I haven’t shaved for quite a while now. It started with a lazy winter, when I found it unnecessary to shave my legs. But with hairy legs and all I thought it was weird that I still shaved my armpits, so the razor went on indefinite hiatus.
Up until college, I was always careful about shaving. I wouldn’t dare be caught with hairy armpits and legs in gym class. I’ve used razors, at-home waxing kits, that weird Schick Intuition thing, and even tweezers. The results were always less than satisfying; I always got razor bumps and the stubble seemed to come back the next day. I was never buttery smooth like the girls in Teen Vogue.
Countless falls and slips in the bathtub trying to shave my legs in awkward positions, the amount of time wasted in the bathroom, the cost of razors - it all started to seem pointless. As a broke college student, it was easy for me to ditch the blades and go au naturel.
I recently went on a short excursion with friends to the Jersey Shore. After enjoying the beach, I went against my usual instinct and went on the boardwalk to grab something to eat. After about fifteen minutes and seven t-shirt stores, we finally settled on a cheap pizza place. I’m not a fan of pizza (hold your comments) so I stood around as the rest of my friends ate. There was a group of high schoolers sitting near us, and I couldn’t help but notice that one of the girls kept looking over at me. I must have reached up to scratch my head or fix my hair or something, because the next thing I know, the girl’s eyes widened in a look of utter disgust.
“EWWWW,” she yelled, as if I just gave birth from my ear canal. She gawked at me, as intelligent and discreet observers often do, with her jaw literally touching her collarbone. She proceeded to talk loudly to her friend about the hair under my arms and its unspeakable grossness. I was close enough to see the pizza in her braces, so I heard everything.
When I stopped shaving, I knew that people weren’t going to like it; but the fact that this girl didn’t practice the basic etiquette of waiting until the subject is off the premises to shit talk blew my mind. Are people that inconsiderate? Have your opinions, but don’t sit in front of my face with your mouth wide open like you’re going to eat me.
Bothered, I angrily recounted the incident to my boyfriend. His short response, though a bit biting for me, was something I wish I could tell myself 100% of the time: “It’s just f*cking hair. You shave it or you don’t shave it.”
Knowing that most people have negative attitudes towards hairy women, I’m still not completely comfortable wearing tank tops everywhere and raising my arms in public. It's also a result of growing up in a society that's been pressuring me to shave since 5th grade health class. I feel perfectly normal at school where there are more than a handful of natural ladies, but almost anywhere else I’m a practitioner of alien standards. While I have bushy friends who don’t even think about it, I can’t help but be conscious of my decision after being called out so publicly and personally. I consider my sensitivity to be my biggest personality flaw; this issue of body hair is something that isn’t supposed to bother me, but it does. And it bothers me that it bothers me.
While hair removal is a practice dating back to the cavemen and Cleopatra, removing underarm hair became part of the modern American social standards when the sleeveless dress came into popularity around 1915. Today’s commercial porn, drug store aisles, and teen magazines show that majority of American women and men still stand by these feminine beauty standards. Whenever the tabloids feature photos of fuzzy celebrities on the red carpet, the headlines include words like ‘Disaster’, ‘Forgot To Shave’, and ‘Nasty’. (Remember the photos of fuzzy-pitted Julia Roberts waving from the red carpet in 1999?) When I chose to stop shaving, I accepted the fact that some people will use these words against me. My emotional sensitivity is constantly clashing with my own ideals of feminine beauty.
Even so, I don’t intend on changing my lifestyle anytime soon; I will never enjoy shaving and I’m quite fond of my hairy pits. But given my overly analytical nature, I often question the significance of my armpit hair. Is it a political statement? An attempt to defy social norms? An eyesore to fellow subway commuters? Or is it really “just f*cking hair”? While I ponder this hairy matter, I will continue to do what I do best; not shaving and spending a lazy, college summer spooning my dog and watching Law and Order: SVU marathons.
Illustration by Erina Davidson