When I was in middle school, I did something that still makes me cringe every time I think about it. And I think about it surprisingly often. As an awkward young person, the communal PE changing rooms were a minefield of issues. Feeling self-conscious about my body was inevitable and the lingering risk of being accused of being a "perv" if you accidentally glanced in somebody else’s direction (whilst the meaner girls were somehow allowed to stare at you in order to assess and criticize you without having this accusation hurled in their direction) equally unavoidable. I was mortified to one day accidentally embarrass somebody else in the same way I so dreaded being embarrassed.
But back to my cringe-worthy moment: I noticed a friend’s underarm hair and exclaimed, “You have armpit hair!” At which point, she looked hugely embarrassed, her face glowing red. I had never intended to upset her. But by drawing this attention to her, I had simultaneously made it so that I was too embarrassed and guilty to explain myself. I wish I had conveyed to her that I was not trying to shame her. I had been on the receiving end of hurtful comments about my appearance enough to know how much things like that could sting. The truth is, I was amazed — I hadn’t grown any pit hair yet and I was envious of her impressive display. I thought it was so cool. I didn’t realize until that moment that, apparently, having armpit hair was something to be embarrassed about.
At this point in my life, I totally idolized Amanda Palmer. The Dresden Dolls were my favorite band and I loved everything about them. I adored their stage presence and their theatrical image. But mostly, I was obsessed with how Amanda Palmer was a strong character with a striking image and a lot to say. And she didn’t really give a shit what people thought of her. The seemingly omnipresent image of Amanda Palmer — on my walls, on my homework binders, in my artwork, in my head — is probably why it never occurred to me to start shaving my legs or underarm hair. Seeing body hair on a woman was normal to me.
Bear in mind, this was maybe ten years ago and the internet, whilst available, wasn’t such a big deal as it is today. I had the internet at school but not at home. I did have a very basic cell phone during that period, but the world wide web wasn’t constantly in the palm of my hand. (It still isn’t, actually. I have kept a very basic Nokia phone that pretty much just texts, calls and has the Snake game on it, as I like being absent from the internet sometimes.) And so, cyberspace wasn't this thing constantly bombarding me with images of what I should or shouldn’t look like — of shaming people, myself included, who didn’t fit a beauty ideal — at least not from where I was standing, anyway.
I read interviews in rock magazines rather than websites with comments sections where one simply had to scroll down to read negative and irrelevant commentary about a person’s appearance regardless of their talent or message. I am thankful for that, as it gave me a certain safety to experiment with and nurture my own identity without being aware of the intense scrutiny and critique that soon enough became impossible to ignore in our media. I wasn’t as aware as I imagine that young people growing up now are of the world’s apparent need to commodify women’s bodies. By the time I became aware that the decision to remove body hair was viewed by so many as a need, not a choice, I had already developed pride and confidence in my decision not to remove mine.
Taking the time to do something that makes you feel good and brings happiness to you in direct correlation to your body is important — whether it’s dyeing your hair, putting on a face mask or removing your body hair. The point I cannot emphasize enough here is that it is a choice.
When I was 16 or 17, I had a boyfriend who tried to crush me. Whilst I won’t go into the ins and outs of our terrible teenage relationship (as I’ve mostly forgotten anyway), one thing always sticks in my head — the time he tried to bully me into shaving. I’m completely fine with people doing whatever they like with their own bodies, but trying to control the decisions that someone makes about their body? Not cool. Especially when you’re trying to give me some argument about "hygiene" when you don’t shave your own pits. I don’t know whether it is more hygienic or not, nor am I particularly interested. If somebody provides me with substantial scientific evidence on the subject, I’ll happily accept it — but that doesn’t mean I’ll change my decision and it definitely still wouldn’t give anybody else the right to make that decision for me. (I’ve never experienced any problems anyway; regular showers and using deodorant seem to work just fine.) Oh, and if it’s about hygiene, then why is there a greater pressure on women to shave than men?
I tried shaving a couple of times and didn’t like it. After the initial experiment, I decided that I was just more comfortable with armpit hair. The second time was for an alter-ego themed art project where I decided the character would have shaved her armpits. Both times, I felt incredibly self-conscious about wearing sleeveless tops or lifting my arms. It was simply strange to feel the delicate skin of my underarms so exposed.
The other thing I noticed was how quickly the hair starts to grow back — which was great for me, but if you don’t want armpit hair, that must be a bit of a pain. I’m a very low-maintenance girl, so not shaving is ideal. Some people love taking the time to do the things that make them feel more attractive — shaving (or any other desired method of hair removal) included. For some, it is a chore but the outcome is worth it. I can understand how in certain cases, it could maybe be part of your pampering routine and actually an act of self-love. Taking the time to do something that makes you feel good and brings happiness to you in direct correlation to your body is important — whether it’s dyeing your hair, putting on a face mask or removing your body hair.
The point I cannot emphasize enough here is that it is a choice. Body hair removal is not mandatory, despite what you might see on the internet and in magazines. Whatever you do, make sure you are choosing it because it’s right for you and your body, not because you have been told it’s what you should do by the people who make their living off exploiting our insecurities and pressuring us to look a certain way.
Images: Courtesty of Samantha Ahern; Giphy