It's Not So Scary Being Hairy
A brief hair-story
Over the years, the acceptance of hair on women has fluctuated. The fashion industry launched marketing campaignsfrom the early 1900s that encouraged women to remove 'objectionable' body hair, namely their armpits, legs and pubic hair. There are now multiple ways in which women can remove their hair, including razors, wax strips, creams, epilators and laser hair removal.
What with social conditioning and the media depicting unrealistic beauty standards for women, it is unsurprising that so many women remove their naturally growing body hair for fear that keeping it somehow makes them less ladylike or feminine. Mintel's study in 2017 showed that 77% of women aged 16-24 remove their underarm hair and 85% remove leg hair. This is a smaller percentage than previous years, but still the majority of the younger female population are getting rid of their body hair. In the last couple of years, there has been a definite increase in body positivity and women defiantly growing their body hair, but it shouldn't be a political act to let nature do its job and there is still a very apparent stigma around the issue of body hair on women.
I was 14 years old when a male friend made a pointed remark about the hair on my thighs. I felt humiliated and vowed from there on to shave everything from the eyebrows down. I used to take forever in the shower, desperately trying to rid my body of its natural blanket. Despite my hardest efforts, I often missed a patch of hair and I was guaranteed to have a healthy layer of stubble coating my legs the next day. I felt inadequate for not being able to maintain smooth skin, which is ridiculous as femininity shouldn't be defined by the texture of skin.
I decided to stop shaving in January 2018. I can't remember there being an exact moment when I knew that's what I wanted to do. It was a general progression as I started to actively fight against societal pressures and tried to learn to accept and love my natural body. Some of my friends had stopped shaving and I tried to surround myself with body positive messages on social media as inspiration.
My hair was a beautiful accessory
It was difficult in the beginning because I wasn't used to being hairy. An unshaven woman is something that is rarely if ever shown or celebrated in the media. Instead, I was met with adverts for razors boasting that 'the smoother the skin the more comfortable you are in it' (Gillette Venus UK 2018). I found I felt the absolute opposite – the more my hair grew and I defied 'normal' beauty standards, the more accepting I was of my body and the more comfortable I felt in my own skin.
I made sure I never altered the way I dressed to try and hide my hair, instead I flaunted it. It was empowering to be unashamedly me. (Plus the rebel in me was clapping her hands in glee as it felt like I was breaking the rules #fightthepatriachy.)
To be honest, nobody really noticed unless I pointed it out. When I did, it was my female friends who were more shocked. Men didn't really care and if anything found it more attractive that I was taking ownership of my natural body. Women were supportive of my decision but expressed concerns about braving the unshaven look themselves because they felt uncomfortable, unclean, not confident or thought their hair was too dark to be beautiful.
I am a redhead so my hair is quite fair and am lucky that it is such a rich colour; I liked looking down at my hairy legs because I felt my auburn fur was a beautiful accessory. However it is time to bust some myths. I never once felt I was more dirty or smelly, even on the searing hot days we had last year. Hair grows on our bodies to try and prevent bacteria getting in and infecting or damaging us, so if anything I was probably cleaner during this period.
Hair-ving a nightmare
This wasn't completely without its challenges. I'd previously used hair removal cream a couple of times above my lip and on my chin. Unfortunately, when you do this it is more likely your hair will appear darker when it grows back which is what happened to me. Even though I embraced my body hair, I couldn't get to grips with the darker hair protruding from my chin. I also didn't realise until very recently that other women grow hair around their nipples. So whilst last year I let my razor collect dust in a drawer somewhere, I still plucked my areola and my chin.
This is a reflection of my own lack of self confidence, as I removed the hair out of shame and fear of my appearance being unacceptable. When it comes to removing body hair, we must make sure we have the right intentions behind the action and aren't doing it because we feel pressured or obliged to do so, or influenced by anyone else's ideas, decisions or will. We must only make changes and alterations to our bodies if we want to do it.
I would recommend everyone trying to grow their hair for a little longer than they would normally feel comfortable. This could be waiting an extra month or even couple of weeks before removing body hair, or focusing on one specific area to allow to grow out. I know there can be an itchy stage when hair starts to regrow but this doesn't last that long and moisturising usually helps to counteract the effects. I would also discourage permanently removing any body hair because forever is an unchangeable amount of time and no matter how certain you are right now that you don't want to keep your body hair, you truly do not know how you will feel in the future.
I recently had to shave my legs for an acting part. I initially fought this decision for a long time, but eventually agreed that for various reasons it was the right thing to do. After filming was over, I let my hair grow out again. Now, I can choose whether I want to grow my hair or get rid of it. I still don't shave my armpits and sometimes shave my legs because despite everything I've said it feels wonderful to stroke freshly shaved legs!
I like the freedom this decision has given me – I feel in charge of my body and my decisions, plus I save money on expensive hair removal products and don't have to ever worry about the panic shave before a last minute event or date because I just don't care anymore. I still have a way to go to be completely unapologetic about my appearance and my body hair. I feel this is a leap in the right direction to overthrowing unrealistic beauty standards and loving my own body. I won't be on this earth in any other skin so I'm trying not to waste any time being held back by the way I look.
© 2019 Phoebe Hopwood