How I’m Unlearning Shame Around My Body Hair
“Good news, you can keep your hair for the winter.”
After consulting with the surgeon, the nurse laughed as she explained that we could proceed with the surgery without shaving my leg. I was seventeen, and I had broken my femur (my femoral neck, specifically) and needed to get pins put in. I hadn’t shaved in over a month. All those weeks, I had joked with my friends about not shaving my legs, telling them I “couldn’t” do it. In reality, I just didn’t want to anymore, and the injury offered a more “socially acceptable” excuse.
But the embarrassment of having a surgeon weigh in on whether I needed to shave stuck with me, just like the pins they put in my leg. It stung again when I saw my surgeon in the bleachers at a high school football game—he was the valedictorian’s dad. Did he tell my classmate about my hairy legs? I wondered, oblivious to medical privacy laws.
At the same time, I could feel in my gut that it shouldn’t have to take a fractured femur to make those kinds of decisions about my body hair. I was in the absolute thick of gendered self-judgment, emphasizing loudly how much my legs looked like “dude legs” in order to defend the merits of my femininity. As if one were somehow better or more appropriate for me to present than the other. Do I even have to tell you how wrong I was?
Why Are We So Ashamed Of Our Hair?
There’s a long and complicated history about body hair that’s worth exploring, but one tidbit that stands out is this: marketers made women’s armpit hair unsightly to sell more razors. I like to think these are the same people who decided that, while body hair was unacceptable, the hair on a woman’s head had to be long, straight, and voluminous. How can hair be both a requirement and a disqualifier for what a woman should look like?
We see hairless women in magazines and in the adult entertainment industry, further reminding us that the less hair we have, the more desirable we become. Body hair is seen as binary—and muddling between that binary is stigmatized. It’s even weaponized against people who don’t conform, for no other reason than to keep people in the boxes we’ve been told are “acceptable.” The truth in all of this is that hair grows or doesn’t, no matter how you or anyone else feels about it. Hair happens, despite what marketers say is normal.
How I’m Loving (And Caring For) My Body Hair
All I want is for my long armpit hair to be celebrated in slow motion, like in shampoo ads. Is that too much to ask? Seriously though, I’ve shaved and not shaved throughout my life, and I feel differently in every season. Especially because my hair seems to grow differently all the time, and I have to constantly update my acceptance of it.
These days, my body hair gets a free pass. I’m curious about what my body looks like when I don’t groom it—and that curiosity helps me embrace the growth that is quite literally happening all over. Not shaving also allows me to examine the ways my hormones are behaving. In the past few years, my leg hair has transitioned from completely blonde to random patches of dark brown. My “happy trail” has gone jet-black for no apparent reason. Thanks, Body, for telling me that there are changes I should be aware of!
But I don’t always feel confident about frolicking around with my body hair rustling in the breeze. It’s still not “normal” to flaunt tufts, so I do need a self-care routine in place to support my self-assurance.
Gently exfoliating with a sugar scrub helps me stay in touch with my skin, and it helps me glow underneath my hair. I lather up with lotion and am currently seeking a new body oil to give me a little extra gloss. (Here are some great recos if you’re looking for body hair care products, too.)
Specifically for my pits, I like to add a touch of oil to my hair, spritz with rosewater, and if I ever take the time to do a hair mask, you better believe it’s going under my arms as well as on my head. Basically, I take the time to indulge in a delightful sensory celebration of something I’ve been told I should be ashamed of. (And also because natural deodorants + armpit hair = clumpy mess.)
I also love following body hair-friendly Instagram accounts that allow me to see how other people are rocking their unshaved selves. Ashley Armitage, the photographer behind Ladyist, frequently makes body hair look like the ultimate style accessory and I adore her work.
But What If You Like Shaving?
You can unlearn shame around body hair and still choose to shave it. Ultimately, it’s about not feeling like you have to shave or face social consequences. My end goal is to be able to love my hair at whatever length it is, no matter how many people raise their eyebrows at my choice. If you like being shaven, go for it. If you’d prefer not to shave but find yourself doing so out of social pressure? I see you. And I’ll welcome you into the body hair club if you ever decide to join.
To be fully transparent, I do still shave my neck with a safety razor (you can read about that here). I have thick dark neck hair that I often pick at, and I’ve found that shaving helps reduce picking-related scarring and acne. I still don’t love it like I do my other body hair, but I’m working on it. We all have literal or metaphorical “neck hair” that can be difficult to accept about ourselves, and I think that’s okay.
All of that being said, there’s still a vast number of people who find shaving a safer option (because of gender-based violence or discrimination) or who find it a gender-affirming option. Body hair is also for everyone—you don’t have to overcompensate on a femme presentation or be thin, white, or whatever “conventionally attractive” is to get fuzzy.
Body hair doesn’t dictate sex, sexuality, gender, or anything else about you. All it means is that you are a person, who decided not to shave.
Are you currently growing wild and free?
Drop a kindness about your own body hair in the comments below, and I’ll celebrate with you 🙂
Emily Torres is the Editorial Director at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio.