3 Aug 2011

I’ve been growing my body hair for about five weeks now. It’s part of an experiment to see if I truly can walk the feminist walk as well as I talk the talk. Those who dislike the idea of having to be all fuzzy before they can truly call themselves feminists will surely start arguing that focusing on a narrow definition of bodily freedom is not what it’s all about – what we fought for was choice, right? Well, I’m suspicious of the language of choice and how it’s been co-opted by those who have commodified feminism into the 'choice' to wear Jimmy Choos, carry handbags that cost enough to feed a family for 3 months, wax one’s genitals and turn one’s body into a performing, man-pleasing, one-woman circus. Whilst we may claim to now be ‘free’ and ‘have choice’, how many women truly feel comfortable choosing to withdraw their financial support for Gillette, Veet, Nair and a hundred thousand beauty salons, and letting their body hair grow as nature intended? A very confident, very small minority, I’ll bet you.

But yes, OK, if we’re arguing about rights and freedoms, technically we are ‘free’ and we do have the ‘right’ to unleash our hairy pits and furry legs on the world. We may have to put up with the odd disapproving or disgusted glance (often, interestingly, from other women, as if we’re somehow ‘letting the side down’) or even a derogatory comment, but it’s possible. However, what I want to achieve through my experiment is not the dismantling of other people’s conditioning – it’s the erosion of my own. I’ve done the easy part by letting my legs and armpits return to their natural state. Now comes the hard part – looking at them and seeing anything except mess, untidiness, and yes, ugliness. That is the battle – not walking through a crowded street in vest top and shorts with my legs and armpits on full display and inviting all and sundry to judge me, but looking at myself in the privacy of my own home, and not judging myself. Until I can look at my completely natural, just-the-way-mother-nature-made-me, body, and not find it wanting, I’m still a victim of anti-feminist, anti-woman conditioning.

And let’s face it, unless you’re a professional cyclist, there is no logical reason to remove bodily hair. It is an entirely manufactured ‘need’, one manufactured both by a capitalist society which realised that the more inadequate it made women feel about their appearances, the more money it could get them to spend, and by a patriarchal society, which realised that for every social or legal gain women made, it was still possible to oppress them with the threat of unattractiveness, and the accompanying unending work and expenditure involved in fending it off. Until women feel that their bodies are fine just as they are, without the intervention of a multi-billion-pound industry which feeds off the exact opposite sentiment, we can never truly claim that the battles of the women’s movement have been won.

All that said, I’m not finding it easy. Every time I look down and see my hairy legs – which, because of our conditioned belief that women should have no body hair, do look quite masculine to me – I still find myself longing for the clean, smooth appearance of a freshly shaven leg. It’s not even that they look manly, so much as they just look Messy – and I think that’s exactly what women are taught to fear the most. We’re allowed to look 'wild', 'dangerous', bed-head or stylishly unkempt in entirely prescribed ways, but we’re never allowed to indulge in the actual messiness that a real female body entails – i.e. body hair, menstrual blood, cellulite, stretch marks and all the wonderful bodily functions that keep us alive. When Germaine Greer talked about female eunuchs, this is what she was referring to – the pressure to rip off, pull out, mask and fade out all that actually makes us real women, and replace it with a grotesque, sexless parody of femininity.

So, if I can be conditioned, as women are every day all over the globe, to despise my body in its natural state, then presumably I can be conditioned to feel the opposite as well. Therefore I’m waiting for the day that my brain frees itself of the blinkers applied to it by beauty myths (which encourage you to ‘find your inner goddess’ by shaving your legs, cheers Gillette Venus & Jennifer Lopez) and I’m able to look at my legs and pits and find them as appealing covered in hair as without. Then and only then will I give myself permission to shave – but if my experiment has truly worked, I won’t feel the need to.

I’ll keep you all posted....

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