The title might seem to be a strange thing to declare, but I honestly thought I was a pro-body hair activist for a while. I just happened to be an odd body hair activist who didn’t like to show off my body hair because I didn’t want to stand out as being much more unusual than I already was.
Not that I mind my body hair, but it does still feel a bit awkward to stand out even more obviously by wearing sleeveless shirts. I’ve never shaved my legs regularly so I don’t particularly think about them potentially standing out.
From the journal entry I first quoted here:
One of the Amazon reviews of a book about girls and Autism talked about how the book made a big point of parents making their daughters do things like shave their legs lest they be teased. I agree that if someone doesn’t realize that shaving is a social norm then they should be told (so they can make an informed decision), but not everyone wants to shave their legs. Not everyone can handle the scratchy growing-in phase or the actual sensation of shaving.
Also, I was never [to my knowledge] teased about not shaving my legs. I’ve had people ask about it – particularly in high school, but most of the reactions I’ve gotten have been positive. Several older women confided in me that they wished they’d never even started shaving their legs because they felt, after beginning, that they couldn’t really ever stop.
I understand now that I have a certain amount of privilege in not being teased for letting my legs be hairy. My body hair isn’t extremely noticeable, I’m of a fairly average size, and I’m white. I’ve gathered, from listening to people who are not all of those things, that those aspects of myself make it less socially unacceptable for me to leave my body hair alone.
I started shaving under my arms when I was in middle school. A friend at the swimming pool commented about my armpit hair and asked why I didn’t shave. After I went home and asked my mom the same question, she got me a safety razor. Thus began years of painful shaving, stubble, and burning deodorant under my arms.
For some reason, even though I had seen my mom shave her legs regularly, I never bothered with mine. The leg area was much greater than the armpit area and that particular ritual seemed to be a pointless waste of time to me. The hair was sparse already so it would’ve provided diminished rewards for time spent.
Anyhow, as an adult I finally stopped shaving under my arms and for the longest time I figured I must be a body hair activist. After all, the only women I knew of who didn’t shave were activists who wanted to show the world that body hair was fine. Now, I don’t disagree with the premise at all! I believe that body hair is fine and it should be a personal choice what individual people do with their own body hair. I’m cool with other people shaving or not – whatever works for them.
My initial conclusion made sense to me: I acted like a body-hair activist by not shaving, I agreed with body hair activists’ premise, therefore, I must be one too.
A group that I could fit in with and find support from!
But the body hair activists I know are also proud of their body hair and show it off fairly obviously whenever they get a chance to. Because they’re activists and they want to change the world and the perception of women’s body hair – something that I’m in favor of, but still have a difficult time participating in.
So, eventually, I came to discover, that I’m not a body hair activist after all. I don’t have the energy to deal with standing out even more than I already do or to care what other people do or don’t do with their body hair. At the same time, I fully support the movement to normalize body hair so that women have more choices.
I also care that I’m not doing something that’s agonizing just because it’s a socially expected norm. In addition to that, I wish to avoid modeling to my daughters that it’s acceptable for anyone to put themself through distressing rituals soley because society at large expects them to.
It’s not even just the shaving itself that’s painful, but the prickly growing-back-in phase is also intolerable. So, for many years I
shaved put myself through torture daily just so I wouldn’t have to experience that horrible prickly feeling under my arms. But, once I waited long enough, the hair became soft and fluffy, which doesn’t cause me any sensory issues* at all.
I eventually discovered that not-shaving is also quite necessary in order to lessen my sensory and responsibility load so that I can be more functional in other, infinitely more vital, self-care areas such as oral hygiene.
Although I’ve determined that I’m not one, I’m still incredibly grateful for body hair activists. The result of their hard work is that those like me, who are unable to shave without experiencing extremely unpleasant sensory overload and reduced effectiveness in other areas of life, can be more confident in our necessary, self-protective choices.
*Some people do have sensory issues with long armpit hair and must shave – this is just my story.