I’m standing in front of the bathroom mirror holding a razor up to the mass of armpit hair while my heart pounds in my chest and my palms start to sweat. As I prepare to shave it all off, I’m wondering who I will be without my hairy pits.
I began shaving the summer before 7th grade. Even though I feared the sharpness of the blade, my mom coaxed me into removing my leg hair before my Bat Mitzvah. I sat on the toilet lid while she taught me how to carefully shave my legs. But body hair removal didn’t stop there; suddenly, there were eyebrows to be plucked, arm pits to be mowed, and pubic hair to be trimmed as well. All this work was too much for me.
I didn’t keep up with the hair removal habit and was quickly rebuffed by the girls on my soccer team when they saw the thick mass that had reappeared on my calves. In the years to come, I faced more body hair-induced ridicule. Whenever I “slipped up” and let my body hair grow, girls would judge audibly. Their comments got really obnoxious really fast, so I forced myself to shave to avoid their scorn.
When I left for college three years ago, I finally gave up the bad habit of trying to please other people. I “forgot” to pack my razor and watched with delight as my legs and armpits sprouted the forbidden female fuzz. Not shaving just made more sense to me. I’m a relatively furry gal and it takes a lot of time and money to keep my body hair at bay. Those hard to reach spots I always seemed to miss weren’t worth the effort to remove, and I decided the inconvenience of shaving outweighed the stigma that gave way to shocked looks whenever I wore a skirt or a tank top.
Having visible body hair became a big part of my life, and not shaving taught me that as long as I was comfortable in my own pelted skin, others would get over their own discomfort. I connected deeply and quickly with other women who didn’t shave, and felt empowered by not regulating something my body did naturally in order to please other people’s standards. My body hair encouraged me, and the women around me, to feel secure with our bodies and realize there are many different ways to be beautiful. Our collective rebellion created a sisterhood of the unshaven.
When college ended, I moved back to my hometown in Minneapolis, and away from the small, liberal arts school that was very fur-iendly. In this new place that was fuzz-free, I found myself hesitant to lift my arms. My best friend Katie had recently started shaving again, so I turned to her for advice. “If you don’t feel comfortable about having body hair, what’s the point of keeping it?” she sensibly asked. That was all the encouragement I needed. I hadn’t shaved for so long because I was comfortable that way, which is really the most important part, and now I wanted that comfort again.
Back to the mirror, razor poised to strike. The decision to start shaving for the second time was more difficult than the decision to stop, but at least this time around I knew shaving was my choice, and no one else’s. The razor comes down and a black snowstorm descends into the bathroom sink. After all, I tell myself, it always grows back.
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