I’m a woman and I don’t shave my body hair – get over it

Katherine Soper
Argument

Katherine Soper has hairy armpits and the world hasn’t ended

Fun Fact: hair removal as we know it only started in 1915. Although the custom is ancient (and was usually practiced in societies where lice were an issue), European and American women maintained their full body hair well into the twentieth century.

Gillette, having invented a razor for men, wanted to expand their market – and in 1915, capitalising on the fact that women’s sleeves were becoming shorter, they launched a fervent campaign denouncing the (previously inoffensive) female underarm hair as ‘unsightly’, ‘masculine’, and ‘unclean’.

Adverts for razors to remove leg hair followed suit in the 1920s – but before Gillette, this market hadn’t even existed.

Women had got along just fine, and displayed no innate desire for a smooth, silky leg.

body hair3

Razor-wareness..Katherine Soper has stopped shaving her underarm hair

Flash forward to today, and lots of my female friends tell me how shaving is just a personal preference, their choice, and surely that’s what women’s rights are all about, etc etc. They’re not wrong.

However, I don’t think it’s possible today to grow up with a completely objective view of our body hair that isn’t influenced by both the socialised desire for smoothness, and the negative connotations we attach to women who don’t shave.

The first person I talked to when I considered growing my hair out said, “Can we please stop talking about this? It’s making me feel sick”.

So, while it’s true that lots of men shave, the crucial difference is that they can also choose to sport hair without provoking this sort of visceral disgust.

There’s the illusion of choice for women, but with social conditioning and expectations rigging the scales (not to mention the fact that hairy often functions as vague shorthand for a man-hating straw-feminist) it’s a “choice” akin to “Cake or Death?”.

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Formal occasions are particularly tricky

At 16, as a longtime shaver, I felt like my mindset had been so screwed over from such a young age that I could only cleanse my palate by growing my hair out properly: legs, underarms, and all.

This wasn’t easy, since I had to work through my own self-disgust, whilst hearing my mum’s voice in my head, sighing that I’m “making everything into a statement”.

Trouble is, the only way hair will stop being a statement is once it’s normalised.

If it’s ever going to be a genuine choice between equal options, women with hair need to be a familiar sight, not the punchline to hilarious Chewbacca quips.

This would, importantly, help debunk the assumptions that hair is a sign of ignorance, laziness, uncleanliness (seriously – that myth really needs to die), or a lack of personal pride.

Body hair is, in fact, the very mark of personal pride.

Waxing and shaving may take a lot of time and money, but rocking the hair takes an even larger amount of self-assurance and self-confidence.

I don’t pretend to be perfect in this respect; taking the hair out in public is something I still have to work on occasionally, even after five years.

Formal occasions are particularly difficult; the emphasis on unnatural hyper-grooming and on a conventional dress code means I’ve nixed the hair for past events.

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Katherine dyed her armpit hair red in January

But on the very encouraging flipside: in January I dyed my underarm hair bright red, and to my surprise, I had a grand total of one slightly perturbed comment.

People’s reactions were more gleeful and delighted than anything else. This sort of experience suggests that the concept of a woman with hair is much more terrifying than the very normal, unthreatening reality.

Similarly, although some girls worry that hair will make them feel ‘like a man’, it becomes clear once you live with it for a while that hair isn’t masculine. It’s simply human, and it’s animalistic, primal, and wonderful.

I’m not saying you can’t be a feminist if you shave – but going au naturel is a learning experience worth having, and one any woman should consider trying.

It teaches you about the complex relationship we have with our own bodies, with other people’s views of our bodies, and with what we show in public. It makes you look at what really influences the choice to shave.

So I dare you to grow it out, at least for a while. See what it’s like. Acclimatise a bit – it probably won’t be love at first sight, due to habit and a lifetime of socialisation.

But if you can come to acknowledge the hair – even rock it in public – without disgust or embarrassment, the rush is incredible.

Do not fear the hair. The hair won’t hurt you. You may even grow (ha) to love it.

Katherine Soper is a recent graduate from Cambridge.

  • Sarah

    That’s very encouraging, love your article & your choice. I have been armpit long for a year now and soon coming up to a big event a friends wedding…sounds ridiculous but I am going to have to build myself up for it (& your article has helped) After a year I would really feel i’ve done an injustice to myself if I take it off. I am gong to try and rock it with your words, seriously I will print your article out!! I could fold it up for a booster if I start to bottle it!! I shaved my hair off once during this time and it looked weird and andriodish…women DO it! thats all I can say. All best Katherine

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  • Tanya

    next thing we do is stop cutting our nails and washing ourselves. Liberation all the fucking way.

  • Anon

    Shaving really isn’t that hard to do, seriously. I’m a man and I shave my chest and facial hair. I don’t care if I’m brainwashed by society, I find your hairy armpits disgusting.

  • Double standards

    If a guy shaved all his body hair you would think it was weird…

  • anon

    I can absolutely respect your choice not to shave, however you’ll have to respect my choice to find it totally unattractive

  • Nada Mrabet

    “Think different.” my motto from now on. I admire your courage. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

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  • Michael Peirson

    well done, hair is beautiful

  • Perceptive

    Good for you, Katharine – you look lovely with natural armpits and I only hope that you inspire other ladies to do the same.

  • barry Jones

    She can do what she wants obviously, that being said it’s rancid.

  • hypocrisy

    she clearly shaves her legs. double standards.

  • jack davidson

    butters

  • Allllllll guys

    Look don’t shave. Idgaf. But Jesus christ, don’t step on my toes regarding my preference. I’m sorry if I don’t want my partner to feel like a fucking brown grizzly bear. I groom myself, and I prefer my partner to have the same standard. We’re not talking about weekly waxwings, but there is control, and there is a threshold of “ok already, what’s going on?”.

    Showering takes time. As well as exercise. But guess what, your sexual appeal complements the work you put into to yourself. If you don’t care about that then Jesus, go for it. It saves me time from realizing your more concerned with hair rights than sex appeal. And if that’s the case, then hair it away baby. I’ll go find a smooth woman who enjoys sex more than stupid arguments about cold winters or some other asinine nonsense.

    Be hairy and be free. It’ll clear up the market for everyone else. Just don’t trick us by us by initially shaving… and then stopping (later) with some post faux arguement of how important it is. It’s gross. So be honest about it, and save everyone time.

  • Reuben

    There’s social fucking pressure for a reason! People in the middle ages may not have cleaned their teeth, doesn’t mean that’s not disgusting.

  • Reuben

    People will argue that it’s natural and beautiful blah blah blah, we’ve spent thousands of years moving away from nature, and that’s the point of civilisation. Feminists just want another thing to whine about.

  • p

    “Egyptian women paved the way for modern waxing. Around 60 B.C., they started removing hair via a process called sugaring. Sugaring, a hair-removal method similar to waxing, uses a homemade sugar solution to entangle and strip away hair. It is still used today as a natural alternative to wax.” with this im not saying i disagree with what she is doing, i only disagree with her facts. And this is only an example.

  • Nicole

    you are absolutely awesome!!!!!!!! i wish i could be as confident as you.. i try to embrace my natural hairiness – SINCE WHY THE HELL ARE MEN ALLOWED TO & WE’RE NOT IF WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE EQUAL?????? – but i still get embarassed sometimes! but doing so serves as an amazing message & really gets people to think, once you explain why you’re doing it, and especially when they realize that all women too should (i hope!!!).. stay hairy sista 🙂

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