So, it's my grandmother's 90th birthday on Saturday. In preparation for the occasion, I've bought a new dress, given myself a pedicure, and booked a hair appointment. However there's one thing I have resolved not to do for the party, much as I want to - and that's remove the hair from my legs and armpits. After 2 months of not shaving, my body hair is about 3/4 of an inch long, and getting longer by the day. My armpits look decidedly European, or at least the way European armpits looked before the pressure to defuzz took over German and Spanish women's lives too. My legs look a little masculine, but mostly as I said before, they just look untidy. I'm not going to be mistaken for a yeti or even a man any time soon, seeing as I'm 5'2", unmuscly, and have a visible bustline and long hair. So far, so many fears allayed. I've been out in public wearing shorts and sleeveless tops, been to the gym in a vest and raised the weights high above my head without shame, gone swimming, socialised, had sex, and absolutely nothing different has happened. No comments, no looks, no partner hiding behind the bed with a rapidly deflating erection at the sight of my body in its natural state.
It all sounds so positive - and yet. And yet, the fact remains, I bloody hate the way my hairy legs and pits look, and am absolutely itching to wax them, to hear that ripping sound, to watch as the hairs are torn out by their bulbous black roots in one satisfying tear, and most importantly, to see my skin smooth again.
But, I'm resisting, because I'm trying to get to the bottom of why I think my legs and pits are only beautiful when hairless. If no one else cares (and even if they did, it certainly shouldn't be the controlling factor in my appearance), then why do I? Because, I suspect, the conditioning that women are only attractive when shaved, waxed and plucked, goes very deep. 2 months just isn't long enough to undo 27 years of smooth-legs propaganda, of watching my mum, aunts, cousins and female friends determinedly and ritualistically rid themselves of body hair, of having preceisely zero role models who have natural body hair, of daily encountering countless images, both in the media and the art world, of idealised, hairless women. Still, I wonder how long I'll be able to stick it before I crack and say I can't be bothered to use my body as the landscape for an experiment.
I think what stops me reaching for the razor though, is the act of asking myself the litmus test question for any action to see if it promotes inequality - Do men have to do it? The answer being that if not, then it's probably part of a set of shitty rules designed to keep women insecure. I can't say I apply this rule consistently - I do wear make-up on occasion, and enjoy it (although I certainly don't wear it every day and don't wear it for work- if you want me in a certain place at a certain time, you get my face the way it is), I wear dresses, the occasional pair of wedges (the only type of heels I'll generally deign to wear, for comfort reasons), and the toes that sit daintily below my hairy legs often sport nail varnish. I grew out my eyebrows til they were back to their natural shape, but found myself unable to leave them like that, so strong was the compulsion to pluck. So on many counts, I'm not winning the 'Do the boys have to bother with this shit?' war. Obviously, I'm taking my battles one at a time with the body hair experiment, and I guess that's sensible as there's so much conditioning to unknit just in this one area of the female beauty myth, that attempting to deal with any other parts would simply require too many resources. Just look at how many reasons I have for hating my hairy legs. Because they look untidy. Because I can't moisturise them properly and the skin underneath the hair is going dry and crusty. Because I've been taught to be proud of my shapely legs but now I can only focus on the hair, not the shape. Because it seems perverse to wear an outfit that shows off your legs when you've only got hairy ones to show off. Because I feel unfeminine.
All those reasons arise entirely from the narrow version of female beauty we are sold, and the threats of being single, unloved, unpopular, and most certainly unshagged that accompany the refusal to buy into it. I know I'm not any of those things, yet I still haven't managed to love my hairy legs, because the ideal of 'femininity' burned into my subconscious has a pernicious hold, even when I know logically that 'femininity' as it's sold, and actual, real femaleness, are about as alike as Britney Spears and Janis Joplin. So how do I 'unlearn' this unhelpful template? Germaine Greer once demanded that ladies learned to love their cunts - I wonder how her workshop on becoming enamoured with your body hair might go...
Related posts here and here.
Related posts here and here.