This post has only the most tenuous link to exercise and Spartan Races, but it’s a subject dear to my heart and it is about health and well-being. Last night, whilst carrying out a routine de-fluffing ritual, I discovered a very long, curly hair on the side of my neck. I didn’t bother with a ruler, but once I’d plucked the bugger out and straightened it, I estimated it to be at least two inches long. Two fucking inches. Even for me, that’s a record. How long must it have been there to grow that long? If it had been spotted during the course of a normal day, I would needed to have removed it instantly, for fear of social death and discovery of one of my terrible secrets. I am a very hairy woman.
Women’s body hair is endlessly discussed and dissected in the media these days. In particular, trends in the pubic region are a subject of frequent debate. To bush or not to bush? The bikini wax of yore, involving a quick tidy up of the spider’s legs, seems almost innocent compared with the current quest for pre-pubescent baldness. The mainstreaming of porn has changed our grooming habits forever. According to every survey going, men expect a scorched earth policy in our lady gardens. I remain unconvinced by this: perhaps it is the case for younger men, but I’ve never known a man to recoil in horror at the sight of a few pubes. Indeed, if you google ‘hairy women’, the first sites that come up will be porn for the male of specialist tastes.
Fashions come and go, and I expect women will grow tired of painful and excessive hair removal rituals. Especially those involving being crouched on all fours on a beautician’s table to remove stray arse hairs. There is enough indignity in life and too many other things to worry about, in my view. Still, each to their own, and if you want to spend your hard earned cash being waxed to an inch of your life, then knock yourself out. In fact, that might be a good idea.
The problem for me comes with the social norms of women’s depilation. Despite the fact that we can discuss our penchant for Brazilians with ease, there are still major taboos. Remember this picture from the Daily Mail sidebar of shame?
Poor Julia, daring to break the conformity of female beauty. There was an outcry; from women as much as men. And yet this was not that rare in the not too distant past. I remember (gasp!) in the 80’s and 90’s it was not so unusual for European women to have hairy armpits, even when they were at the beach in summer. The relief that must have been from all that irritating shaving! I once grew my armpits out during one sex free winter and it was strangely comforting to have that soft hair in a secret place. Hygiene doesn’t come into it: contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t make you more smelly. If that were the case, all men would have BO.
But what woman would risk it at her local swimming pool? Perhaps we could get away with some underarm hair without too much staring, but what about over grown pubes? If, in the middle of a cold winter when we weren’t ‘beach ready’ (an obnoxious phrase in itself) we took our kids swimming, would we face problems if we looked like this?
This may be an extreme example I know. But how much could we get away with if we wanted to, without being banned from the pool, or causing a shit storm of approbation on social media? Men never have to worry about such things, even if they have mini beards coming out of the sides of their speedos. Would we go with hairy legs? Lots of women let the leg waxing slide during the winter months, especially if they aren’t in any danger of an imminent shag. Is a bit of leg hair in danger of causing mass public panic, or is it the case that hardly anyone would notice? I ask, because I wonder how many of us have put off doing enjoyable exercise because we are behind in our beauty rituals and just can’t be arsed with the hassle of hair removal. I know that I always shave under my arms the day before I go the gym, because I might need to lift weights above my head, thus exposing my stubbly armpits. The irony of shaving before I do what might be considered a manly activity, does not escape me. I suppose it’s okay for us to do ‘unfeminine’ things, as long as we look pretty while doing them. To be fair, I don’t think anyone in the gym would give a flying fuck and there are no mirrors: it’s a norm I adhere to of my own volition.
And so to the worst taboo of all: female facial hair. Long considered freakish, like the circus women of the past, it is in fact quite common, for some women more than others. Asian woman often have downy hair on their cheeks but remove it via threading. And it is not always a symptom of a hormonal imbalance, just bad luck. My mother had terrible facial hair and I have inherited this problem, although it seems my sisters haven’t, darn it. She had a fear of this being exposed and a request that she be shaved by us during any prolonged hospital stay, as below. The fact that this meme exists means she was not alone:
How fucked up is that? If you are in hospital for a cancer op, the last thing you should be worrying about is whether your lady beard grows back. Yet, I share her pain. Tweezers and Nair are among my best friends. Despite considering myself a feminist, I have no intentions of growing my beard, even if I have to waste too much of my precious time removing it. I am bold, but not so bold. The horror of finding little white ones amongst the evil dark ones cannot be understated. Perhaps they show up a little bit less against my pale skin, but it essentially means I am not only hairy, I am middle aged and hairy. A frightening thought.
So why this post? Why expose myself in this manner? A few reasons.
1. To have solidarity with my hairy sisters – you are not alone. Like of us who suffer secret pains, we recognise them in others. I can tell those of us who shave. If you can, try not to. It’s so bad for the skin and you can almost certainly get by with an application of Jolene, or depilation cream a couple of times a week. If you can afford it, and don’t mind the pain, laser might be the answer.
2. To say, don’t let it hold you back. Who cares if our legs are not baby smooth? The human race would not exist if men genuinely refused to procreate with furry babes. Don’t let it stop you from getting a PB at the gym, or a having a fun, spur of the moment activity with your child.
3. To remind us that we are still glorious, beautiful women, even if we don’t think we’re normal, or properly feminine. We are. This stuff can screw with our minds and our mental health. By breaking these taboos, we remind the world that women come in all shapes, sizes and forms. If you are brave enough, embrace the hairiness. If you are less so, laugh about it and feel no shame.
I love this joyous picture below. I don’t know who the actress is, but she revels in the fact that under her posh, award ceremony frock, her legs are hairy, possibly because she didn’t have time to shave, or just couldn’t be bothered. She is not ashamed of being a normal, breathing, woman being.
Until next time,
I agree. And I also sort of hate that something like body hair has become a feminist issue. Does whether or not you have hairy armpits really need to be a political statement? I think women should just do what THEY want and if that is to be entirely hair free then great, likewise if they want to go au naturel equally great. I don’t think the fact that I shave my armpits has any bearing on whether I am a feminist.
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