Body hair and confidence

Photo by Brie Barbee

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

And that fact 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 any 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 out from under my arm (although for me, that was the reason I let the green grow out).

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 all over my body; This is my hair and this is where it grows naturally. I also don’t make a point to flaunt it or hold people down and rub it on them; I wear clothing where sometimes it sticks out of 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 middle-aged men), been told I have bad hygiene, that I look like a man, that I’m a crazy feminist, and a lazy millennial — only one of which I had ever experienced before I stopped shaving two years ago (hint: it rhymes with hazy centennial).

I’ve gotten to the point, especially now that it’s summer, where if I wear clothing where I know my body hair is going to be more obvious, I expect a few nasty remarks or glances. 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 quite thick, I still don’t wax or pluck.

Despite the constant barrage of opinions that I never ask for, I’m pretty confident about my body and about my hair. For me, having sensitive skin, which has reacted negatively to a lot of razors and shaving creams, not shaving my body hair has been surprisingly liberating. My skin retains much more moisture, 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). But I wasn’t always like that.

Since I first starting growing body hair, probably around age 12, I felt really embarrassed about it. I remember being about that age, bored out of my mind while my mom was shopping in some department store. It was summer, I remember 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 — I was the worst person in the world that day.

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

I was really embarrassed about my hair all through middle school and high school. The worst thing that could happen to me (which, in hindsight wasn’t really a big deal) was finding a long leg hair in the middle of a school day that I had somehow missed when I was shaving. I figured everyone was judging me and could tell exactly how inexperienced or inattentive I was about shaving my legs. It made me feel really undesirable, especially because my sensitive skin also prevented me from wearing a lot of makeup. I avoiding raising my arm too high during class, for fear of someone seeing the stubble under my armpits, despite the fact that I shaved them everyday.

It took me a long time to get rid of that mentality. I remember when I was still at PSU, waiting for the train one day after class. There was this girl sitting on the bench next to me. She was pretty and held herself very confidently; I really admired her. I quickly realized she had a TON of leg hair. It was really off-putting to me for a second, but realizing how much of a knee-jerk reaction that was, it made me start to think about women’s relationships to their body hair. I wouldn’t say that she convinced me to grow out my body hair, 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 to grow my hair out. 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 that I was saving money from not constantly replacing 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 body hair to anyone just then, and I wasn’t for a while. I didn’t personally care that I had hair, it didn’t make my armpits itchy or make me sweatier or anything, but I was really worried about the reactions I would get.

The first person who saw my leg hair was my aunt, when I swung by her house to pick something up. 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 back down before I walked into her house. But after I parked, I completely forgot. After so many months, it wasn’t a big deal to me, but I assumed it would be a big deal to someone else.

I’m pretty sure my aunt noticed my fuzzy legs right away, but she didn’t say anything. She mentioned something about my sandals or the weather, I don’t really remember, but she didn’t say anything positive, negative, especially negative, or otherwise about my 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 really care about me. Some of my family was skeptical about it, a lot of people asked me WHY, 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 say anything negative let me feel confident about myself much quicker.

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. The mentality behind female body hair is changing, for sure, but there are still a lot of people out there who would never consider not shaving or who are openly repulsed by the idea of women not shaving.

It was a hard decision for me to commit to, as I’m sure it is for many others out there who want to embrace their hair, and it weighed on my self confidence for quite a while. I know for some women, not shaving might seem like a non-issue, something that’s not really worth talking about, but for me, it was important to challenge my conceptions of femininity and find a way to be happy with my own body.

I don’t expect to conquer the world with my body hair (although that would be pretty awesome 🙃), I just want to be comfortable and confident in my own skin. And if feeling confident about my body hair and not letting rude remarks get to me helps another person feel confident in themselves, then that’s even better.

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