I can vividly remember the first time I was shamed for having leg hair: I was ten and it was the Holiday concert at my school. I was wearing a black dress with red roses and, for the first time ever, pantyhose. Leg hair was the last thing on my mind; in fact I’m sure I wasn’t even aware that I had hair on my legs. A male classmate came up to me with a look of complete disgust and said, ‘what are you growing down there a bush?!’ Looking down I saw some of my brown leg hair had gotten visibly matted under the pantyhose.
I was humiliated, and that memory has stayed with me all these years.
Flash ahead twenty years, when I’m a camp counselor at a music camp for young girls. All of the counselors were female and delightfully diverse, at that: Femmes, butches, lesbians, straight women and everyone in-between. And for the first time in years, I wasn’t the only woman with hairy armpits and legs.
Being surrounded by and joining in along with these women who unabashedly sported armpit hair was one of the most liberating experiences of my life.
But should it have been?
Body hair — or a lack thereof — is a completely personal choice. It is a private matter and shouldn’t invite unsolicited commentary, or body shaming, from others. End of story.
I know women who enjoy shaving everything and I also know women who flat out refuse, for either political or personal reasons. I have shaved body parts in my past, and yes, there are certain aspects of this grooming routine that I enjoyed (the feeling of freshly shaved legs against bed sheets or the way my tattoos ‘pop’ after a clean shave, for example). But it wasn’t worth the constant upkeep.
For the past year, I’ve taken to the routine of trimming and there are many reasons why I made this choice, none of which I feel the need to defend. During the summer months I often have to explain the presence of my body hair, but today I am not going to. A woman should not have to justify a personal choice.
Having body hair has never been disgusting to me and I have never understood what the big deal is. But apparently, it remains a long-standing social faux pas. As Maureen wrote for Mic, “Even though body hair has a biological, evolutionary purpose — it traps and wafts pheromones, announcing our sexual and reproductive availability — society dictates that for females, it’s not just unnerving, it’s nasty. When you take this cultural attitude, coupled with ubiquitous beauty and shaving products marketed to women, it’s no wonder women spend up to 72 days of their life shaving.”
Some women are fighting against body hair stereotypes, though. For example, the Free Your Pits campaign — in which women tout brightly dyed armpit hair — is gaining ground, and natural photography campaigns are attempting to redefine natural female beauty. And rightfully so.
Pubic, armpit, facial or leg hair is not gross. It is natural and reflective of the full spectrum of femininity (because having body hair does not make you any less of a woman). I can only speak for myself, but I think my armpit hair is sexy and I love it.