I’ve written before about the peculiar relationship we have with our bodies. That we’re supposed to be invested in them without ever actually feeling good about them. That we get snared in static descriptors like “thin” or “fat” instead of activity.*
And of course, while this can be particularly true of women who are conditioned to think about our bodies in a certain way, it broadly applies to everyone.
Then there’s the issue of hair.
The first woman I knew who didn’t shave her legs was a classmate in a summer creative writing class I took in high school. Free spirit probably doesn’t cover it. I have little doubt she was the manic pixie dream girl to more than one of our peers over those three weeks–completely outside her intention. I don’t remember her as a “Not like other girls” type, but she may have been. It’s easy to reject the feminine when you don’t feel like you belong to it.
But yes, hairy legs. Proud hairy legs because she wore knee-length skirts all summer. I remember not being grossed out, but thinking I was supposed to be. I also remember thinking: well, yeah, pretty blonde girls can get away with that, but the rest of us…not so much.
It’s May now and I have not yet performed the ritualistic scraping off of my winter fuzz. I’m going to the beach next week, though, so I probably will. I’ve never minded ditching my leg hair–there is something aesthetically pleasing about the sensation of smooth legs that I think exists outside of cultural norms. They feel nice to me, not because other people approve of them.
I kind of like my underarm hair, though. I’ve been less meticulous about removing it in recent years. I’ve even considered dyeing it, which has become more popular in some circles. (The only thing holding me back is the bleaching, but if I get over that, there will probably be a blog about it.)
It’s hard not to have a complicated relationship with your body hair, though, because it’s difficult to parse out what’s you and what’s expectation. I think a lot of women still get embarrassed about body hair. I think other women try to embarrass them, because those who have invested in the system–rather than those passively enjoying it–are often its greatest defenders.
Which is why, I think, body hair can still be a rebellious act. A feminist act. Or maybe you just didn’t feel like buying razor blades or waxing strips this week. (We’ve all been there.) It’s the being okay with yourself, though, that runs counter to sexist social structures. That dismantles gender expectations.
So if you dig your smoothness, I don’t want to make you feel bad. Enjoy that skin. I enjoy mine sometimes. But if you feel disgusted or exposed because of your occasional hairiness, I think that might be an inclination you’d need to interrogate. Why do you feel gross when you’re hairy? Why does the hairiness of others gross you out?
I don’t feel gross about it anymore.
Sometimes it is itchy, though.
*I’ve realized since then that that argument might seem a little bit ableist, but I want to give activity the broadest possible scope: the brain’s activity, the pulmonary system, the respiratory system–all of it. Likewise, this post isn’t meant to exclude trans* individuals; after all, cultural perceptions about body hair affect them in very particular ways that should also inform our thinking.