My Body Hair Isn't A Bold Move
Why conversations about body hair must go deeper than a viral ad campaign.
And while the recent Billie campaign excelled in that it was the first to show female body hair (which in 2018 feels ludicrous), it was done in a very millennial-branded way and in my opinion, they could’ve gone deeper. I’m grateful for the ways the ad showcased some hairier ladies like me, but I would've liked to see something that went one step further and revealed each model's journey to accept their body hair.
I was in the fifth grade when my older sister decided it was time I shave my legs after school one day. I sat on the edge of our blue bathtub as she lathered up each of my legs with shaving cream from a magenta pink can. “This is what womanhood must feel like”, I thought, as I touched the silky texture of the foam-like substance.
Every summer, my parents sent me off to a day camp 45 minutes from our house in New Jersey. It was a place where "dreams came true," (that was the camp’s tagline) and where our childlike inhibitions could run wild.
My camp group was around ten to twelve girls and we spent most days playing a variety of sports, doing arts and crafts, and taking swim lessons. Each day, we changed in and out of our swimsuits in the camp bunk. It was then that I began to look down at my own body and notice there was something different about the way I looked in comparison to the other girls. Nobody else seemed to have thick, coarse hair like me on their arms. The realization felt like a mental bee sting that wouldn’t go away.
During the year, I attended a private Jewish day school that had a fairly conservative dress code and a high voltage of AC. So, I started to hide my arms behind layers of clothing with the excuse that I was cold and religious. No one seemed to question it. We were conservative Jews after all.
In seventh grade, I attended a bar or bat mitzvah party every weekend. Growing up in an affluent community, I always felt a lot of pressure to look a certain way at these events; In addition to getting manicures and pedicures, and donning a different hairdo and fancy dress for each event, I started to wax my eyebrows. Every few weeks, my mother would drive me to the expensive salon in the town over from us. I loved the feeling of warm wax on my skin, until the beautician would rip it off. It was painful but the truth was, I felt more beautiful.
In high school, boys started to come into the picture and I realized I had to do something. Puberty had officially hit, and more hair quickly started to sprout from other parts of my body -- on my upper lip, all over my back, down my tummy, in between my breasts, and even long black hairs grew out of my nipples. None of the women I saw in my fashion magazines or on TV looked like me, so I spent hours researching online what to do to solve the growing issue. And thus, began my experimental hair removal phase. It was my very own top secret mission.
At that time, I don’t know what felt more shameful - the fact that I was a hairy girl, or the fact that I had to remove it in private and pretend I was a hairless teenager like everyone else seemed to be. I started by shaving my arms but the smooth, silky feeling would only last about a day before prickly hairs started to come in. If I couldn’t shave it immediately, I would worry someone would touch my arm and realize I had shaved them. At age 14, I didn’t know anyone else who was shaving their arms. I didn’t think it was a thing people did. I just thought everyone else was born with less body hair. Sometimes, I would accidentally cut myself while shaving, and at one point, some of my friends thought I was cutting myself on purpose.
When I became sexually active, I began to shave more and more parts of my body. Even when I appeared to be hairless, I felt insecure. I just didn’t like being touched in the places where I knew I had hair but “shouldn’t” have hair. Even if someone couldn’t see it, I wondered if they still realized I was a hairy girl. I didn’t think men wanted hairy girls like me. In my mind, hairy girls were not desirable.
In college, I decided to try Nair, a hair removal product that wipes away your hair using toxic chemicals. But there were no pharmacies close to my campus dorm. So, I waited until I visited my cousin in Chicago to buy some. Before heading back to school, I told her I needed to pick up toiletries. Luckily, she waited outside while I ran into the store. I quickly grabbed two bottles of Nair and didn’t take them out of the plastic bag until I was safely alone at the airport.
Upon graduating from college, I worried what people might think of my hairy arms while at work. Did they make me look less professional? When I finally started working a real job and had my own money to spend, I began regularly waxing my arms.
It cost over $60 each time and I had to go every two weeks, but there was nothing better than feeling the bare, clean skin on my forearms. Waxing lasted a little longer than shaving had, but the reality was that the insecurities were always there. Hair or no hair.
By my early 20s, I had already been shaving my vulva for a few years. The hair down there grew in quickly and more coarsely than anywhere else on my body, and it was a real chore to keep up with it. I would often clog the bathtub and I constantly worried that if I took too long shaving in the shower, my roommates would realize what I was doing. I feared that if they saw my pubes in the tub they would judge me. Even though I knew they shaved down there too.
In my mid-twenties, a group of my friends and I decided to go and get our first Brazilian waxes together before a weekend trip with a bunch of guys. Other women we knew had recommended popping an advil before the “procedure” to help ease the pain. We booked appointments right after each other and waited in the salon’s lobby for each other. Wanting to get it over with as soon as possible, I went first.
The chatty, tattooed, and hairless beautician took me into the room. I laid out on the table, legs spread out wide, more exposed than I had ever been. Slowly, she covered every nook and cranny of my under bottom with scorching hot wax. Then rip, rip, rip. My skin felt raw and puffy. There isn’t a word to describe the pain I felt that night. But the next day, I was dancing around the beach in a bathing suit, hairless and smooth, and I felt freer than ever before. “I don’t care who sees my vagina!” I rejoiced with a friend.
At some point in my later twenties, I realized how much money and effort was going into my hair removal routine, and I slowly let my eyebrows, lip, and arm hair grow out and just do their damn and most natural thing: grow. Around this same time, thicker eyebrows had come into fashion as models like Cara Delevingne and Bambi Northwood-Blyth were seen fronting major fashion campaigns sporting fuller and messier brows. Seeing these images stuck with me - if these women could take ownership over their harrier brows, maybe I could, too.
Last year, when I was in the midst of a major depressive episode, I stopped dating and shaving my legs, armpits, and vagina completely for several months. It was winter and I was celibate, so I didn’t worry about it too much. It was then, alone and full of hair, that I began to think more deeply about how long I had been grooming myself to suit the tastes of men and keep up with societal standards. I realized that these deep insecurities might be something I should talk to a therapist about.
The reality is I’ll be working through my body dysmorphia and anxiety for some time to come. It’ll probably never go away completely. But the scary voice inside my head that tells me that my body hair renders me unclean, unattractive, and unworthy, continues to grow quieter. And the resounding voice of a girl who doesn’t give a fuck what people think or say about her body hair, is taking its place. This is what real freedom feels like.
Another thing I’ve realized is that it’s not really about hair. The journey to self-acceptance is one that is lifelong, and full of highs and lows, and big and small victories. But now I know the only person whose acceptance I need is my own, and while that will always be a work in progress, I think writing this story is a major win for myself and any other hairy humans out there who have ever felt pressure to shave away their true selves.