Summer is basically here and that means (perhaps counterintuitively to my waxers and lovers) 'tis the season to break out short skirts and let my body hair grow out. Yes, there is a time-honored feminine ritual, likely developed by my Catholic school girl ancestors, of playing fast and loose with one's grooming all winter and "saving up" that newly-shorn-baby-sheep-feeling shave for prom, when you emerge from your cocoon of laziness plucked entirely clean. But somewhere along the way, I flipped the script.
This is not because I don't identify with feminine gender presentation (because I'm deeply feminine) and it's not because I dislike traditionally ladylike things (because I will get ethical manicures with you whenever you want). But there is this idea that feminine-presenting folks don't want or shouldn't have body hair, and that folks who choose to sport body hair don't want to be perceived as feminine. And I'm confused about why these things are perceived as mutually exclusive.
But I didn't always feel this way. I went through a few stages before I arrived at my current level of body hair acceptance.
Stage 1: Tortured Adolescence
In fact, as a person who hails from The Hair Belt, ethnographically speaking, I was pretty mercilessly teased about my body hair as a kid. As a fair-skinned 10-year-old with thick, dark, long body hair who had to wear a school uniform skirt every day, I begged and begged my mom to let me shave my legs. She refused on the grounds that 10 was "too young" to shave, willfully ignoring that puberty was calling the shots here, not me. (For reference on immigrant parent logic: my dad also insisted that I had the flu the first time I got my period, because 11 years old was "too young" to menstruate. Unclear on when exactly bleeding from one's vagina became a flu symptom, but I digress.)
Finally, miraculously, my mom reversed her arbitrary "no hair removal until you're 16" ban. And I assumed life would be all:
But there was a catch.
My mom shaved her legs one day, and about a week later she strode over to me, rolled up her pant leg, and instructed me to feel her calf.
"What does that feel like to you?" she asked.
"A man's beard," I solemnly replied.
"Do you want your legs to feel like a man's beard when you're my age?"
"Good. Then you're going to wax."
Stage 2: Baby's First Wax
And off I was whisked to a nice, firm Eastern European waxer, at the tender age of 12. Thanks to the most bizarre Scared Straight experience of all time, I have to this day never taken a razor to any part of my body. But waxed body hair starts to become visible again after two weeks and, needless to say, my exhausted single parent of an over-scheduled teenager wasn't great about keeping up with a dignified waxing regimen. The body hair torment lasted through high school, and it wasn't until college, when I was in charge of my own schedule, that I finally got to feel "normal" about being a flawlessly fuzz-free lady human on an ongoing basis.
That lasted all of six years.
Stage 3: I Am the Master of My Fate
By the time I reached my mid-twenties, the relief of feeling "normal" had abated, and I felt more confident in my natural state. Outside the heinous torture bubble of adolescence, not having perfectly smooth legs wasn't really a source of insecurity for me anymore. I had adult problems to worry about and stressing about my body hair stopped being a priority. Essentially, I just grew up and got over it. Judging myself based on social norms I'd unthinkingly bought into (brought to you by the magic and mysticism of bullying/the patriarchy) was something I literally didn't have time for. I realized that normative "feminine" standards were bullshit and the only times I "needed" to get a wax were whenever I damned felt like it.
But as comfortable as I was with myself, I'd still "politely" cover my body hair in public/professional settings if I chose to let it grow out, even if it meant pants and sleeves in the summer. Even though I worked at a media startup where the dudes dressed like garbage, I believed it was "unseemly" to come to work with my body hair showing as a feminine-identified woman. I was already being so very ~rebellious~ by not wearing makeup to work. I didn't want to offend any further.
Curiously, I think that if I embodied a Masculine of Center (MOC) gender presentation, then no one would have given a second glance to my unshaven legs beneath seersucker bermuda shorts. (I'd be a really well-tailored, dapper butch.) We're used to the idea, or somehow less offended by, MOC folks who choose to sport body hair. But something about a femme in a skirt and heels with furry legs in between is off-putting to people. And The Male Gaze doesn't come exclusively from straight cis men — I've literally had a butch partner pin me down and pluck my chin whiskers in frustration that I just let them grow without much mind. (Sorry my facial hair threatens your identity?)
Which brings me to:
Stage 4: Self-Actualization
I finally moved past "not caring" about my body hair. I stopped hiding fuzz out of some sense of "propriety." Now, I actually specifically let my hair grow out for shorts-and-tank-top season, because I believe that it's important to publicly challenge the idea that body hair isn't feminine. And the easiest way to do that is visibility. So I began to strategically pair a bustier with underarm tufts or high-waisted shorts with a couple months' worth of leg hair growth, because, for me, the most effective way to rail against the idea that body hair isn't feminine is to be hella feminine and show off body hair.
Visible body hair on an otherwise feminine-presenting person isn't impolite, or unseemly, or unprofessional. The idea that someone is threatening the respectability of the work place by wearing a skirt suit with unshaven legs is just as bullying and offensive as the 13-year old boys who'd leave Daisy razors on my desk for me to find in middle school.
At the very least, I hope a pubescent girl who's growing morose about her burgeoning body hair sees me on the subway in full makeup rocking full underarm bush and thinks to herself, "Hey! She's really pretty but also has lots of thick, coarse, gnarly body hair, just like me!" And maybe that's OK, too.
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