Body hair and confidence

I don’t wax or shave — at all. I trim the unrulier patches and cut the hair on top of my head, but if my body grows hair somewhere, I have hair there.

And that really bothers some people. Sure, my green armpit hair was weird, I won’t deny that, but no one said anything negative or gave me dirty looks when I dyed my head hair green. So, I’m inclined to believe that people were upset for my simply having armpit hair and not for the fact that it looked like a chunk of moss growing under my arm. (Don’t worry, it’s all brown now).

It shouldn’t be weird that I have body hair. It’s not like I’ve been stealing someone else’s hair and taping it on my body. This is my hair and this is where it grows naturally. I don’t make a point to flaunt it or hold people down and rub it one them: I wear clothing where sometimes it sticks out a little, but I’m not doing anything outlandish. I’m just existing — but with body hair.

And because of that hair, I’ve been given dirty looks (mostly by other women), been called undateable (mostly by older men), been told I have bad hygiene, that I look like a man, and that I’m a crazy feminist. It’s gotten to the point, especially now that it’s summer, that when I wear clothes where I know my hair is going to be more obvious, I expect a few nasty remarks or at least some grossed out looks.

I have pretty light leg hair, so that’s not usually the topic of discussion, but it has come up. So have my eyebrows, which despite being thick, I don’t wax or pluck (at least not anymore). 9 out of 10 times someone comments on my hair, its my armpit hair.

Despite the constant barrage of opinions I never ask for, I’m relatively confident about my body and about my hair. For me, having sensitive skin, which has reacted quite negatively to a lot of razors and hair removal creams, not shaving my body has been surprisingly liberating (not that it should matter). My skin retains more moisture than it used to, I don’t get any bumps or irritated spots, and I don’t have to fork over loads of money to constantly buy new razors, which is probably my favorite part. I like my hair.

But that wasn’t always the case. Since I first starting growing body hair, probably around age 12, I felt really embarrassed about it, which is true of a lot of people. I remember being about 12, bored out of my mind while my mom was shopping in some department store. It was summer, I was wearing a tank top, and like most moody pre-teens, I was slumping, moaning, and complaining about how much I didn’t want to be there.

But the thing that really stuck with me, as exasperated as I was, crossing my arms and holding them on the top of my head, was how embarrassed my mom and the other women in the store were about the few strands of brown hair I had under my armpits. My mom kept telling me to put my arms down and something about it not being “lady-like.” That hushed you’re-doing-something-wrong reaction she had to my body hair contributed to the attitude I had about my body hair for many years after that day.

I hated my hair all through middle school and high school. The worst thing that could happen to me and had the ability to ruin my whole day was finding a long leg hair in the middle of the school day that I had somehow missed when I was shaving. I assumed everyone was judging me and could tell exactly how inexperienced or inattentive I was about shaving. It made me feel ugly and undesirable, especially because my sensitive skin also prevented me from comfortably wearing a lot of makeup. I avoided raising my arms too high during class for fear of someone seeing the stubble under my arms, despite the fact that I shaved every day.

It took me a long time to get rid of that mentality. I remember when I was still in college, waiting for the train one day after class. There was another young woman sitting on the bench next to me. She was pretty and held herself really confidently. I quickly realized she had a TON of leg hair. It was really off-putting to me for a second, but I quickly realized how much of a knee-jerk reaction I was having. It made me start to think about women’s relationship to their body hair and how I wouldn’t have been put off if this person had been a man. I wouldn’t say she convinced me to grow out my body hair (after all I didn’t even talk to her), but she definitely proved to me that day, whether she realized it or not, that you could be beautiful and have body hair.

Shortly after that, I started growing out my own hair. Unlike most things, it was super easy to do: I just had to stop shaving. Right away, I noticed how much faster my showers were and how much money I was saving by not constantly needing to replace my razors. I also didn’t have to worry about any stray hairs or uneven patches, I could just let my body do what it had been trying to do since I was 12.

But I wasn’t ready to jump into my swimsuit or a tank top and show off my hair to just anyone, and I wasn’t for a while, almost a year. I didn’t personally care that I had body hair, it didn’t make my armpits itchy or sweatier or anything, but I was really worried about the reactions I would get.

The first person who say my leg hair was my aunt, when I went by her house to pick something out. It was warm out, and I had rolled up the legs of my jeans. Even after growing my hair out all winter, I was actually planning on rolling the legs of my pants back down before I walked into her house. I didn’t assume she would be rude or anything, I just didn’t want to deal with it coming out like that.

But as I got out of my car, I completely forgot. After so many months, it was no longer a big deal to me, but I assumed it would be for everyone else. I’m pretty sure my aunt noticed my fuzzy legs right away, but she didn’t say anything. She mentioned something about my shoes or the weather, I don’t really remember, but she didn’t say anything, positive, negative, or otherwise about my leg hair. And that was a really big relief.

As I would soon find out, the only people who did criticize my body hair were people who didn’t even really know me. Some of my family was skeptical about it, a lot of people asked me why I was doing it, but the reactions from my friends and family were minimal. I wouldn’t have started shaving again, even if my family had started making snarky comments, because I liked it, but the fact that they didn’t let me feel confident about myself more easily.

Now I don’t really think about it much — and apparently neither do the 1 in 4 millennial women who don’t shave their armpits, either. The mentality behind female body hair is changing, for sure, but there are still a lot of people who would never consider not shaving or are openly repulsed by the idea of women not shaving.

That doesn’t make any sense to me. Like much about the way we present ourselves, there are a wide variety of likes and preferences when it comes to our appearances, especially for women. Shave or don’t shave, it shouldn’t make a difference, but for some reason, it does. Having body hair weighed on my confidence for a while, but so did the constant pressure to shave.

It doesn’t matter to me if other women shave or don’t, I just want to be happy in my own body and I want other people to feel the same. And if me not caring about my leg and armpit hair now convinces someone that hair is a normal part of our bodies (which it is) like that woman at the train station did for me, that’s even better.

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