An Ode to Our Hairy Feminist Selves

Earlier today I realized that I’d been seriously entertaining the notion of shaving my armpits. This is pretty significant for me. It’s rare that I even have the impulse, and I haven’t gone through with it since my senior year of college. With that one exception, I haven’t shaved them since I was 16 or so.

Naturally, my first step was to tweet.

One of my friends, bless her heart, responded thusly:

Well, isn’t the bottom line of feminism doing whatever the hell you want? Shave em, baby. Trust me, it’ll grow back if you dislike.

Could it really be that simple? Is shaving, which I know is linked with standards of fashion and propriety, just another choice? All too often I see women recoiling in horror from the spectre of the feminist as hairy lesbian and I want to say you’re not doing me any favors! There’s actually nothing wrong with being a hairy lesbian, either!

And let’s not forget–my hairy feminist self got me into college.

My senior year of high school, when thousands of kids across the country were writing college essays about the World Trade Center (and, if Gilmore Girls is to be believed, Hillary Clinton), I wrote about the moment I realized I didn’t have to shave my legs.

Laugh all you want, but I’m betting that essay made me stand out a little. And really it’s a metaphor for choice in a broader sense, which is, of course, at the heart of feminism. Embracing my own beauty standards has always made me feel awesome. I like knowing that what I wear and how I present my body are about what I think is beautiful, or strong, or fun–not what I think will snag me a man. (Of course, I do occasionally think about attracting other queers, usually lesbians, but that’s sort of another story.)

So what’s behind the sudden urge to be shorn?

It’s hot. Boston is rapidly approaching what will soon feel like an endless stream of sticky days and nights. In between job interviews I’m going to be trying to stay as cool as possible. And sometimes I might even feel like wearing something without sleeves.

That time when I shaved back in high school? I did that because one of my “dressy” outfits included a tank top, and I wanted to wear it to a semi-formal dinner involving my mother. And my mother doesn’t think seeing anyone’s hairy armpits at dinner is awesome. (At the time I remember actually being a little disappointed that I didn’t get a cookie or anything for Being The Good Daughter, but I was also a cranky teenager, so what can you do.)

And, dog help me, suddenly I agree with her.

It’s not that I suddenly think anyone’s pit hair is gross–I’m still quite fond of mine, and it’s entirely possible I’ll miss it so much I’ll grow it right back again. And I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone else what they could or couldn’t wear to the dinner table. (I do reserve the right to tell everyone about it via Twitter, though.)

But I want to be able to wear what I want in public and feel comfortable. For now that means shaving my armpits. It also means having hairy legs, and sometimes leaving my tattoo showing, and sometimes showing up to an interview looking like I walked out of an Eddie Bauer catalog, and sometimes wearing board shorts with a bikini top, and sometimes taking my baseball cap off when I’m indoors.

So here’s to us and our feminist bodies, whatever they may look like.


4 Responses to An Ode to Our Hairy Feminist Selves

  1. Gabriella says:

    Baby Girl…. the heat not only makes things hot it makes things smell… I shaved my armpits today because I smelled so bad i did not want to walk into the bar and spread my bo/kiwi sent to everyone. It is ok to shave or not shave… what is best is to be okay with yourself when you have more hair than you want.. or less hair than you want (sometimes referred to as an infant vagina). The most important thing is to wear tank tops when you are hairy (people need to see what is natural i am convinced) and wear tank tops when you are you. Whatever you decide to do you will be you through the entire thing.. do not feel the pressures of wanting to fit into some sort of category because then you are going against everything you stand for. Stand for you and stand for you well.

  2. annajcook says:

    I, also, identify the not-shaving-my-legs moment as one of my early political feminist moments. All through my teens I blew off shaving my legs because it seemed tedious; then I discovered it was POLITICAL and that made it even more awesome :). I definitely went through my “you can’t be a feminist if you shave” period, which maybe lasted six months.

    Now I’ve become less dogmatic in my old age . . . I shave my armpits (though I haven’t always) and don’t shave my legs (never started).

    And I’m still taken aback by how visceral peoples’ reactions to body hair is, and how quickly it becomes identified with gender, sexuality, cleanliness, and social grace.

  3. […] Reading through feministe’s Shameless Self Promotions Sunday post lead me to realize I’m not the only one who choose to write about hair this week – awesome! It was fun to read this post after finishing my own and see such a similar thought […]

  4. ladyzekis says:

    Awesome! The last time I shaved my pits was for my wedding day, a little over a year ago, and I almost regret it (how awesome would that over-the-head bouquet toss photo have been?). It’s been almost two years since I shaved my legs, and many more for the bits. My last boyfriend did coerce me to shave, and not surprisingly, it didn’t work out – but my husband can’t stand the thought of my shaving! Yes, these men exist!

    I also tend to not wear tank tops to work, but I have started testing grocery store trips and such. It’s sometimes uncomfortable, but always empowering. It might be that I live in a liberal town, or that I have fairly blond body hair, but I don’t generally notice looks of horror from people.

    It’s important to be happy with your situation, but I like the thought that I could be showing other women that it’s OK to not shave your underarms and legs – you can still be professional, intelligent, feminine, hard-working, sexy, etc., and save a little money on hygiene equipment!

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