Shaving unwanted bodily hair has been an act of femininity I’ve been performing since I was 13 or 14 years old. At the time I wanted to shave my legs like the other girls, because those who didn’t were teased and considered masculine or ape-like. Fitting in was important, but very quickly the novelty of having to drag a razor up and down my legs, under my arms and along my bikini line wore off. I soon discovered just exactly how long it took for my hair to grow back; the ways in which I could cheat and get away without removing my hair and still pass for feminine; the pain of nicking my skin with a sharp razor; and the obscene wastefulness of this regime.

Women who did not shave were rare in my teenage years, and they were labeled “hippies” or “ferals” or “lesbians” – always something derogatory, completely hetero-normative and in keeping with the masculine/ feminine paradigm. The femininity of these women was called into question, something shocking and unfathomable to young ladies who were only ankle deep in their womanly conditioning. Women who didn’t shave were also seen as smelly, lazy and anti-social; and in my early teen years even if I did question this bizarre practice of removing naturally occurring hair, I certainly didn’t want to be seen as unfeminine or stinky. Even more telling, self-identified feminists who refused to remove body hair were seen as bad, ugly and undesirable. By the time I got to my early 20s, I was just about fed up with having to shave my legs in order to wear a skirt but I still performed the act of hair removal because I feared rejection not just by romantic partners, but by society.

Recently I attempted to stop participating in the act of hair removal. I knew that it was on the list of Things To Do In Order To Be A Proper Female, and that it was a convention drummed into me by the media and my socialisation within middle class society. Being sensitive to packaging waste, I could see the sheer amount of packaging, handles, razor blades, and tubes and tubs of depilatory cream and wax that I’d ever used in my life would probably fill a small car. It didn’t seem right. I still kept it up. Perhaps not every day, but certainly when I was going out in public. I’d ask Nick if he minded that my legs were fuzzy, and every time he’d say he didn’t. Why was I even asking him? It’s my body!

When I saw a segment about razor blades on The Gruen Transfer (Season 3, Episode 8) I knew I had to find a moment to reflect on my body hair removal conditioning. I’m still so fearful of going out in public with hairy legs that I shaved about six months worth of perfectly natural leg hair off last week so I could go socialise with fashion people without wondering if they were secretly bitching about me being the fat, hairy lady!!

So let’s have a look at an ad that could be why we’re so caught up in removing body hair, even if we don’t want to:
Ad from 1915 Harpers Bazaar with a young, slim, pale skinned woman wearing a sleeveless dress with her arms raised in the air. The text reads "Summer Dress and Modern Dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair. X BAZIN DEPILATORY POWDER has been used by women of refinement for generations for the removal of objectionable hair. It acts gently and effectively. It is harmless to the most delicate skin. It is easily applied. Send for generous sample. Send us 10 cents for generous sample and our special offer. Sold by Druggists and Department Stores everywhere for 50 cents. Hall & Ruckel (Makers of Sozodont since 1846) 229 Washington St., New York"
When sleeveless dresses became fashionable, marketers saw an opportunity to make something perfectly natural unfashionable. This ad was published in Harper’s Bazaar in 1915 and according to The Gruen Transfer sales of hair removal products went through the roof – razorblade sales alone doubled in two years. Todd Sampson, one of the ad industry panelists, said it best:

Create the problem and make [people] feel self-conscious and have issues with self esteem when it comes to hair and then we solve that problem with a razor.

Surely, this can’t be a revelation to any of us in the western world. We know that advertisers and marketers create problems within our bodies and our lives, even if they are perfectly natural and normal bodies and lives, and then they offer a magical product to solve our new problems. Apply it anywhere, it’s the same old trick. Hand sanitisers, home scents, any product you see on Australian morning TV… we’re whipped into a frenzy of insecurity that can only be relieved with the topical application of a specific, ridiculous, product. The issue with hair removal is that it’s not ridiculous to us anymore because the tradition is so ingrained. Even if that tradition was manufactured within living memory!

A black and white photograph of Sophia Loren reclining in a strapless top, her arms behind her head. Her armpits are scattered with fine hair.

Body hair isn’t unhealthy, dirty or gross so its objectionableness is a pretty laughable thing. Hair protects the skin from the elements, and it also serves as a barrier to prevent friction. Even people who insist that underarm hair contributes to body odor are incorrect. Underarm hair wicks perspiration away from the skin, so the bacteria that do produce odor can not form.

Even though I had a lapse, I’m going back to letting all the hair on my body grow naturally. It was actually a really interesting experience living with body hair. When I wanted to wear a short skirt or dress, I’d put on leggings to cover my leg hair. I was aware the shame wasn’t actually my own, that it was being projected on me by external factors, but I still felt the need to cover up. On windy days when I was bare legged, I felt the breeze actually lift individual hairs. It was curious and it was disturbing because in all my years of performing femininity I’d never experienced such a thing. I feel a little funny even writing about the experience so publicly, because I’m sure many women would find it unfathomable and gross. But no, I didn’t feel gross, it was very much like I had extra parts of my body with which I was able to sense and experience. Over 15 years of shaving had meant I’d never even noticed such a thing!

How do you feel about your body hair? What keeps you in the habit of removing it, or if you don’t, have you ever experienced being de-feminised? Is this topic an uncomfortable one for you? (It is somewhat discomforting to discuss it so publicly for me!)

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  • PLR

    I stopped shaving my legs in winter 1989–haven’t done it once since, not even for my wedding (long dress anyway eh?). My memory is that it took a couple summers before I got used to seeing my hairy legs in shorts and short skirts. Now I live in a beach town, wear whatever’s comfortable, and don’t even think about it, actually kinda get a kick out of the occasional stare; but it does take some time to get there.

  • bekahDrey

    I would sooner stop shaving my armpits than my legs. The reason is comfort. I have very sensitive underarms, and even the best razors and creams leave the area bumpy, burning and itchy. I actually really love the sensation of bare, lotion-ed legs. There is nothing like going to bed at night with freshly shaved calves! I am not brave enough to stop shaving my armpits during the summer, but maybe one day I will be. As far as other body hair goes, I keep my bush full, but have to tend to chin and upper lip hair due to PCOS. Although some women proudly wear facial hair, (and more power to them) I feel like my facial hair is not natural for me, but rather a symptom of a illness that I resent.

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  • http://www.wicked-whimsy.com Michelle

    I gave up on shaving my legs a while ago. Maybe two months? My hair is fairly fine so it’s not super obtrusive, and I acknowledge I might keep shaving if it was darker…but as is, I have really sensitive skin & I am *so* prone to razor burn that I just really couldn’t be arsed to do it. Part comfort, part laziness. I’m not as prone to razor burn in my armpits & I hate the stubbly feeling there, so I’ve kept shaving them. As far as “down there” – it’s a little untamed right now, but I usually keep it trimmed. I gave up trying to make my bikini line hairless and just got a swimsuit that doesn’t show it, because the razorburn/chance of ingrown hairs is a thousand times worse there and it is SO painful! Not worth it.

  • Fleurhoare

    I haven’t shaved my legs in quite a few months. I tend to let it go au naturel as it doesnt bother me & most of the time no one except the boyfriend gets close enough to see that my legs are hairy so I dont worry about that either. Its lovely! and also I like to run my hands up it as it can be really soft!

    I just get a swimsuit that covers the bikini line, however when it comes to my armpits, I still shave everynow and then – I can never get over the itchy stubbly bit without breaking & shaving!

    Hooray for others who don’t shave!

  • Shelby Marie.

    Hair removal for me, for the most part, is a seasonal and occasional thing. During the summer months, I shave my legs twice a month; in the winter, my legs don’t get shaved from November until March (I’m in the U.S.), mostly because I actually think it keeps my legs warmer. I will shave my legs more often if I am going some place fancy or getting dressed up. For awhile, I didn’t shave anything because my skin is sensitive and I get miserable razor burn and ingrown hairs. I still do but I’ve learned how to avoid it or get rid of it when it happens.

    I am full of contradictions though. I stopped shaving my armpits when I was 16 because I thought it was silly and haven’t looked back, which I am really grateful for. I think hairy pits are totally hot on women and it makes me smirk when I get a double take from someone when I am wearing a really feminine outfit. I trim both my armpits and my pubic hair about twice a month the whole year round. I keep my pubic hair short and occasionally shave the vulva because I dig the way it feels during sex.

    The only “excess” hair that I remove because it embarrasses me is the dark stuff that grows out of my chin and my neck. I pluck that shit out as soon as I see it. I see the hypocrisy in it but goddamn, I do not like it when there is a random black hair sticking out of the side of my face.

    Overall though, I really only remove hair when I feel compelled to or if it starts to bother me. I ceased giving a shit about what people think or societal expectations. That shit bores me to tears and I have long since checked out from social pressures to be not hairy or, for that matter, since it’s related in a lot of ways, not fat.

  • thefoxconfessor

    I personally have taken a lot of time to think about my body hair and what my shaving or lack of shaving means to me. Do I want it there? Why do I want it there? and how does it make me feel as a person?
    When I started to think about it areas such as my legs and pits didnt bother me as much as my vagina. I long for a smooth, hairless (not completely) vagina! Why? Not because its what someone else finds sexy, and not because its what I am told is now sexy, but because it makes me feel clean, and neat, and in control. That in turn makes me feel sexy which is why I will continue.
    The same follows through for other parts of my body, but to be honest to the extent of my nether regions.

  • Jilly

    I occasionally shave my legs, wax my underarms and get a full bikini wax. The frequency that I do all of this is dropping as I have started to wonder why I’m doing it.
    I’m quite hairy in some places. My arm hair is very fair and it almost looks as though I haven’t a skerrick of hair on my arms. But my underarms and bikini are very dark and lustrous and no sooner do I wax/shave them, and it all grows back. I can’t help but think what a great sign of health this is. I wax my underarms because I find that they get very smellly if I don’t.

  • http://twitter.com/allygarrett Ally Garrett

    I recently grew my pit hairs out a bit, but then I trimmed them off for a photo shoot where I was supposed to be fat and sexy at the same time. I got worried that trying to be fat AND sexy AND hairy at the same time might have been too much, and sometimes I feel a bit weird about this decision. I felt like I was policing my own body! And it made me think a lot about how, as a fat lady, I am always very keen to emphasise the LADY bit, with lipsticks and hair bows and skirts. I get a whole lot of joy out of performing feminity like this, but I’m also not kidding myself that I’m doing this of my own accord. And I wonder how much my need for the femme-ness is based around some kind of weird cultural compensation for the fat-ness.

    Best of luck to lovely hairy bits!

  • Dawn

    As someone who shaves off all axillary hair, and has since puberty, I will say without hesitation that I have often wondered how men deal with it. It is scratchy and uncomfortable, and contrary to the claim that it serves as a barrier to friction, it induces chafing on me. I also find it aesthetically displeasing on both sexes, but particularly on men, as they tend to have thicker, coarser body hair.

    I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but for me, it has absolutely nothing to do with gender. I simply like bare, smooth skin.

  • Dawn

    As someone who shaves off all axillary hair, and has since puberty, I will say without hesitation that I have often wondered how men deal with it. It is scratchy and uncomfortable, and contrary to the claim that it serves as a barrier to friction, it induces chafing on me. I also find it aesthetically displeasing on both sexes, but particularly on men, as they tend to have thicker, coarser body hair.

    I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but for me, it has absolutely nothing to do with gender. I simply like bare, smooth skin.

  • http://twitter.com/dinosauraxe AngieS

    All vaginas are internal and hairless. I assume you are referring to your mons pubis or outer labia, or public area in general.

  • Tee

    Interesting and precisely how I feel on the matter! I haven’t been shaving my underarms or legs for years now. It started because I just didn’t have the time with two children, then I read a few feminist zines on the subject and came to realise all the things that you’ve mentioned in your post. Having a daughter too, I felt it was important to give her the right example – I really don’t want her to feel like she should have to shave her body hair because I do (as I did when I was a kid) and I also wanted my son to understand that he shouldn’t expect women to be shaven either. I still have spells of shame (as you said though, it’s not my own – but projected on me by external forces), but I get over it a lot faster than I used to. My son asked me last year why I had beards under my arms – it used to be the case that a comment like that would have me diving for the razor, but I thought it was hilarious and best, felt perfectly okay about it.

    Sometimes in public when I lift my arms, I feel a bit embarrassed but it’s mostly because I’m already paralysed by social anxiety and being heavily tattooed, I get stared at enough. So being the fat, tattooed, hairy lady – well, sometimes I just feel like a complete fuckin spectacle. But I learned a long time ago to avert my eyes from the stares. I guess I have to work on not shying away from being myself and being proud of who I am, but I’ve got a lot of conditioning to undo, so it’s taking me some time.

    Great post! This is something I feel really passionate about so I’m beyond pleased that, having a large readership, you might have an impact on a whole bunch of people.

  • Stephania

    How beautiful is that pic of Sophia Loren, even with the hairy underarms. Do you know when the social pressure to start removing underarm hair started? Was this photo taken before or after that?
    You are right though, it was probably created to create a self-consiousness in females so they could sell a product.

  • http://babyfingers.blogspot.com Jenny

    Interesting post! I have never seriously thought of growing my leg/underarm hair out. Sometimes it does get rather furry, but if I am going to wear a skirt or dress, it’s coming off. It’s partly because I hate the way it feels. I started shaving at 10 and I like the smooth feeling. Also, my hair is NOT a bit of blond peach fuzz. It’s dark, coarse and fast-growing, just like the hair on my head. I can’t “get away” with skipping a few days, and in the case of my underarms it feels so gross to me if I let it go several days that I usually shave it even if no one else would see it. I have to admit that my husband likes it better when I shave and that factors in.

    One thing I would never do is get a Brazilian or remove hair in that area in any way, other than light bikini line shaving if I happen to be wearing that type of swimsuit (maybe once a year). Some women are so self-conscious about this that they feel the need to shave/wax while pregnant for fear of offending medical professionals. There are even spas that have marketed to this insecurity, which I think is shameful.

    My mom said that my great-grandmother (who lived in the country and never wore a bra, either) experimented with leg-shaving once. It grew back prickly and her husband told her never to do that again.

  • http://shutupmonica.wordpress.com shutupmonica

    Oh, Natalie, I’m even more a fan of you now that you’ve tackled this! I read a really interesting post on Tumblr late one night that basically said, even if you’re shaving your legs because you like it, how do you know you really like it? I’d been grappling with whether to stop shaving for some time by that point, and it really put me over the edge. Because honestly, if I weren’t inundated with advertising from the time I was old enough to comprehend language, would I really have the idea to remove all of my leg hair? Probably not. That was about six weeks ago.

    I have really mixed feelings about my leg hair. On the one hand, it feels pretty delightfully subversive to me to walk around in above-the-knee skirts with my legs being all hairy (even if it is disappointingly pale, sparse, and generally not visible from outside my personal bubble). It’s nice not to have to worry about when the last time I shaved was, and am I going to hit the itchy five-day stubble mark soon? On the other hand, it’s been over a month and it still doesn’t feel normal. It bothers me that individual hairs tend to point in different directions. I miss having smooth legs. Was this something you (or anyone else here) dealt with once you stopped shaving?

    I do shave my armpits still, because I’m naturally a pretty sweaty lady and I’m concerned about pit stains and odor. The bush grows pretty prodigiously and I’m more or less inclined to let it, so there’s trimming but no actual hair removal. I’ve been an eyebrow-plucker for a few years and am considering letting them grow back in because that’s the one aspect of performing femininity that I find actually physically painful (I swore off painful shoes at a very young age thanks to flat feet).

    I’ve begun to struggle with performing femininity in general… on the one hand, it’s subversive to perform femininity and do it well, as a fatty. It’s subversive to dress well. On the other hand, there are some days where it’s just onerous, and those days I definitely don’t hesitate to just throw on jeans and a T-shirt. And does my hairiness undermine other aspects of the performance? I just don’t know. Too many questions!

  • http://mimbles.blogspot.com/ mimbles

    I used to shave legs and pits semi-regularly and bikini line whenever swimming was on the cards. Then I got lazy, and started wearing boardshorts. My husband, who I’ve been with since I was 18 (almost 22 years now) has never cared one way or the other about my body hair so I haven’t felt any pressure from that direction, he’ll notice if I shave of course – he’s not completely oblivious! I do remember the pressure not to have hairy legs in high school, and comparing razor injuries with friends! I don’t remember any time since high school when anyone apart from my own children has let me know verbally or otherwise that they’d even noticed my body hair status. But that may be because I don’t pay attention.

    The reason I don’t pay attention is that I really don’t care what any individual decides to do about their body hair, I don’t think about other people’s hair so I forget that there might be people thinking about mine. I do care about the societal pressure to conform and the negative body image stuff that characterises a natural body as gross and disgusting because I think that’s very damaging but I don’t see how having opinions about what other people should or shouldn’t do, even in the privacy of my own brain, helps combat that at all. So I don’t do it.

    These days I shave legs about once or twice a year (and then not above the knee) and pits maybe 3 times a year, if I feel like it. I’ll sometimes get in the shower intending to maybe shave my armpits and then get out again and be dry and half-dressed before I realise I didn’t do it. I wear shorts and sleeveless tops irrespective of hairiness. As far as my legs go it’s made easier, in the sense of not being much of a challenge to societal norms, by the fact that you have to get kind of close up to tell whether I have hair.

    I’m more concerned now with how to handle the hair question with my almost 12 year old daughter. She has at least one friend who already shaves her legs and being a dancer (ballet, jazz and hip hop) I know it’s going to become and issue sooner or later. I guess it will simply be a matter of having conversations with her that help her understand the context in which women make choices about how to deal with body hair and then doing the helpful and supportive mum thing in regards to whatever she decides to do. (Just no razor injuries please!)

    Actually, I’m already doing this with my 13 year old son. He has quite the proto-mustache going and when my mum asked when he was going to start shaving I instinctively replied “He can shave if he wants but I’m not going to pressure him or go out of my way to bring the subject up.” So apparently I’m an equal opportunity body hair autonomy proponent.

  • Kaviare

    Hmmm. Interesting. I shave my legs, but mostly because I like how they feel when they are smooth. This winter I’ve been shaving whenever it occurs to me – usually about once a fortnight, and only up to my knees. I am now in a steady relationship and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care one jot about how hairy or not I am – I might ask him what he thinks tonight. Before that I was having casual sex with someone and would usually shave beforehand, but again mostly because of how it made ME feel. If I couldn’t be bothered, I didn’t. I’ve mostly stopped shaving my underarms, although I think I will again in summer because of the sweat issue. I sweat quite a bit and I sometimes ride my bike to work and it CAN get a bit pungent. I don’t mind the smell, as long as it’s not more than a day old it’s a nice natural smell, but I think I am still too afraid of being the fat, weird, smelly one.

    Last summer I realised halfway through that I had stopped bothering to shave if I was going to wear skirts. I still shaved about once a week anyway, but having forgotten to shave wasn’t a problem if I was going to put on a skirt. But then, a bit of stubble is not the same statement as lush growth, is it?

    I remember so clealry being ashamed of my hairy legs in high school. Everyone else shaved or else had light hair and you couldn’t tell. My parents were hippes and I had to BEG my mother to buy me a razor. I knew some very dark Italian girls who shaved their arms, too!

  • http://www.definatalie.com definatalie

    I agree that fashion is gender normative, but disagree that my conflict is intentional. We live in a society where we are systematically conditioned to operate within gender norms. Girls are taught to wear feminine clothes, remove hair, minimise the space they take up, etc etc. As a woman who identifies as feminist, I’m all about peeling away the layers of conditioning I’ve been subjected to.

    As a fat woman, I blog about clothing (not fashion or trends really) because fat people have limited access to clothing (and are pretty much excluded from actual fashion). Are you saying that I should just shut my mouth and stop blogging? I’d prefer to investigate what options are open to me, and challenge assumptions about gender as well as size. I’ve already blogged about the notion of flattering outfits, perhaps you missed it?

  • http://twitter.com/BigGirlBlue BigGirlBlue

    I think it should be up to each woman what she wants to do. I know I go through stages where I don’t and some where I just half to. I prefer to shave in the summer because I find especially, in the armpit sense, it reduces odor. I’m not obsessed about it by any means and it always makes me laugh ok roll eyes when I people get all excited or grossed out by a woman not shaving. Hello! that’s how we are supposed to be. Mustache hair is another story.

  • PLR

    Honestly, it took me two summers before I was comfortable with the look and feel of my hairy legs out in public (and I was living in the US South, so covering all summer long wasn’t a realistic option). It can be a long process of adjusting.

  • steph

    Thank you!!!!!for bringing this issue to light – ive only just found your blog and your ideas on this have totally sold me on your awesomeness!!!
    Its a hugely emotional/insecurity issue for me and i have long, dark hair in some kinda unconventional areas (stache, healthy snail trail ect.)that i feel i need to make some decisions on. Im in two minds – on one side im really actively working mentally to ‘own’ it and be proud because it does fit in strongly with my sense of self as a feminist woman and if anything, makes me feel more naturally feminine (fertility concepts come into play for me in a way). On the other hand, i have to admit to myself that it really does make me feel physically unattractive (by my own standards of whats attractive) and insecure when it comes to meeting people/considering what others think of me.
    so i dunno – anyone wanna weigh in on these ideas? its really good to have a sounding board to bounce these ideas off – ive never voiced them to anyone but my partner (who is completely supportive and attracted to my hairy body :P)

  • Anonymous

    I shaved for the first time when I was 12, for the exact same reasons you did. I wish I never had. My leg hair is blonde to the point of invisibility; it’s only noticeable on my shins where it’s darker. I’ve never really been a regular shaver, and I’ve never really been ashamed of my leg hair. Maybe it’s because you can’t see it, maybe it’s because I like the feeling of the breeze in my fur. Either way, I shave my legs once every three months or so – when there’s a special (and sexy) occasion coming up or something similar.

    The armpits are another story, although it’s much the same. I only razor the dark hair there when I’m going sleeveless in a social situation like a party. If I’m just bopping around the house or doing errands, then forget it. Again, I’ll shave if there’s a sexy occasion on the horizon, but it’s not often. Maybe once every two weeks – less in the winter.

    My husband doesn’t say anything about it, but I know that he likes the smoothness of clean-shaven legs. When asked, he doesn’t care. I shave for him because it’s a texture change and feels good for both of us to experience. But other people? Screw ‘em. I’m more than happy to let the breeze run through my hair legs and pits.

  • Justmegan

    I am pretty comfortable with my leg, crotch, and armpits being hairy. However, my lady beard and mustache are treated with pure hatred on my part. I don’t think they are ever going to be something I can let grow. I’ve told my fiance it’s his job when I’m in a nursing home to come and pluck me.

    I’m conflicted on this issue. I have no problem letting all of my other natural grow but I just can’t be comfortable with my facial hair. It’s purely a society thing. I think the bearded lady from Carnivale is fucking hot. Yet, I could never let that happen to myself. I’m not comfortable showing that face to the public, I don’t feel attractive, and frankly it’s very irritating to have a beard and a double chin. That shit scratches my chest.

    I’m sure when I’m an old lady my beard will be flapping happily in the wind despite my mandate to the fiance. For right now though we’re at war.

  • Shinypossum

    I shaved when I was going to do a bellydance performance because I accepted it as part of the “costume”. But I default to hairy. I tend to wear long skirts and sleeves anyway, so its a non issue for me, usually. Its an issue that fascinates me. My mother is HORRIFIED that I would have armpit hair. She sat me down for a Serious Talk as a teenager about how unhygenic it was. I asked why my brothers didn’t have to shave. She said something about men being dirty animals. Oddly enough, she didn’t have a problem with leg hair. When I was an exchange student to the states, I caught a guy in a bar eyeing me with the fascination some find for the deformed. I worked out he’d caught sight of my leg hair. The German girl I was with laughed and tried to expose hers. (So blond you couldn’t see anyway.) The guy we were with was increasingly uncomfortable and physically moved away from me when in the course of the discussion I said I hated sleeping with people with shaved legs because they scratched mine. (Do you think I should have explained the occasion was a platonic one with my tranny flatmate because we were both so cold in winter?)

    I have hairy nipples too. I don’t get too hung up about it but I do generally pluck for new lovers. Somethng to share with them later. :) Once, with a lot of effort, tweezers and superglue, I beaded my nipple hairs. My female flatmates loved it and were jealous they could only decorate with piercings; my bi male lover shrugged wryly; the other boy Totally Freaked. He was visibly relieved that my creativity did not survive a soak in his hottub, and I lost all the beads down his plughole. I was disappointed, I’d really got a crick in the neck doing it. Super Straight Boy never seemed to have a problem with my hairyness though, just my fashion sense.

    I remember a friend of mine in primary school being unmercifully teased about her hairy legs by the boys. Also a teacher’s aide sniggered about and considered dirty somehow because she didn’t shave her armpits. They both seemed like fine people to me. I checked – the boys were wrong – the teacher aide didn’t smell. I concluded boys were stupid.

    This conclusion had further evidence in uni years when two male housemates on separate occasions asked me why I only shaved the top part of my legs. They were simply so ignorant of regular female anatomy that it never occurred to them that females might have unnoticably fine hair there. It never occurred to me to feel diminished by their plasticised ideal, I merely snorted with annoyance and loudly and slowly told them facts.

    I’ve done the full brazilian, as part of a hairbrained girly bonding expedition with the flatmates. The boys liked it. Bi-boy thought it was practical. I thought I looked like uncooked plucked chicken, and bugger going through that pain again. Should have just gotten matching tattoos with them, like normal people. I discovered that many people, including my boss, who regularly take off most hair everywhere, think brazilians are hardcore. Leaving the tiny landing strip is this huge line between femininity and pedophilebait. From this hairy girl’s point of view this is bemusing.

    Shaving your legs to go with the aesthetic of high heels and rockabilly skirt, that I can understand. I’d do it, if I was dressing up. I choose flats for my back though, and long skirts, honestly partly to avoid the hair thing being an issue for other people. (Damn, I wish I’d worn a short skirt to vote, to see if only the Greens volunteer approached me.)

    My uni training was as an actor. Maybe why I see hair as just another optional costume. I remember another first year wondering whether to shave her pits for a our current play. She was at the centre of our final Ta-Da with her arms above her head. She said she didn’t care either way. A couple of us were militant she shouldn’t HAVE to. ( and she didn’t have to; the director said nothing) I sided with she should because it would draw focus in a way we didn’t intend in that scene. I think I would still stick with that, although if she cared, and she was told to shave by the director, that would have been an entirely different matter, and I’d have argued for a costume alteration so it wasn’t an issue.

    I guess I feel it shouldn’t be a big deal, but for a lot of people a lot of the time, it is, so should be respectfully accomadated on an individual basis.
    ( I go to great lengths that my mother never sees my armpits. And last time I visited in summer for a week, I scissored it off short. I’ve also never mentioned to her that I do actually vote for those filthy greenies, although it wasn’t my hair growth that warped my values that way)

  • http://twitter.com/kategee kate gramlich

    I just celebrated my 3-year anniversary with my leg hair, and I’ve been doing the hairy pit thing for 3ish months. I absolutely love having this hair… it has become such a source of empowerment and confidence for me when I get to show it off. I really appreciated this post and am going to share it with my friends :)

  • thefoxconfessor

    Yes I do! Trying to shave my actual vagina may be a little painful, and tricky…

  • Katrin

    Hmm I guess you are right about what you say, and I knew it before I read your post. I mean it is obvious that shaving your body hair is just something that is so normal and traditional that we don’t question it, we just do it. Even though be maybe just do it, because society wants us to.
    I always do it, because I feel uncomfy with hairy legs, I don’t like the feeling when I am lying in my bed and feel my legs rub against each other with hairs on. So at all I would say it is up to everyone if she (or even he) like to shave his legs, arms or whatever.

    What I really don’t like about this post is this quote: “I knew that it was on the list of Things To Do In Order To Be A Proper Female..”

    WTF? I mean we are talking about acceptance and tolerance all day but than there is a list of things you have to do to become a “proper female” ? What if I like shaving my legs, what if I do it for me, not for my partner? I am not prober female, because I am not fulfilling thing on this list, that some female activist put together?
    Why is it alway sooo bad to just do what society accepts? I mean of cause you should think about it and make it clear to yourself so you know that most of the ideals or standards aren’t what we really need but just what society and traditions learned us to do so. But why is the only way to get out of this to be against it?
    I guess that many women who don’t shave their hair are doing it in an act of “I am against it just because society want me to do it!”.

    I hope you understand what I mean…

  • http://www.definatalie.com definatalie

    Ahh that’s actually my poor writing there. Shaving/ body hair removal is what we’ve been trained to do to be a Proper Woman!! I’m questioning that conditioning in this post.

  • http://twitter.com/ashkrussell ash

    I stopped shaving my legs in May of 2003, after my senior prom and didn’t shave them again for close to five years. I continued to wear swimsuits and shorts, I just didn’t give a shit if other people were judging me. IT WAS WONDERFUL. I shave now every once in a great while because I WANT to, rather than because I feel like I have to or should. I still get shit from people I love, but I school them on their ignorance each and every time. I shave my armpits sporadically and find it much more pleasant to have armpit hair.

  • Christa

    I don’t shave anything and haven’t since for 3+ years. Its fantastic! The only comments I get really are from my mom and sister -and that rarely happens anymore. I think a lot of people have strong opinions on my body hair but they realize that it is rude to bring up to my face. The exception of this is kids (I work with kids) -

    This summer at day camp my 7 year old client and I had this exchange:
    Client: Why do you have hair under there? (my armpits)
    Me: It grows there naturally and I don’t shave it off. You know that most women grow hair under their arms right?
    Client: No they don’t
    Me: Yes they do, most women shave it off but I don’t want to
    Client: You should
    Me: Why?
    Client: Because then you will be more beautiful
    Me: Men don’t shave their armpits so I shouldn’t have to either
    My client, bored with the conversation jumped in the pool

    A couple weeks ago my 7 year old nephew also told me I should shave basically for the same reason.

    What disturbs me is that these 7 year old boys have already been deeply conditioned to believe that shaved armpits on women is more attractive.

    I’m all for individual choices -if you want to shave then fine- but I believe that folks also need to own up to the fact that the reason they might find shaved legs and less hair on people in general so attractive is because they have been conditioned to believe that from birth.

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  • Katherine

    I love the feeling of wind in my leg hairs when they’re long; it’s a warm, fuzzy feeling. I gave up on shaving this winter to an even greater extent than I usually do, because I wasn’t going to go dancing. And then we had a holiday in Australia, and I shaved it all off so that I could wear shorts and not feel like everyone was staring at me the whole time. I need some hairy-legged buddies that I can hang out with to boost my confidence in being hairy in public.

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  • Dechen

    I was never pressured into or prevented from removing body hair by my mother, she made it clear that it was my choice. So, that left just me and societal norms to battle it out. I avoided shaving or waxing my leg and armpit hair for years as a teenager, despite feeling tremendously embarrassed about it. I would trim my underarm hair and only wear t-shirts with longer sleeves, and avoided shorts and skirts in favour of 3/4 length pants in Summer. I distinctly remember being teased in high school when I was about 14 for having hairy legs, and it was this ridicule that finally pushed me to start shaving. I’m now 23, and over the last few years have been slowly making the leap to hairy and happy. Firstly, I just shaved in Summer, then I progressed to unshaven armpits, but shaven legs, and finally this Summer I am planning not to shave at all. I seem to have experienced a profound shift the last few months – for the first time I am relishing my hairy legs and armpits, and feel amazingly sexy and feminine. I think it helps that my parents and partner are both very supportive and love my hairyness.

    I read a little saying today, which I love:
    “All the hours I save on body hair removal I devote to revolution!”

  • Belinda

    I modelled for a life drawing class a few times a coupla years back, when i was a non-shaver. So I was full bush, lovely couple of months worth of leg & pit hair, being nude for money. The first thing my mum asked me? ‘Oh god, Belinda, please tell me your shaved your legs & underarms? At the very least your underarms!’ She was literally more horrified by me being hirstute than the whole naked for strangers part. It was interesting for me, because she forbade my from shaving my legs until I started high school.

    Now, I shave legs & pits, but totally (and unapologetically) let my pubes run riot. I’ve had it all off before, and it just seemed…. creepy. I felt sorta plastic or something. I’ve been considering a bit of a trim around the bikini line, but only because I’m about to make myself my first ever actual bikini. It seems like it might be fitting.

    Oh, and I swear I smell less when I don’t shave under my arms. This will definitely sound weird to SOMEBODY out there, but I actually prefer my body odour when pit-hairy

  • http://www.artblog.sarahcarneycreative.com Sarah

    Hello! I was looking for that Harper’s Bazaar advertisement when I found your post. (I’m a lindy hopper, so silly crap about dancing is always fun to have.) But what a great find! I’ll have to keep looking around your blog. :)

    I don’t shave anything. I drunkenly showed off my furry pits at a high school reunion and I did so with such jubilance and pride that no one gave me any crap to my face. I think what really stings the most is hearing someone comment in common conversation about “Ugh, my legs look so gross. I haven’t shaved in a week, blah blah.” Maybe I’m beyond shame but I just say something like, “That’s not gross. I don’t ever shave my legs.”

    The key isn’t shaving or not shaving, I think. Many people seem to have commented that they don’t shave in the winter or only shave when they have to wear something that would show it. The key seems being ashamed of people seeing the hair. If it’s okay to have body hair then it’s okay to have it show with a sleeveless top and it’s okay to show it with a skirt.

    I have self-injury scars on my shoulder, so I don’t wear sleeveless things very often out of shame for THAT. (I really shouldn’t be ashamed of my struggles with mental illness and self-injury, but I am. It’s not just a gender issue. I’m mostly not interested in having to explain to people that ask that I have self-injured.)

    I think hairless bodies and striving to make the female body hairless is too eerily like trying to make all women look like children. Hairless, pure, children. It’s another way that we reduce a women’s power is to make them like children. Beings to control, simple beings, unpowerful beings. I am an adult woman and I have power and look at my hairy legs.

    I don’t hide my hair for fashion. I don’t wear tights to cover leg hair, I don’t shave for special occasions. And I certainly don’t mess with my junk.

  • Angel

    I don’t shave my armpits or pubic hair. My armpits, I got out of the habit of shaving initially because I have some scars on my shoulder that I always kept covered up, so my clothes covered my pits anyway; then I noticed that they actually were much less sweaty and smelly when they were unshaven, and saw some glamour photos of someone I knew, who explained that she didn’t cover up her hairy pits in the photos because she was proud to be unshaven and personally considered it sexy. Although my initial reaction was “ew, that just doesn’t look very nice”, I kept going back to the photos, and after a while, decided that it looked… interesting. Slowly, I became desensitized to the conditioning that pit hair = gross, and got comfortable with my own. I stopped shaving my pits about two years ago, but until last year, I was still self-conscious about it – tried not to raise my arms if my sleeves were too short, worried people were looking, etc. One of my big regrets is that after much deliberation, I decided to shave before wearing a spaghetti-strap dress to my prom. Alongside the kick-ass flat knee-high boots I was already wearing with my ballgown, it would have looked great.

    Pubic hair: luckily, no one really talked about it, so I assumed it was normal to leave it unshaven, although I did shave the “bikini line” before going swimming. Once or twice I tried shaving it all off, and it felt kind of interesting, but I thought it looked REALLY weird and childish, and the ingrown hairs and itching as it grew back were just horrible. When I try to shave any part of it (mainly just the sparse scattering that spreads a centimeter down my thigh), my skin objects terribly, with ingrown hairs all over the place and crazy itching. Luckily, I finally came to terms recently with just letting it be. I trim it because I prefer how it feels when it’s a bit shorter, but not that much shorter. It’s really annoying to hear my male AND female friends talk about how gross it is for women to not shave their pubic hair! The guys never seem to feel obliged to do away with theirs, and no one seems to talk about how creepy it is to go back to looking like your genitals are prepubescent!

    Leg hair, for me, is just a visual thing. I don’t mind leg hair as a concept, but mine, in my opinion, is funny-looking, so I shave it if I’m going bare-legged. That said, I’m not often bare-legged, between living in chilly England and having some scars that I’d rather keep to myself…

  • Jenn Quick

    My friend who works as a midwife told me that when a woman comes in to have a baby and she still has her pubes, the midwives inwardly cheer. It is so sad that young women think that pubic hair is “gross” and that the porn industry/American ideal is normal. To me, there is something horribly wrong with a man who wants a shaved woman, is he imagining being with a child?
    I have been somewhat laissez-faire about shaving for years, I tend to do my lower legs if I’m going to wear stockings (ie a special occasion), as I’m not enamoured with the swirly, old lady look, this usually works out to every couple of years or so ( I don’t have a life!!!). I don’t shave anything in winter at all. Armpits when I remember in summer, (not very often at all really, I have other, more inportant things to do). Friends tell me that I’m lucky my hair is blonde (not any more, now I’m older), but it doesn’t offend me on anyone else whatever their hair colour. Is hair, is good (apologies to the ad writer!).

  • PixieSkull

    Totally old post, I’m aware, but I love the post. I like to mock friends (males, especially) when they say things like “armpit hair is disgusting!” I mean, they grow it out (for the most part!) I don’t shave my pits constantly because I sweat a HELL of a lot, but I do have to trim or shave to maintain an easier sense of not being the bigger, smelly girl. And constantly shaving leg hair? Please… “ain’t nobody got time for that!” Winter in North Dakota requires a thick coat of fur, I’ll take it!

  • Whitney

    I completely agree with the idea that society is the thing that is making women think hair is gross or ugly or masculine or wrong. It doesn’t however change the way I feel about my body. While I fully understand the “natural” side of things and all that, I personally like the feel of smooth, soft legs and armpits better than the hair, because my hair is very dark, very thick, and very coarse. I don’t however remove hair on my arms and never will, or my pubic hair, cause in the words of amanda palmer, “i say grow that shit like a jungle, give em something strong to hold on to” XP

  • guest

    Why bother cutting or styling the hair on the top of your head then? Wouldn’t letting it grow be perfectly natural?

  • Mathias Olsson

    I’m a man. Even I have felt ashamed. In my case for growing facial hair. I have found myself shaving all of my facial hair off in order to be attractive to my employer. That is not a healthy behaviour. I have decided to let all of my body hair grow freely ever after from now on. Bodily hair growth is natural and shaving it off is a weird behaviour. Against nature.

  • Swa

    I stopped shaving my legs at 16. I am 50 now and despite taunts, especially from, men I have dug my hairy feet in and have refused to shave them for all these years!!! I wished I had never begun at the age of 13. 3 years of shaving was way too long!!

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