On Being a Hairy Woman, And the Gender Roles That Make Us Shame and Shave Our Natural Fuzz
I have a confession to make. I am not what I appear to be. I have been living a lie. It is difficult for me to tell you this because I have worked so hard to make sure that you never find out — that nothing will give me away. It is a secret I have protected fiercely since adolescence, and one that I am finally ready to share. So... My name is Sarah, and I am a hairy woman. There, I said it. Whew. I feel better.
I have what is often labeled “excessive” body hair. In other words, I have dark, visible hair on almost every part of my body: my upper lip, chin, jawline, neck, upper arms and forearms, stomach, thighs, feet, lower back, and worst of all, my butt. A far shorter list would be one that lists the parts of my body that don’t have any visible hair on them: my breasts, upper back and forehead. And maybe the soles of my feet.
There are women who embrace and wear their body hair with pride, refusing to be bullied by a beauty standard that doesn’t include them. When it comes to myself, though, I can love and accept my body shape and size, but my hair has always been a stumbling block. When it comes to my weight, I know that there are plenty of fat women in society. And whether or not we are accepted, I guess I have always felt that there is safety in numbers. I have never noticed a woman who is quite as hairy as I am, however, showing pride in all her fuzzy bits. I am sure there are many gals out there with the same "problem," but more often than not, we remove the hair and allow it to become our shameful secret.
When you think about it, it’s pretty stupid. Men don’t have to remove their hair — not one strand. OK, in some professions they may be expected to keep the hair on their heads short and their faces clean-shaven (or at least, beardless), but for the most part they can have long hair and beards if they so desire. My boyfriend has both — not to mention hairy feet, a hairy chest, hairy thighs and a hairy behind — and that’s all fine for him. Because he identifies as male. That one difference is a profoundly significant one, and it affects so many of our personal perceptions toward body image. My partner would not wear makeup or nail polish or put flowers in his hair or his beard (even though that would be amazing and I am going to suggest it right now). He would not wear skirts or dresses or shoes with heels. Just as I would not be seen in public with my eyebrows in “full bloom” or my chin hairs styled at an inch long. But these are things he would never think twice about.
Over the years, I have tried almost every method of hair removal available. I have had a Hollywood wax (twice). I've had my legs waxed. I wax my lip and chin myself. I own an IPL machine (that I haven’t had the patience to really use properly, I must admit). I shave. I pluck. I have used hair removal creams. I have bought ridiculous, gimmicky products from the Home Shopping channel, including what was essentially a sanding disc that “buffed” hairs (and dead skin, which was actually a plus) away, but left me feeling stubbly (plus, it took hours). I have attempted to wax myself using cold wax products for home use (don't do it!). And all of this has been done in the name of body hair removal — in the name of beauty. And let's not forget that I have learned (the hard way) that if you use hair removal cream on your “sensitive area” and then have to pee... well, OH. MY. GOD. IT BURNS. But nonetheless, I have dealt with years of ingrown hairs and razor rash. You'd think that considering the fact that first time I went for a Hollywood wax, the beautician literally ripped patches of skin off of my pubic area would have turned me against the entire industry. But I just kept trying.
I put myself through all of this nonsense because somehow, for whatever reason, it just isn't acceptable in today’s society to be a hairy woman. I've always thought that a pretty reliable measure of determining what is or is not acceptable in the world at large is to look at whether the subject at hand could be considered a “fetish” — a sexual preference outside of mainstream, heteronormative behavior. Being attracted to thin women with bald skin is not a fetish; it is "normal." But on the other hand, being attracted to a fat woman with a hairy butt would definitely fall into the former category to most people's minds.
Another thing that I find very telling is that if I have not shaved my legs for an extended period of time, I genuinely have nightmares about going out in public wearing skirts and having people point and laugh at my hairy legs. These dreams are not unlike the ones I had as a child about going to school, removing my coat and realizing I was naked. The sense of shame associated with body hair is both horrific and common.
For most of my life, I have felt cheated because none of my female relatives are hairy in the way that I am. Not a single one. I have my mom’s hair on my head; I have her complexion, her eyes, and even her hands. My dad passed away when I was eight years old, and when that happened we lost touch with the majority of his family (with the exception of his mother, who was also not hairy).
In the last couple of years, however, my sister has gotten back in touch with our cousins on our father's side, and when she was pregnant with my (amazing!) nephew, we threw her a baby shower. One of the cousins came to the party. I had not seen her since we were children; it had been around 15 years or more since we were in a room together. And I cannot begin to tell you of my relief (and, I have to admit, joy) when I saw that she too was hairy.
At that moment, I realized I finally had the evidence to prove to myself that I didn’t have some bizarre genetic mutation; my hairiness is inherited from my grandfather on my dad’s side, and it also affects one of my cousins. Of course, I have never commented on this to her directly. After all, it is a touchy subject and one that makes me uncomfortable. But just knowing that she is there, that she gets it, is a wonderful thing.
I wish I could accept my hair... I wish I could let it grow and stop tweezing, waxing, shaving, and goodness knows what else. But right now, that just feels so impossible. The ridiculous thing is that I don’t think body hair looks bad on other women at all. In fact, I find underarm hair quite beautiful! But not on myself.
I am hopeful that the realization that I am not the black sheep of an otherwise bare-haired family will be the start of my journey, though. My acceptance of my body began with the acceptance of other people’s bodies, so perhaps this will be the same. At least, I hope so. Because not only am I sick of spending my time and money on products that have the sole purpose of something as pointless as hair removal. I'm also sick of the idea that something as natural as body hair has become such a taboo. Such a source of shame.
Images: Getty; Giphy