I know what some of you are thinking.
Or maybe instead you’re rolling your eyes, and thinking, Nice try, feminist wannabe.
Look, I'm all for equality between the sexes. When it comes to body hair, I always took the position that everyone, men and women, should shave. "I don't like armpit hair on women OR men," I would say, thinking I had settled the issue then and there. But men have a choice. I never really felt like I did.
My mom handed me my first razor in middle school.
It seemed as if hair had sprouted from my pits overnight. My brother, a year older, was not given a razor. I wasn't sure why I was being treated differently, but at the time, I had enough shame around my body that I would do anything my mother asked.
Here I am as a fifth-grader: young, carefree, and unshaven.
I took the razor into the shower and shaved my pits. And then my legs. And then I thought I might as well get rid of all my body hair, so I shaved my arms too. When I came downstairs for school, my mom laughed at me, but I still think the mistake was completely understandable. After all, how do we decide what hair is OK and what hair has to go? What about the hair above my lips? My eyebrows? What is the right amount of hair?
As a fairly pale woman with relatively dark, thick hair, I've always struggled with removing body hair. Guys may have 5 o'clock shadows, but by 2 p.m., my pit hair has already started sprouting alongside my razor burn.
Even though I know not shaving should be totally cool, I find myself falling back on deeply ingrained, reflexive disgust at the sight of "uncured" and "unsightly" body hair. One of my favorite bands is Chairlift, and a few years ago, they released a Japanese version of "I Belong in Your Arms."
In the video, the beautiful and insanely talented Caroline Polachek raises her arms and sings:
I could not get past it. My reaction was so visceral.
But WHY? Body hair is on (almost) every human. So why am I so upset to see it? I wondered if seeing normally shaved-off hair on my own body would help me come to terms with it not only on my own body, but on others' as well.
Since that day in middle school, I've never gone a full month without shaving my legs, let alone my armpits. No longer. I decided I would put down the razor and try growing out my body hair, for a full month, to challenge my own judgment and stigma.
Goodbye, shaving cream.
Even though I took these photos mere HOURS after I shaved, my armpit was still not perfectly smooth, and therefore, in my mind (and the patriarchy’s), I was not perfectly feminine.
My hair month unfortunately began when I was in Florida, where the weather would not allow me to hide my hairs with long sleeves and pants. Then again, I was just starting, and it really wasn't THAT bad. It actually helped my lingering razor burn to heal.
Wait, why do we shave again? There have to be deeper reasons beyond the obvious desire to have Sphynx cats for armpits.
The ideal armpit:
It’s hard to say exactly when this no-hair trend started. Most point to a 1915 ad in Harper’s Bazaar, which itself was spawned from sleeveless dresses being in fashion for the first time ever.
But removing hair could also be religious. According to Islamic tradition, armpits should be plucked. Body hair is removed before cleansing in Leviticus. That might explain why we might associate cleanliness with removing hair — but it doesn't really explain why, in so many parts of the world, we place those expectations on women, but not men.
This was the worst week. I feared I wouldn't be able to make it through the month. It wasn't the leg hair that bothered me. It was the pit hair. Thicker than my leg hair, my pit hair had formed quarter-inch spikes that would stab into each other any time I lifted and dropped my arm. The discomfort felt like enough motivation for shaving in itself. Still, I knew that this irritation was likely just growing pains, and they would not last.
By the third week, my hair had grown past the nuisance phase. I kept forgetting it was there — until I got in the shower. Honestly, because your armpits are RIGHT by your face, the hair there looks far darker and thicker than it does to anybody else. I had trouble shaking that. Even though it was the first hot week in New York (FINALLY!), I wore tops with sleeves all week. But on the weekend, I knew I had to let the girls out. That's right, my armpits are female.
It was weirdly liberating to “not care” what people thought of my armpits. Deep down, I of course did care that I was being judged, but sometimes you have to fake it until you make it. I got to the point where I wanted to get a reaction from someone, so I kept grabbing for things above me in my sleeveless top. Nobody said anything. Nobody cared. People weren’t screaming and running in fright from my hairy pitzillas.
This week I learned hairy pits have different upkeep than hairless pits. I had to switch out my antiperspirant, for example. The solid stick just painted my pit hair white; for it to work, I needed to get it on my skin. So I switched to a gel.
And just to clear this up: I was NOT more stinky with hair under my pits. Yes, armpit hair developed "to aid to the dispersal of odorants in sexually mature humans," but that doesn't mean those smells stink. Armpit hair helps disperse pheromones, which are not consciously perceived, but aid in sexual attraction. So if anything, I probably smelled sexier. Probably.
So here you go, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for — extreme close-ups of my monthlong hair:
I know. It’s not even THAT long.
Proof you can be sexy with body hair:
So, did I ~change my ways~? Am I hairy and loving it?
Honestly, I'm not. I was excited to shave and be smooth-ish again. The truth is that having less hair on my body helps me feel more distinct from my Neanderthal ancestors. But I am definitely comfortable saying I will be shaving less often going forward. People don't stare at your arm hairs, and they don't stare at your armpits. If you take a few days off from shaving, honestly, your pits will thank you.
I'm grateful that I went through with this. Society makes us feel like we're freaks if we don't shave — but screw SOCIETY, you know? The choice is ours. I rewatched the Chairlift music video, and I thought, She doesn't even have much hair at all. I wasn't grossed out, because I know what it's like to have hairy pits. And really, it's just not that different.
If you want to go au naturel, do it. If you prefer shaven, do that. The point is, body hair isn't gross. And if you're someone, like me, who can't help but feel judgmental about body hair, I highly recommend trying to grow out hair yourself. It just might turn that "ew" into an "eh." NBD.