About a year ago, I stopped shaving my oxters and my, ahem, “map of Tasmania.”
I was in the shower and I was about to shave my armpits again like I used to do every day. I bit my lip so hard I started to taste that familiar copper tinge. My armpits were red and bumpy and they hurt to even touch them. The subtle scrape of the blades in my razor began to further chafe them and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I realized at that moment that I never shaved my armpits because they were dirty or because I liked them shaved bare. I shaved my armpits because I had been taught that women with hairy armpits were disgusting. I was taught this from an early age. I was taught to shave or wax or pluck my body of all “masculine” remnants, because that is what a proper woman does.
I decided, at that moment, that as a human being in the 21st century, I should no longer be allowing society to have power over my own body. I was putting myself through torture every single morning to do something I didn’t want to do, and for what? I shower every day. I use deodorant. I smell like a fucking flower. So, what does it matter that there is some impressively clean hair under my arms?
It has been about a year and my armpits feel softer and more comfortable than they ever have before. My vagina no longer bleeds or itches throughout the day. I feel much happier and more luxurious in my own skin. What’s so bad about that? I still shave my legs, but only because I love their feel and they never break out or make me uncomfortable. Even so, I’ve had friends and partners with hair on their legs and you know what? They are just as beautiful.
After a year of having hairy oxters, I went home recently and I was reminded how unacceptable my newly comfortable body was to society. My mother, who loves me eternally and unconditionally, suggested yet again that I shave my armpits because they were disgusting. My sister, who similarly loves me like no one else despite her reluctance to say so, jumped on the bandwagon. At that moment, though I know that these are two people who will love me more than anyone else I meet in my entire life and will support me unconditionally, I felt this urgent need to defend myself and how I take care of my own body.
I would like to make it clear that I do understand. I also grew up in Warren, Ohio and until last year I had still shaved my armpits because of a deeply rooted need to do what society had raised me to do. I understand that as most of us grow up, these norms and ideals are embedded into our brains, making us believe that we are somehow born with this knowledge. We believe that women with armpit hair or unshaven legs are unclean. We don’t teach ourselves these unfounded ideas, we are raised to believe them.
So, while I do understand, each time I’m confronted about my body hair I feel like an animal backed into a corner, trying to communicate to humans who don’t speak meow. I still try, of course, because I’ve learned that if you just shut down and never try to reach understanding with others, no one will ever change their minds about you. The following is my response to those of you who do not believe I should let my armpit hair fly free like the geese in Fly Away Home.
I would like to begin with the most obvious issue. Within our socially constructed gender binary, women must shave and wax in order to be “womanly” and men cannot shave or wax or they will seem “too feminine” or “gay.”
To the cisgender men reading this article who do not agree with my furry pits, would you shave yours if I told you that they disgusted me? To the cisgender women reading this article who do not approve of my body, do you believe all men should shave their armpits too and if so, do you tell them this? If your answers to these questions are no, how can you think that judging someone for having or not having hair on their body where they want it is justified? What is the difference between my female body which grows hair in all sorts of places including on my arms and the back of my neck and a male body?
This is not even mentioning the fact that there is a whole world of people out there who do not prescribe to the gender binary. There are intersex people and genderqueer people and people without any gender at all. How would you suggest they shave their body to suit your comfort? What do these rules depend on? Does my need to shave my armpits depend on my vagina? What if I was a man who happened to have a vagina? Do I have to shave it, then? Then there is the issue that not everyone prefers naked vaginas.
I personally enjoy vaginas with or without hair. Trust me, vaginas are lovely either way. Listen to “Map of Tasmania” by Amanda Palmer and you’ll hear a lot of people don’t shave their vaginas in the same pattern or even at all. Whose rules should I follow when considering how to properly trim my body of the hair it naturally grows?
Do not get me wrong. There are people who shave everything from their arms to their toes and they are just as beautiful as I am. They have every right to take care of their bodies however they choose, as long as they are taking care of their bodies. That’s the point, though, isn’t it? Why do we use our power to determine how someone cuts their hair or shaves their legs? Why don’t we use our power to insure that no one hurts themselves or tears themselves apart? How many young people are at home cutting themselves or burning themselves? Does it matter if they shave their armpits? Is it starting to sound silly? That’s because, to me, it is.
This isn’t a matter of my preference of body hair versus yours or me trying to convince you that my way is better. This is a matter of every human’s rights over their own body. This is a matter of bullying someone and making them feel self conscious about something that shouldn’t matter to or bother you. This is a matter of human beings letting socially constructed norms get in the way of seeing the truth: Human beings should be judged by their character and by the way they treat others, not by things like body hair.
Please judge me because of my intensely unhealthy obsession with Supernatural and the fact that I belt out RENT in the shower no matter how early it is even though I know I might wake my neighbors up. Judge me because I believe that Ryan Gosling is my patronus, not because I happen to have a little hair under my arms. Do what I do, ask yourself WWRGD: “What Would Ryan Gosling Do?” Ryan Gosling wouldn’t judge me for a little fur on my kitten, so why would you?