These are my legs. There are many like them, but these are mine. I love my legs. They are sturdy and strong, and they can take me great distances. They’re also furry, the brown hair that covers them is soft and sleek.
I’m about to go on a weeks beach holiday in Spain. “When is your wax booked in?!” I hear you gasp in alarm. Alas, faithful reader, there shall be no wax! “That will take you an age to shave!” I hear you nervously exclaim. I have to tell you, I choose not to spend my hard earned money on razors (taxed as a luxury, but only if they’re branded for a woman). Now you gape at me, and avert your eyes from my offensive appendages.
I chose to stop removing the hair from my legs and underarms perhaps a year ago now. I’m happier for it. In a world where women are pushed to conform to a “normal” view of attractiveness, an unshaved leg can be seen as a political act. You go tell my legs they are a political statement! They’ll laugh in your face (if only they had a mouth!) and tell you this is how they naturally are, how they want to be. All the pain and money you spend trying to strip them of their hair is the political act, a political act to fit in to this patriarchal society.
Although I love my legs in all their furry glory, I have to admit to you: I am a coward. I have felt the social pressure and shaved on occasion. One such was when I was asked to be a bridesmaid (and wear a knee length dress) by a friend. I felt my friend would be ashamed of my beautiful legs, and my luscious underarms. So I shaved them clean, it took me a good hour of using hair clippers followed by a disposable razor. The end result was smooth skin that was dry and needed a lot of moisturiser. It itched and when the hair started coming back in it made my legs feel like sandpaper. I had to scrub at my legs with exfoliator to prevent ingrown hairs. It was a hassle.
Another way in which I’m a coward is I stay in the hairy closet at work. I wear clothing that’ll cover my legs in my office day job. I feel like my work colleagues would feel uncomfortable in the presence of an unshaven calf, and hence feel uncomfortable with the woman attached to it. I also wax my moustache, chin, and pluck between my eye brows, keeping my monobrow at bay. I wish I had the confidence of Frida Kahlo, Harnaam Kaur or Balpreet Kaur to wear my facial hair with pride. I have immense respect for the courage of Harnaam Kaur in particular. She gives me hope for a future where women don’t need strength and courage to make a simple choice not to remove body and facial hair. Although the first step for me is to not feel ashamed of my own in anyone’s company.
Far from extreme bullying Harnaam experienced, my own story is much more mundane. During my teenage years my self loathing was largely directed at my body hair. I hated the dark hair that grew on my legs, was distressed by the line of hair that connected my tummy button to my pubic hair, and shaved my underarms daily. I was obsessed with it, I felt ugly and undesirable nearly all the time. I was losing a war against my own body that never ended.
I spent hours a week shaving, for my legs were never as smooth as the venus advert promised (no, venus, you did NOT make me feel like a goddess). They were sandpaper rough within hours of a shave with a sharp razor. I needed to use a new razor head every time, which was every other day. I turned to waxing for a longer lasting option. Soon realising I couldn’t afford the full leg wax at the salon more that once every few months, I spent hours ripping the hair from my own legs, stomach and bikini line. It was painful, difficult and still fairly pricy. This method still wouldn’t leave me 100% smooth, but it would leave my legs red, splotchy and sore, and often they would bleed. A professional waxer once told me not to show my legs to the sun a for a few days after my wax because of the skin damage from the wax had left them extra sensitive. They would need waxing again only a week later. The ingrown hairs would cause red lumps all over my legs, despite my constant exfoliation.
My parents brought me an epilator for christmas. I was about 16 at the time, and they thought it was be a good gift, seeing how much I talked about hating my body hair. It caused me the most intense pain I have ever inflicted on myself. I would spend hours at a time sitting on my bedroom floor trying to get every hair with it, tears running down my face from the pain as I continued the torture, desperate to be hairless for more than a day. It didn’t work any better than waxing but was immensely more painful and slow. Yet I continued with it simply because it was free, all the methods I had chosen so far cost me a large percentage of the wages I got from my weekend waitress job.
Finally, I became aware of laser hair treatment. I was obsessed, I thought it would be my saviour, that it would magically “cure” my body of it’s unsightly hair affliction and I would finally win! I began buying lottery tickets with the sole purpose of being able to afford the treatment. I read blogs and magazine articles and the websites of laser hair clinics. I saved up my earnings and birthday money from relatives, but I soon realised it wouldn’t be close to enough. I read that people often need 10 treatments or more to be hair free, and even then it might not be perfect. I could only afford perhaps one or two treatments. Then I stumbled upon the Phillips at home laser hair removal system. This was back in 2008, it was priced at perhaps £600, and promised completely hairless results that lasted forever (I see now, looking at their latest model linked above, that claim has been drastically toned down to “up to 8 weeks hair free after the initial 4 to 5 treatments”). I was an undergraduate student by this point, but I took my measly savings and brought the device, with strong encouragement from my boyfriend at the time, who even suggested the regions I might like to use it on (he was an emotionally abusive asshole, but that’s a tale for another day).
I spent around two years beeping away with the tiny laser (about the size of a 5p coin) at my stomach and lower legs. The battery on it ran out after about half an hour (why the hell they made it battery powered I’ll never know), so I’d have to wait another hour for it charge up again before I could continue. I saw very little noticeable improvement in the density of my leg hair; I was still losing the war even with this very expensive weapon at my disposal. Not to mention I still had to shave (you use a laser on shaved legs to theoretically destroy the hair follicle). I ended up selling the system on eBay when I was short of cash, for £400 less than I had paid for it.
The thing that really gets to me is that all my experiences are typical. Thousands of girls and women could tell the exact same tale. All the pain, money and time we put in to removing body hair is so we appear normal.
A few years ago I watched a documentary on channel four called Hairy Women. It made me hate everyone. I hated men for demanding such high standards of beauty and for claiming to be revolted by any signs of body hair on their partners. I hated women for making each other feel disgusted and insecure, with one woman exclaiming “that’s revolting, its making me feel sick!” at the sight of her friend’s unshaven calf. I hated the hair removal industry for cashing in so well on this insecurity, and the porn and advertisement industries for setting the standards so high in the first place. It’s disturbing to me that young girls are taught that their bodies are disgusting from the start of puberty, and that they should go to costly, time-consuming and often painful measures or else everyone, men and women both, will find them repulsive. They were insecure enough already.
I can’t pinpoint the exact point in time when I stopped trying to remove my hair and embraced my body. It has been a gradual process, and I still have situations, like the bridesmaid one, where I remove all the hair that’s visible. It could be that my current sexual partner doesn’t ever act repulsed by my body, and doesn’t ever suggest I might want to change it, as previous partners have. It could be that I’m older, more self assured and confident. My main mantra is “I’m not trying to seduce anyone”, because after all, the only people I would want touching my beautiful legs are sexual partners, for anyone else my body hair affects them in no way whatsoever. This is the crux of the issue, in my opinion. Largely the repose I’ve had reflects that mantra.
Yes, I’ve had looks. Sometimes when I am talking to someone I see them notice my underarm hair and they will physically stop in shock, trying to process what they are seeing, before they carry on the conversation. I now find this pretty funny. I also have people, men usually, stare at my legs for longer than is appropriate. I want to laugh out loud at them and say “I’m sorry honey, didn’t you realise my legs could look just like yours?” (to be honest they might not, when we live in a world where women don’t even have leg hair in advertisements for hair removal products). No one asks me about it or says anything to me, either positive or negative. I like to think the world is largely indifferent to my personal choice to let my legs be, but I often see discussion online where people are disgusted by their own or other women’s body hair, some women get extremely defensive over their own choice to shave.
Tomorrow I go on my second beach holiday since I stopped shaving. The first one was with a close friend in a very remote part of South Africa, after a day or two in Cape Town. There weren’t many people around to comment on my legs, and my friend never once mentioned them. This time, it’ll be a busy and touristy part of Spain, with family. My sister has just text me to tell me she’s had her holiday wax. My legs say they’re looking forward to some well deserved time in the sun.
* I purposefully avoided discussion of pubic hair removal in this post, because it is a topic so often talked about in magazine articles. I think many women have an obsession with the whole topic because they are trying to figure out what is normal and what is expected of them. More and more often now they are coming to the conclusion that fully removing most of their pubic hair is the ideal thing to do. This is both dangerous and painful, and leads to a lot of heart ache and distress as it is pretty normal not to be able to keep an area of such thick and dense hair completely hair free. I also find it very creepy, as it is reminder of pre-pubescent bodies, a very dark undertone.
** Feature image taken from cathyrox.tumblr