Let me preface this post with the following disclaimer: I am in no way preaching, advocating for, or proposing any sort of beauty regimen, hygienic standard, or lifestyle.
I am a feminist who hates body hair. There, I said it. I am a card-carrying, rally-attending, petition-signing feminist who is mildly disgusted by any hair that is not on the head. Which is unfortunate, because at every event that I attend, and every time I log onto Tumblr, I am bombarded with images of (mostly) young women showing off their long and growing armpit and leg hair to loudly and proudly display their antipathy toward societal norms, gender roles, and the patriarchy.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all about challenging the aforementioned constructs and constraints of our misogynist and homophobic culture. I am completely in favor of bodily autonomy. I of course recognize that the expectation put upon women to be hairless is sexist. However, I cannot shake the feeling of revulsion when someone finds it necessary to post a photograph of themselves flaunting their unshaven body parts. And I also can’t ignore the sting of contempt when a fellow feminist questions my politics and my identity, and tells me that I’m buying into a patriarchal standard of beauty just because I like to wax, shave, and tweeze. I’m not trying to get the most out of the Male Gaze; I just happen to like the feeling of smooth skin.
Now, before you all write me off as a hypocrite or a faux feminist (faux-menist?), I should make it clear that it’s not just female body hair that bothers me. I’m not a fan of it on men either. From what I’ve experienced, men tend to not shave their body hair for the exact reason that women are expected to: it is perceived as masculine. When a man has a hairy face, hairy chest, and hairy arms, I guess the image that is supposed to come to mind is the primitive hunter, full of aggressive testosterone, and ready to take on a wild animal with only a spear.
We’ve evolved (well, some of us, anyway). Since the vast majority of us have shelter, clothing, heat, and other essentials of living, we no longer need body hair to keep us warm. So why do we cling to it? The women that I’ve spoken to confirmed that it was a combination of personal choice and political reasons. The men that I’ve spoken to have said that they don’t shave because it’s natural and they don’t want to remove it. It should be noted that most of these men said that they preferred their female sexual partners to remove their body hair, so I suppose that this makes them hypocrites.
Most of my issues surrounding body hair isn’t really rooted in the hair itself. It’s more to do with the consequences of not removing body hair. Particularly armpit hair. Most of the people who don’t shave their armpits claim that they have never had an issue with sweating and the resulting lingering stench of sweat. Right. Hate to break it to you, but you’re wrong. It doesn’t matter how often you shower (or say you shower), and it doesn’t matter what type of deodorizing antiperspirant you wear. When you have unshaven armpits, when you sweat, the smell lingers. For days. And you should also know that it seeps into your clothes.
Which brings me to a short, but related tangent. You know those people who ask everyone around them not to wear perfumes, body sprays, scented oils, et cetera, because the smell bothers them and they get migraines? Why is acceptable for them to ask that we not use these products for their comfort, but it’s somehow not acceptable for us to request that they shower and apply deodorant for our comfort? I was at a performance two years ago (“The Femme Show” in case anyone was interested), and I was seated next to a woman whose body odor was so strong I almost asked my friend to switch seats with me. Oh, I can’t ask you to take care of your B.O. because it infringes on your rights to bodily autonomy? Well, you’re infringing on my right to enjoy the show without gagging. But I digress.
I’m certainly not condemning those who choose not to remove their body hair. It’s a personal decision. I get it. For those of you who make the decision to be hairy as a political statement, stick to your guns and make some positive changes in your communities and in the world at large. I’ll be fighting the patriarchy right there beside you. But I’ll be doing it with smooth legs and hair-free, stench-free pits.