Tuesday, January 21, 2014

On Body Hair and Body Acceptance

I recently had a group conversation online about body hair. It started out the way these conversations usually go - someone admits to having a problem with "excess hair", others gradually start to chime in, and by the end of it everyone's saying "I thought I was the only one!"

This isn't always the scenario. Sometimes you're alone in a group of friends while they're talking about how they saw a woman today with unshaved armpits and how "gross" it was. You're just glad you're wearing a shirt with sleeves, because you don't always shave. Do they think I'm gross? you wonder.

This has come up for me even as part of the blogging world. All of the pictures of lingerie models I come across don't show any body hair. I look at pictures and feel vaguely out of place and even ashamed, because... that's not me.

Sometimes I shave my armpits. And sometimes I go weeks or more without shaving them. I like the feel and don't mind the look of fuzzy armpits, so I don't see a reason to always keep them shaved. That's just me. When I was on a swim team, I shaved a lot more because of practicality.

We have society today telling us that we should - we must - shave "excess" body hair. Ideally, according to some, we need to be completely hairless besides the hair on our heads. This was illustrated to me when once in the company of a (hairy, I might add) guy who expressed loud shock and disgust at the joking suggestion of a female friend that "we girls should participate in No-Shave November, too!" Apparently the thought of a woman with body hair was horribly disgusting to this guy.

Spoiler alert: most of us aren't completely hairless.

I shave my legs below the knee because I tend to like the way it looks and feels. I shave my armpits periodically mostly because of societal pressure. Even the minor backlash I got when one of my blog pictures was misappropriated and posted on a joke-type site (most comments were about how I must've had a breast augmentation, but others were focused on my armpit stubble) has made me nervous about showing any underarm hair in blog pictures.

Truth be told, some of us are just prone to more body hair than others. Certain ethnic groups are. I have pale, sensitive skin and generally dark body hair. In general, shaving tends to irritate my skin.

I apparently inherited my Welsh great-grandfather's awesome dark, full eyebrows, so I pluck and shape them.
(thanks, g-grandpa)
I chopped off my hair to donate and have kept it very short for over two years. I still have acne, even as a woman in my 20's. I have pockmarks and get random hairs on my face and have a thin, white scar under my lip from an injury suffered as an infant.

That's me.

If someone prefers things like smaller breasts, less body hair, long hair, or no tattoos in a significant other, that's great - but it doesn't make it okay for them to make body-shaming comments like "More than a handful is a waste", "Short hair is unfeminine", "People with armpit hair are disgusting", "People with tattoos are trashy".

Some women have dark body hair, facial hair, hair on their toes, hair on their thighs and/or butt and/or pubic region, hair on their stomach or chest or back. Some don't. Some women prefer to remove body hair. Some don't. And either way is great. Whatever we decide to do (or not do) with our body hair - that's okay. And whatever others decide to do - that's okay too.

Other posts and articles on the subject:
Voluptuously Thin
Arched Eyebrow
Article from Global Indian about Balpreet Kaur
American Apparel store mannequins
Woman with PCOS participates in No-shave November 


  1. GREAT post! I too totally rock the hairy pits once and awhile. Sometimes you just have to embrace the hair. I keep up with my eyebrows, legs, and bikini area, but I don't feel like body hair is a super big deal, and always find it refreshing when I see a pretty gal (like yourself) rocking some body hair. Refreshing! So amny men and women act as if body-hair on women in gross or wrong. Hello people, we're mammals, we were born with hair on our bodies. I also agree re: body shaming. I think most times people don't realize what they're doing. But it's never okay to build up one body while knocking down another. I've heard the "more than a handful is a waste" thing many times right when I was in the room, and it seriously makes me feel disrespected and makes me feel a bit insecure at those times. I imagine the same things happens to small breast women when people say ignorant things about smaller chests. Body snark just makes me sad. Period.

  2. I went to an all girls high school where it was normal to only shave your knees to just above your skirt hemline. We wore knee socks mostly and tended to have very hairy calves.

  3. Awesome post. I once read some story about how in the Renaissance (and later) era, young men would see the near hairless ladies in the paintings, and they just assumed that women were like that.. and then on their wedding nights were shocked to discover that their brides do have a 'full bloom' down under and were 'horrified' that they were as hairy as men in those regions.. so even back in the days of "ye olde tymes" media and art were spreading misinformation and unreasonable expectations!

  4. Very interesting! I have been seeing many of my customers with grown out underarm hair, and to me it just seemed natural. I was actually kind of excited, as it takes the pressure off for shaving the pits every day and drying my skin right out...

  5. Thank you for writing this! Seriously. I've taken a bit of an unplanned blogging break because I'm struggling with some body-image issues as of late. Reading posts like this really helps me to move past that and try to, yanno, get back on the blogging horse.

  6. I want to chime in as a part time blog stalker. I agree that hair has a lot of underlying societal norms that are hard to break for both male and female. I want to thank you for pushing against them and not letting peer pressure push you into doing something that you don't feel is not only not necessary but completely cosmetic. For years I felt that not shaving regularly would lower my worth as a woman, that I would be considered man-ish, though now that I'm older I realize that I don't care and that it isn't true. I'm just as girly as I want to be, mustache and all.
    When I was first dating my husband I would apologize about being hairy and his was response was great for me. He would say, "Your human, you have hair and it grows. Sometimes its darker sometimes it lighter." It took a long time for me to realize that yeah, we are human. We are hairy, and no matter how much I shave, its coming back. Now I have a more comfortable habit of shaving which is when I want not when I feel like I should. People around me can deal with my fuzzy pits. I shave more in the summer because of sweating (I live in the south) but I don't prevent myself from wearing a sleeveless shirt because I have 4-5 day old stubble. I do remind myself all the time though, people have hair there too, its not weird. They body is not weird!
    Again, go you! Rock on!

  7. I've really gotten into the body-hair discussion a lot lately. Just the other day, Cosmo magazine posted a story about an American Apparel store in NYC that put mannequins with merkins (pubic hair) on display. Virtually ALL of the comments were, from girls and guys alike, "Ew! That's disgusting." or "That's completely unnecessary." or even, "I don't want my kids to see that!". Meanwhile, I personally feel that pubic hair, and ANY body hair, is completely healthy and natural. I think the biggest misconception is that if we have "excess" or "unwanted" body hair, then we're "unclean/dirty". Though I shave my legs and underarms regularly because I like the feel, I totally accept the rest of my body hair and only do minor trims once in a while. I always joked in high school about how I have/had more arm hair than the quarterback of the football team, haha.

  8. Back in high school a girl friend stopper shaving her arm pits and she suddenly became the focus of some very disturbing comments, which I won't repeat here as they are simply offensive. I couldn't figure out then why so many class mates were so upset with her. She had light blonde hair and the sight of her armpits was not all that noticeable. It was almost that others had a sort of radar that caused them to respond to someone who was different.
    The comments and teasing and bullying was relentless as though she was a freak or worse. Haven't thought about it for a while as it upsets me just thinking about it. The girls were as bad as the guys. Myself I like the feel of smooth legs but I would never put someone through what my friend went through, never ever.

  9. I'm one of those obsessive de-hairing women, and I wonder if I would be less so if I hadn't grown up with so much societal pressure to be hairless. We are told from a very young age that hair is bad, and this is ridiculous. Body hair is perfectly natural, and everyone has it to some degree. I would love to be comfortable au-naturel, as I am naturally quite hairy, pale skin and dark hair, so staying smooth takes a lot of time. I don't think it helped that I used to be a swimmer, and in that sport body hair is always removed, even for most men. The strange thing is I never hold other people to the same standards as myself, so although I wouldn't wear a skirt without epilating my legs, it doesn't bother me with other people.
    I am lucky in that my partner is very relaxed, and doesn't mind one way or another. He can't understand why I won't just relax about it, and is always telling me that I'm no less attractive when I have stubble! Hopefully the message will get through eventually.
    My former work supervisor was awful though. He was very hairy himself, but refused to be intimate with his wife unless she's been to the salon first and waxed! And he used to make snide comments about a colleague who had some facial hair, even in earshot.

  10. I feel exactly as you predicted: "Yay! I'm not alone!". To me body hair removal is kind of like makeup. Sometimes I want to and other times I can't be bothered. I'm still convinced I'm harrier than most, which comes with its own struggles, but most of the time I don't care what people think.

  11. Thanks so much for this article. Reading this post and the comments are really hitting home for me.