Giving Up Shaving My Legs, Underarms, And Bikini Line For A Month Made Me Contemplate Some Gender Norms
Once upon a time, a curious 25-year-old girl-creature named Freyia was challenged to give up shaving for a month. She tucked away her epilator, hid her razors, and locked up her depilatory creams (not literally, that would be kinda weird. I don't have a little safe for them or anything). She was far too broke that month for a wax anyway. She even decided to put her trusty tweezers to one side and see what happened to her wayward eyebrows if they were allowed to sprout as nature intended. She would have similarly refrained from cutting her head hair, but she had an appointment at the salon for a life-changing chop, which she also wrote about, and anyway she wasn't going to be Rastafarian about it.The subject of female body hair removal is sparking many a discussion these days as women begin to question the motives behind their choice to go smooth. Feminism is on the rise, thank god, and some women are choosing to express their identity as more than an embodiment of the patriarchal female ideal, by making the choice not to remove their body hair. Go them! Even ole Miley's been at it, but then again, she does like to jump on the controversial bandwagon.
I am a self-identified feminist through and through, and my particular brand of "you do you" feminism is pretty much summed by when Caitlin Moran says: "I'm neither 'pro-women' or 'anti-men.' I'm just thumbs up for the six billion.'" I want men and women to be perceived equally in society. This has nothing to do with how you look in my opinion, although personal grooming habits can have a powerful body political message.
I do not, thus, see my natural attraction to aspects of "traditional femininity" as anti-feminist. I wear makeup, nearly always wear skirts, and love to look ethereal in my fashion choices. I see my self-constructed "femininity" (what does that mean anyway) as a means of self-expression, not an effort to conform to social norms. I'm never "on trend" or know what's in the charts, anyway.I would be lying if I said that my predisposition towards the uber femme is not, or has not, been influenced by outside societal pressures in any way, though. I am an artist and highly visual person, and am very much influenced by images — both negatively and positively. But I have put my own stamp on my femininity, and I feel it is my own. I question norms and have a curious mind, and I certainly don't like doing as I'm told.
Despite my love of fashion, I will never be a "put together girl." You know the kind, the ones on your Facebook feed with their shiny blown out hair, sleekly ironed. With legs as long as a gazelle's, all Saint Tropez-ed, in their TopShop stilettos. Their curvy bums in bodycon, nails done, perfectly discreet falsies, and camera friendly smiles. They're beautiful, but I wouldn't want to be like them, and I never could.I'm disheveled. I wear secondhand clothes and new pieces together. My tights often have holes in them, my knits are bobbled from wear. Sometimes my nails are tip-top, other times they're covered in paint or chipped from some artistic escapade I'm involved in. My hair looks alien freshly cut and blown. In the words of Cher from Clueless, I'm a bit of a Monet — I probably look alright from a distance, but when you venture closer to inspect, I'm a bit messy. And I quite like that about myself.That being said, I do like to remove my body hair. I enjoy the ritual. I like the feeling of being smooth. I've been at it since I was 12 when, before a school trip to Perenporth, Cornwall, I asked my mom if I could start shaving my legs. I felt so grown up with my hideously hot pink throwaway razor, mowing strips of mainly blonde and sparse hair from my legs.
My hair removal routine is pretty shambolic, though, especially now I am single. (I know, I know, the fact I am less inclined to remove hair as frequently as a single lady does say something about my ingrained views regarding what men want in a woman... problematic!) Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don't. My preference is to do it, but to me it's not the end of world if I am too rushed to razor. If I don't shave for too long, however, I start to feel uncomfortable — itchy, sweaty and... odd. That being said, I love the sensation of a full on de-fuzz after a long time of regrowth. As my friend Amelia puts it, it's as satisfying as hoover-ing dirty carpet! So my mission to stop removing any body hair for one month appealed to my curious nature. How would I feel if I could not shave, at all? If I had no choice in the matter. Would I break through the discomfort and feel liberated? Let me talk you through what happened...
I began my first week of the experiment by shaving all my usual areas (except my bikini, because frankly, I couldn't be bothered). Using my homemade beauty hack (which you all must try! Lifesaver!), I used a razor to get my underarms and legs silky smooth. I lathered myself in coconut oil and swore to not so much as pick up a razor for another month. By the end of the week, I was getting hairy. To keep on top of my fuzz to a high standard, I have to shave at least every other day. As you can see above, my regrowth was coming through with a vengeance. It felt itchy and uncomfortable to not be able to whizz it off in a bubble bath. I spent this week mostly indoors, working from home, but the weather is warming up here in England so I've been getting my prickly pins out (under a long skirt). It's not so much that I didn't want anyone to see my leg hair au naturale, but that I don't really like getting my legs out sans tights in general. However, I think this body dysmorphic struggle of mine is little to do with leg hair and more to do with ingrained beauty standards of size. As my body hair is quite pale, it was barely visible from afar. Totally Monet.
This week the sun was out and spring had definitely sprung in the seaside town in which I currently live. I decided it was warm enough to brave the beach and go paddling. I was in a wistful sort of mood and wanted to spend the morning reading on the beach alone. I haven't bought a bikini yet this year, so I had to borrow my seventy-something-year-old Nana's swimsuit — hence the rather frumpy design above (sorry Nana). Even in my Nana's modest swimwear, my slowly emerging wooliness was getting glaringly obvious. My armpit hair was now pretty visible, my legs less so due to their light color. However, heading south, all I have to say is "jungle is massive," if you know what I mean. I looked like Miranda in that scene in Sex and the City 2 where Samantha points out her overgrown lady garden.During my trip to the beach, I was unusually bothered by the closeness of strangers — people walking their dog, children playing. I deliberately went to a secluded pebble beach, which is less crowded than the main beaches in my tourist town. I don't know if I felt shameful of my hairy body or whether it was hormones that made me feel reclusive that day, but I was definitely self conscious about how I sat and held myself, so as not to reveal the lack of topiary in my crotch.I did feel a bit awkward covered in my new fluff. The feeling of regrowth was tickly and made me itch. I started to feel sweaty more often, and was worried about my smell. I'm not silly though, I know this is natural. After all, one of the functions of body hair is to quickly whip impurities and sweat away from the skin, as well as wafting your natural pheremones and scent out there into the wide world. After all, we are but a tiny bit of DNA away from a regular animal.One day this week, I was telling a group of friends about the experiment, and my male friend, Charlie asked if he could have a look. I'm not particularly modest at the best of times about this sort of thing, so willingly lifted up my arm to reveal the blossoming, perfumed garden of my armpit. Of course, he had to show me his in return. Charlie was surprised how little hair I had down there, and pretty curious about it; in no way was he disgusted or freaked out. I know good men.
By week three, the itchiness of the regrowth had subsided, and I had forgotten about the fact that I was not allowed to remove even a follicle of hair from my body. I wasn't phased. It made my bathing rituals take less time, which was handy, although it didn't reduce my bathroom time by much. (I am one of those people who spends an obscene amount of time in the bath. I just feel at home in water. My excuse? I'm actually a mermaid.)I've noticed that the hair on my legs has several different growth cycles, which explains why whenever I have a leg wax, I notice tiny hairs that didn't come out. I've also become aware, as Charlie observed, that I don't have that much body hair. Unless you get quite close and personal to me, my leg hair really is not that visible. (What did I tell you? Mon-et.) I'm kind of regretting starting shaving in the first place. At least on my legs. If I'd left them, they wouldn't be blunt and stick up; maybe they would be soft and downy like the hair on my thighs and arms? I was not enjoying having a, erm, "full bush," however. I think it's wonderful to leave your downstairs in a natural state, but I don't know it's for me. I wouldn't judge anyone for leaving it, and it's not like I was that phased by it myself, it's just a personal preference, really. Maybe I am intrinsically affected by the female body hair hating rhetoric in the media, maybe it's because it's something I have been doing for years as a force of habit? Maybe it's because it won't fit in most of my knickers! (But I guess, as a lingerie designer, that's actually a design fault! My designs definitely accommodate a Garden of Eden!) All this certainly got me thinking about my motives.
By the final week of my experiment, I was pretty used to my hairy body. Sure, I felt I had to shower more, and I was developing a deodorant dependance issue, but my hairy pits, legs and frou frou really didn't affect my day to day life in any way. Maybe if I wore more revealing clothes, I would have had a different experience.My eyebrows were completely grown out, and I could see their natural shape. I used to think I had incredibly bushy eyebrows naturally, but they're really not that prominent. And anyway, everyone loves Cara Delevigne, right? In fact, I may stop tweezing altogether. On a night out with another guy friend, Robbie, we spoke about my experiment and the idea of gender expectations of body hair removal. Whenever I have a partner of the intimate kind, I am pretty strident to remove all traces of feminine prickle (outside of a modest pubic triangle on occasion, but mainly a full Hollywood) if I think there is a slight chance of a sexual encounter. I've always thought of this as a personal choice. I prefer the way it feels. Have you seen the episode of Sex and the City where they talk about going to Brazil? If so, you'll know what I mean!Robbie said he personally doesn't really notice either way. This reaction, combined with Charlie's curious indifference to my armpit hair, has really got me thinking. As a single girl, pretty focused on my career right now, my body hair routine is slapdash. I obviously accept myself as a being that, you know, grows hair in intimate places. Why should my hair compromise my ability to have sex at the drop of a hat? I try to surround myself with men who are female friendly, and if my male friends are anything to go by, body hair, pubic or otherwise, is maybe not as big a deal as the media would like us to think...
Oh and yes, I am wearing How the Grinch Stole Christmas undies. You got a problem?
So what did I learn from going wild and feral with my body hair? Well, that it really doesn't freaking matter, people! Whether you want to go as nature intended or be velvet-y smooth, it is your choice. I don't think my preference for silky legs, bare pits, and a bikini wax will change, but I definitely won't apologize for my natural hair again. If I have a bit of stubble, who cares? If anyone notices or points it out? Their problem. If I want to have sex but I'm not in tip top, freshly-waxed condition? I'll do it anyway. Now excuse me whilst I go book a wax. On my terms.
Images: Freyia Lillian Porteous; Giphy