Feminism, to me, is about having total autonomy over my body in a dignified manner. Yes it’s about being treated equally, but what does it mean to be treated equally? Unpicking the word ‘equality’ for me is about being able to choose what happens to my body, and having control over that decision. The ability to choose to abort a child if circumstances arise, the ability to choose to walk through the streets without fear of harm, luxury tax on menstrual products, body shaming, objectification. I want to be able to choose what happens to my body without external pressure telling me otherwise.
This post is going to explore body hair, and why to me keeping my body hair is an expression of taking back control over my body.
After I went traveling about a year ago, I decided I was not going to shave my body hair anymore. I had seen many women who had embraced their hair, and they were normal humans and social butterflies. They weren’t social pariahs because they decided not to shave. I’m not going to lie though, my initial reason for keeping my body hair was out of pure laziness, not to dismantle the patriarchy or to make a feminist political statement. I am very low maintenance, and shaving was always a hassle to me. It was extremely liberating to be able to have 5 minute showers because I didn’t have to shave. Because let’s be honest, when you do shave and you miss that one patch of hair, it haunts you for the whole day.
At first it was easy, as the stubble was hardly noticeable. As my hair grew, I started to realise that I was not going to have dainty tufts of hair – I was going to be very hairy. I have shaved twice in the last year. The first time was my armpits and I instantly regretted my decision after the first pit was shaved, but you really can’t have one pit shaved and one pit hairy. The second time was my legs. It took me about an hour as I wanted to wax them (oh god did it take so long) and then I shaved because I got so bored. And again, I instantly regretted my decision. Both times, I felt like something was missing when the hair was gone. Now I admire my hair, even if I am harrier than a couple of my guy friends.
I haven’t always been this hair positive. I hit puberty a lot younger than most girls I knew (about 10/11), and with it began the awkward spurt of womanhood. I remember my first armpit hairs coming through when I was 11/12 and wanting them gone instantly. I remember being silently teased and judged up until I was 13 for having hairy legs and making the painful decision to wax them. I remember my first proper boyfriend constantly asking me to get rid of my pubic hair, and how he was disgusted with the amount there was. I used to look upon my excess body hair with disgust and shame, especially because I rarely saw people like me in the public eye.
But why are we conditioned to believe body hair is something to be shameful about? Why is it gross for a woman to have body hair yet completely acceptable for a man? When did hair become gendered?
I feel from a young age I was conditioned to be shameful about my body. Deconstructing why, this comes from an obsession in our culture with youth and the importance for women to be youthful. There is something telling us subconsciously that our worth is ascribed to our youthfulness and our ability to attract a partner. This message is either conscious or subconscious, but it’s everywhere. Adverts, for example, tell us to buy this hair dye as there is a ‘full coverage of grey hair’ or face cream with its ‘age-defying’ formula. Body hair, a sign of womanhood and puberty, is subconsciously being drummed into our brains as wrong. Buy these razors for silky smooth leg, laser treatment, pain free wax. On the public stage, you will rarely see a woman with body hair. Models are airbrushed in terms of their weight but also their body hair. Subconsciously we are being told body hair is wrong and shameful.
However, being represented visibly in a positive manner is something very powerful as it projects a message of solidarity. To be able to see other women embracing their body hair empowers me, because I know I am not alone. A person who emulates this is Harnaan Kaur. Diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome at 12, she started to grow excess body hair, especially on her face. She speaks about the pain of going to the beauty parlour to have her face waxed, threaded and shaved after being taunted by bullies. At 16 she decided to stop going to the beauty parlour and started wearing a turban as a symbol of strength and a way to project pride into her identity. Harnaan embraced this part of herself and is working to show women that you don’t have to look a certain way to be happy. That it’s your body, your rules and you should celebrate who you are and not hide in the shadows. Harnaan is inspirational to me as she’s an expression how beautifully feminine body hair can be. And putting her message on such a public stage shows solidarity with other women with polycystic ovary syndrome who can find comfort in someone who has embraced a once painful part of themselves.
I’m not saying grow your body out if you’re uncomfortable doing so. I’m saying look past the constrained box of femininity. Question normalised concepts which internalise sexism and the arbitrary categories of masculine and feminine. If something makes you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself why instead of denying why it makes you feel that way.
I can now say I love my body hair because I see it as a beautiful expression of who I am. I have chosen to embrace a part of me society says is shameful, and to me that’s empowering. And it’s more empowering to see more women like me who have kept their body hair. I have chosen not to indulge constrained views of femininity, and found myself to feel more feminine than before. My hair is not gendered, it is not a gimmick, and it is not something abnormal. It is feminine because it grows out of me. I have never felt more confident than I do now because I have reclaimed every part of who I am, even the uncomfortable parts.
Cover photo artist Lori Portka