their body. I realize some women like to feel hairless while others may feel compelled to shave due to a variety of pressures. Often times shaving does save you from the awkward stares and whispered insults.
But damn, wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where women can shave/not shave if they wanted to? Without being shamed? Idealism, I know.
Yet I challenge you to check yourself next time you recoil at the sight of a woman with hairy pits, or find yourself teasing a friend for shaving their forearms. All methods are natural, normal, and beautiful.
What about you? Do you shave/not shave? Why? Have any embarrassing hair stories? Let me know in the comments below.
P.S. For further reading, Bustle has this pretty great article on shaving ads throughout the last 100 years. Worth a gander.
All photographs in this article by Farrah Emami