Holidays are rarely a good time to try challenging sexism. They're not really ideal for defeating any kind of stereotype, as I rapidly realised on the aeroplane when the family I was seated in the midst of started talking about 'foreign doctors making thousands of pounds off dead patients' whilst brandishing The Daily Mail as their document of truth. Still, as I jetted off to Orlando, hairy-pitted and fuzzy-legged, I thought I would at least take the opportunity to see if there were any other women joining me in the sisterhood of the unwaxed and nonshaven.
There. Were. None.
I kid you not. A whole day at Disney World spent scanning the legs of hundreds of women as I queued for rides yielded not one hairy leg amongst them. Pits were obviously harder to check, but in a state where the temperature regularly hits the high 30s, the universal uniform of shorts gave me a good chance to check out everyone's legs. Whilst trying to be subtle about it and not look like a pervert, natch. Was I surprised? Not really. Hairlessness is so unconsciously assumed to be part of the 'costume' of femininity, that even if you're wearing no make-up, a baseball cap, a baggy t shirt and trainers, the legs you display from under your comfy shorts can never be anything but smooth. Disney World, Florida certainly isn't a place where people dress glamorously (unless you're a 7 year old wearing a Snow White dress, obviously), and it's fair to say that casual, comfortable modes of dress are accepted/expected for both sexes seeing as you're walking around in stifling humidity, under a blazing sun, and racking up a fair bit of mileage in a park that covers thousands of acres. I wanted to ask every one of those women why, then, was it so important that their legs were hairless? But I sensed I knew the answer already. It just doesn't occur to women that they even have a choice any more. Picking up the razor or the depilatory cream or booking 6-weekly waxes are something we've come to see as routine and vital as paying our bills or fuelling our cars. We assume the results of neglecting this duty would be negative, and we're not interested in risking it.
As someone who had, metaphorically, refused to pay this particular bill, I did feel conscious of my hairy, untidy, dry-skinned legs (however much moisturiser you put on them, the hair seems to absorb it all. My knees have never looked so crusty. Now I know why men don't bother with body lotion) but unlike the way I was scrutinising everyone else's legs, no one was even looking. It was more the feeling of transgression, of committing some audacious act. Every other woman in the park was obeying The Rule, and I was breaking it. More than that though, I just felt alienated from my fellow women, because I was acutely aware that my personal experiment wasn't going to be changing anyone's mind, especially since it hasn't even stopped me wanting to remove my own body hair.
Still, perhaps there's some small triumph in simply having done it, having gone on holiday to a hot climate with my leg and armpit hair as God intended, in having lain on the beach, worn a bikini, and walked around in public wearing vest tops and shorts and not really given a shit. There were no comments, no glances. Which makes you wonder - does anyone really, actually care if you shave your pits or not? I think those who care the most are women themselves. But until they're willing to break ranks en masse and force their natural bodies upon the world, we'll never find out for sure.