7 Feminist Dilemmas When Growing Out Body Hair

by Sebastian Zulch

For years, feminine people have arguably been making personal (and sometimes subversive) decisions in the name of body positivity, empowerment, and feminism. Growing out body hair is one of the many decisions we have come to reclaim, in a society where hairlessness is so often equated with beauty and femininity. For many, refusing to shave our hairier bits has less to do with politics, and everything to do with preference and comfort level. Still, it can be hard to go against habits you've been taught throughout your lifetime in order to transition to something that makes you feel most comfortable. The harsh reality is that there are some people existing around you who care less about your personal preference and more about policing the bodies of others.

As someone who hasn't shaved for the majority of their life, it's still sometimes hard for me to proudly flaunt my hairy feminine body. Yes, I am a feminist, but that in no way makes me immune to the non-feminist dialogue and beauty standards surrounding gender in America. I am the owner of a feminine body, which automatically subjects me to intense scrutiny and naturally some insecurity.

I love my body hair and feel most comfortable when it's natural and grown out. However, the judgmental glare of society still makes my skin crawl at times, and causes me to momentarily question my choices surrounding my personal habits. Here are some questions that have crossed my mind a few times when considering my body hair — until they're quickly replaced with confidence and body positivity, of course.

1. Should I Keep My Arms Down So No One On This Subway Car Will Stare Me Down?

I dread the moment when I board a crowded subway car on a hot summer day, only to find there are no seats or vertical poles to hold onto. It sometimes feels super difficult to lean towards seated passengers in order to reach for the horizontal bar above their heads, putting my ample armpit hair pretty much directly in their faces. The shocked and sometimes disgusted looks I get from humans on the train certainly don't help.

I always try to remember that I normally don't think twice when a man who raises his arm to expose a hairy pit. It's not like his armpit is anywhere near close enough to my face for me to catch a whiff while I'm seated. I remind myself why it is that I've grown them out, why I'm normally proud of them, and just power through the ride. It's the passengers who are at fault for making me feel uncomfortable, and I am under no obligation to shift my position simply so they don't have to look at my body hair.

2. Does My Partner Still Like My Vagina?

OK, so as a feminist, I scold myself anytime this crosses my mind. I've always gone for a more natural look with my bikini area, and most of the time haven't heard much criticism about it (at least concerning the people who matter). Whenever my partner, as well as past partners, would begin to go down on me, I'd immediately feel self conscious for at least a second or two, wondering if the hair on my vulva would turn the person off or whether my partner would silently be judging the way my vagina looks.

If you're with a partner whose preferences don't align with yours, however (everyone has preferences, after all), you can use the opportunity to have healthy, educational conversations. At the end of the day, your partner never has the right to suffocate your preferences in favor of theirs, so if you want to grow your hair out (or shave your pubic hair into crazy shapes), it is totally up to you.

3. Does My Hair Make Me Look Masculine?

Personally, looking masculine is not something that concerns or bothers me. Sometimes I want to look masculine, in fact. But many female-identifying people — as well as the rest of society — tend to associate hairiness with masculinity. Gender is so fluid, though, and if you identify as a woman and are growing out your body hair, that doesn't make you less feminine. Your perception and take on your own gender doesn't negate your identity, or your right to your femininity.

4. Should I Shave For This Event?

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Whenever I'm faced with having to attend a fancier event, I get self conscious all over again about how my hair will be perceived as dressing down a formal outfit or being inappropriate for the party. But that's insane. My body hair isn't an accessory: It's a part of me, and it can be fancy if it wants.

5. What Will My Family Think?

By this time, my parents have become quite used to my lack of shaving. When we are having family gatherings, or I am visiting my older relatives like my grandpa, however, I make sure to wear a shirt with some kind of sleeve in order to conceal the hairy truth lying beneath my arms.

I still have yet to overcome this obstacle, but I'm sure that, like any compassionate human, your grandparents will ultimately accept your choices in the same way that mine did. (Unless you have a family member like my great aunt, who has dementia and loves to speak her conservative mind, in which case the fear of being ridiculed is very real.) Use this as an educational opportunity as well. You may end up opening their minds to the problematic nature of gender norms.

6. Is My Body Hair Professional Enough For A Working Environment?

It always feels a little nerve wracking to walk into a job interview with hairy armpits (hairy legs are easier for me to flaunt without concern thanks to my thin leg hair). But if you are a feminist and your politics are important to you, this could be a good way of weeding out the kinds of employers and coworkers you wouldn't work well with.

Any boss or editor I've ever had has never looked twice at my body hair, and I've certainly never lost a job on the basis of my grooming choices. In fact, many of my employers have had matching philosophies, sometimes with even more impressive hair growth on their bodies than on my own.

7. Should I Always Feel Confident About My Body Hair?

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No, of course not! In an ideal world, we would be confident about our bodies all the time — and you certainly have the right to love your hairy beautiful body. However, it's not always that easy. It's very hard to maintain body positivity and personal confidence in general, so it's OK if you have off days when you don't feel confident about your body hair or anything else.

Body positivity takes work — but that definitely doesn't make you any less of a feminist. It just makes you human. When your body or your beauty choices go against the grain of beauty and gender norms, it can be even tougher. Your only obligation as a sparkling and body positive warrior is to stay true to your feelings and comfort zones, and do whatever you can to love yourself.

Images: ViktorDobai/Flickr; Meg Zulch