Four months. That’s how long I went without shaving my armpit hair, and no, my intent wasn’t derived from my feminism, but rather my laziness. It wasn’t some form of political art, instead I simply had no need to shave, nor care to.
I should probably admit, before I am heckled to flaunt my fur, I have, recently shaved. I found myself sweating too often, and gray is a huge part of my wardrobe palette. Nonetheless, my short-lived love affair with my armpit hair surprisingly helped further my understanding of body positivity and being a woman.
I’m pretty sure it was winter when I stopped shaving, or at least it felt like it, because my nipples were always hard—I’m also from Los Angeles—but every day I donned a new turtleneck. Unless I was changing in front of my friends, no one saw my armpits, or they weren’t looking. I too forgot about them, that is until I was having my shirt taken off by a boy who I finally let hit it, which was a regret in itself.
As the collar of my crop top raised past my chin, I immediately remembered the array of curls that were sprouting from my underarms. “Woah, what the fuck.” Yeah. The way you said it in your head, was exactly how it sounded. I wish I had some quick-witted retort, but honestly I just fell silent. A small chuckle escaped my lips as my arms fell to my side. And despite how buoyant my breasts looked in my new bralette, the moment and my usual high self-esteem were already thwarted.
Another boy-thing in my life made note of my armpit hair by asking, “Can I touch it?” I simply replied, “No, touch your own.” My patience for bullshit had grown a lot shorter. As disappointment swept onto his face, disinterest swept even faster onto mine.
The former experience wasn't ideal, but neither was the latter. The excessive fetishizing of my body hair as something to be touched, explored, and observed was completely unnecessary. Surely shaving has become some “norm” considering the stylistic choice arose around the 1920’s, “After a perfect storm of sleeveless dresses and a barrage of advertisements by depilatory makers characterized underarm hair as ugly,” according to the New York Times. Still, this hyper sense of exoticism or revulsion towards it is both idiotic and ironic. Men, who naturally sprout even more, have significantly less pressure to polish their bodies.
Each day women have grooming standards fed to them via razor commercials featuring white clean-shaven legs, pointed toes, and petite calves. We are thereby told to follow suit. In an excerpt from Rebecca Herzig’s Plucked: A History of Hair Removal, she said, “More than 99 percent of American women voluntarily remove hair, and more than 85 percent do so regularly, even daily.”
Even after both of these boys, and all of these commercials, my personal pivotal moment occurred with my mother. As I flaunted my armpits on my brother’s Snapchat, my mother interrupted exclaiming, “Lewis do not publish that! It's embarrassing to our family!” Yes, I previously have done plenty to embarrass my family, but possessing the body hair that my mother birthed me with was not one of them.
That was when I fully realized my pits, even if it wasn't my intent, had the power to be political. She shouted words like “disgusting” and “manly” and my words of “feminism” and “choice” didn't resonate with her as hard as her insults had with me. As I stood clad in a bodycon dress, with all of my curves very visually representing my femininity, my mother argued that by possessing armpit curls, I was therefore stripped of that claim. In an article published in Everyday Feminism, an online magazine, journalist Ellen Kate wrote, “Today, body hair is such a public and visible identifier of a person’s gender that even the hint of it in unexpected places, or the lack of it where it is assumed to grow, can affect how feminine or how masculine someone is perceived to be.”
I assured my mom my hair had absolutely no affect on anyone else, or my womanhood and still she stood grounded in her beliefs. I kept thinking, how is this even an argument? Hadn't we as women all learned that grooming is entirely at the discretion of each self? Hadn't we realized beauty standards were created by men to categorize, dehumanize, and shrink us? This was especially hard to hear from my mother who taught me about feminism, strength, and loving myself. Here I was, trying to own all three and something as simple as body hair stopped me.
Even after apologies, I was left unsettled with myself and my worth. It felt like every time my arms rose above my head, I was completely conscious of what hadn't bothered me before. It wasn't even until writing this that I realized maybe it was more than just my sweat glands causing me to cut my underarm mane. But the minute I shaved, I already missed this intimate cohort. As I look at them now, as they’re beginning to resprout and reshape, I consider calling my mom to complete that conversation. Maybe I’d tell her how my body hair has become an integral part of my feminine identity. Maybe I’d explain how femininity is a spectrum. Maybe eventually I’d change her mind. I've never been a “perfect feminist,” but the word has started to hold more weight on my tongue.
Desi artist Ayqa Khan, who depicts women of color with body hair on her Tumblr, spoke in an interview with Dazed Magazine saying, “I'm not trying to promote the acceptance of it, I'm trying to show that it’s not something that needs to be accepted because most of us are born with it. It is a human’s most natural state.” It's just hair and we all have some somewhere, right?