I am blessed with dark hair, which means that body hair is very noticeable on my skin, in great contrast to my sister who has orban hair. I am also blessed with a lot of body hair, especially on my arms, all over my legs and even on places which, in the society I live in, is considered masculine.
I still remember the first time I shaved my underarms. When I was aged 12 or 13, I was getting ready at home to do a show at secondary school. I put on a red top with my underarms exposed, then my sister saw the accumulation of fine hair. I had never considered doing anything with them, but my sister insisted shaving them. It was implied that no one would ever want to see a young girl with bushes under her arms.
I don’t remember the first time I shaved my legs, but it must have followed suit after I felt like I had entered the world of womanhood by removing the unwanted bodily hair under my arms. So I wanted to continue maturing by getting rid of the hair which was (is) deemed unladylike.
Another problem I had, and still have (in society’s view), is facial hair. This obvious presence of dark hair on my face meant that children at secondary school bullied me. It made me feel extremely self-conscious, because, just like hair on the underarms, it is considered masculine for a woman to have a moustache.
So I went to Boots with my mum and for a while, I bleached the hair on my upper lip. It worked really well the first few times, but eventually I ended up with a blond moustache. Then I had it waxed and threaded, which I found absolutely horrible and I’ve never had it done again since.
As a result, I started shaving my upper lip, which eventually included my cheeks, chin and neck as I grew up in the tormenting years of puberty. I even had hair laser removal as a birthday present from my mother, for my seventeenth I think. It was less painful in comparison to waxing, but it only worked temporarily.
At the time, I wasn’t aware that removing body hair meant that I was conforming to society’s expectations of what men and women should look like in their bodily appearance. An example of this being enforced was when I used to read a young girl’s magazine, and there was a section where readers sent in questions. There was one reader who had the same problem as me, having facial hair, and she wanted advice in how to remove it. The reply from a writer stated that the reader should not shave her upper lip, as it would shock any boys who would kiss her and feel stubble.
I’m learning to love my body just as it is, even with the hair which I still feel self-conscious about. I guess being brought up in a society where gender ideals are both explicitly and implicitly imposed still makes me feel agitated about having a lot of body and facial hair, especially in how other people will view me.
However, I try not to let it bother me. After leaving secondary school, away from the bullying for good, I found that people are more accepting for who you are. I observed that other girls my age had facial hair as well. A lot of them were fair haired, so it wasn’t so noticeable as mine, but it made me realise that everyone, men and women, have hair on their face. A few people commented on my facial hair and recommended ways to remove it, but no one was malicious about it.
It wasn’t really until university that I started to understand that society and cultural expectations govern how we behave and perceive ourselves and others. What intrigued me most was about sex and gender. I originally used these terms in a fluid way, until I learnt that they are distinct from each other. Sex is how our bodies are biologically constructed, while gender is a cultural construct, how a man/woman should behave according to their sex.
So if we apply gender in terms of appearance, men generally have a lot of body hair, most notably on their face, chest and underarms. Women, on the other hand, are feminine because of the absence of hair from these parts of the body. If women have very little or no hair on their arms, legs and other areas, then they are considered feminine.
However, this is entirely ideological since, as I have already mentioned, most women do have hair over the majority of their bodies, and when they do remove these unwanted hairs, they are conforming to the ideals of femininity.
I am happy that many people are becoming more radical by arguing against the expectations of social conventions within their society. I have read articles by women about body hair removal, how they should not have to do it if they don’t want to. Hair removal is painful, costly and time consuming, especially since it only grows back again. The amount of times I have cut myself shaving in the shower has annoyed me, and has resulted in scars, a constant reminder that I am conforming to what society has dictated to women.
I admire the illustrations by Carol Rossetti, about what women should be able to do if they want, and not follow what society tells them to do. One of these illustrations portrays a woman who has decided not to shave, and the caption states that it’s her own body and no social conventions should dictate what she does with it.
However, I have never seen a woman in public anywhere who is acting against these expectations, on a visual basis. All the women I see with shorts and sleeveless tops on, in the gym and out and about, have no hair to show, or hair which is visible from a distance if they are fair haired. Most of these women have gone through the pains of hair removal to make sure that they look acceptable in the society in which they live, especially during the summer.
I believe though that once you have been accustomed to something for so long, it is difficult to change habits, especially when it is subverting how we are expected to act and behave. I was talking to my sister the other day about this blog when I was in the process of writing it. She said that she wouldn’t feel comfortable if she didn’t shave the areas she normally does, because she has always done it for as long as she can remember, and also how people would view her if she went out with hairy legs on show.
I’ve seen women post photos of themselves on the internet with long hairs on their legs and hair on their underarms, which I admire them for. However, the photographs I have seen were taken indoors, away from the public eye. I think it is easier to post these photos on the internet and confront the comments that way, rather than receiving direct verbal comments from those who object to women having body hair on show in public.
It would be much stronger way to get the message out if women went out in public with their hair proudly on show, that we should be able to let our hair grow if we wish to.
I am not objecting to those who do practice hair removal; it would be ironic if I did since I do it myself. Everyone has a choice to do what they want with their bodies and it is absolutely fine if you do remove body hair which you deem as unwanted, whatever sex/gender you are.
Like my sister, I have done it for so long, I would find it uncomfortable to stop doing it. I do like the smooth feeling of my legs when they just been shaved and I feel more comfortable when I have hairless legs, especially with shorts on during the summer months. My underarms suffer the most though during the summer, as I am self-conscious about having hairs on show in that area.
I shave my legs, underarms and my face (and pluck as well), and I have never touched the hairs on my arms, lower back or any other parts of the body where it is considered masculine. I guess that’s because I never have those parts on show (except for my arms of course). I have never worn a bikini and do not have the confidence to yet, due to my body weight and my body hair.
One day in the future, I will pluck up the courage to go out with noticeable hair on exposed body parts, just to see what sort of reaction I will get. Are people really more accepting of a woman’s choice in not removing body hair? Or is it still a taboo subject?
On a brighter note: I must admit that having dark hair does have its perks. I tan really well in the sun, and the hairs on my arms eventually turn blond if they are exposed for long enough. I also catch natural highlights in my hair, which my family and friends seem to like. I have never dyed the hair on the head, so I like to get a natural look during the summer.
Happy reading and blogging,