Beauty standards, body hair and me
Body hair has been a feminist conversation point for decades. Vix has been a Hairy Mary since she was a teenager, when hygiene products were badly designed to the point of being torture devices. And now, yes, she shaves. Furry? Smooth? Here’s an idea: Go with what’s right for you. The rest of the world can go hang.
I hate it. I hate it on others and I hate it on myself. I do not know why.
Since I was in my teens, I have striven to eradicate every trace of hair from my neck down. And no, I do not have a hairy neck.
I started with shaving my legs, when I was very young. Like, in primary school. I’m guessing about ten or eleven. The hair that was there was fine, fair and invisible. Yet for some reason, I felt the need to get rid. As soon as I started to develop hair under my arms, that had to go too. Mind you, I had to start using deodorant at a very young age. By very young age I mean about ten. I remember the day, actually. I was on a family holiday, in a caravan, in Minehead, which was about 25 miles from where we lived. It was the 1970’s. That’s what people did for holidays, back then.
Anyhoo, my mum said, one morning, “Who smells of BO?” I was unaware of what BO was however, I was fully aware of the stink that was coming from my armpits. “I think it’s me, mum.” She told me to go and wash my pits and handed me her roll-on deodorant, appropriately called “Mum”.
Roll-on deodorant is the work of the devil. It goes on wet and stays wet. You have to hold your arms in the air for an age, in the misgiven hope that it might dry. It does not. However, the deodorant did smell better than my newly developed BO. It was cheap and that was the all encompassing thing for my family, back then. Much the same as now, really.
As soon as the armpit hair came in, I realised just what an evil thing a roll-on deodorant can be. If you have underarm hair and then roll a big, wet, ball-point pen around your armpit, the hair gets snagged in the device and tears happen.
There were not the solid stick deodorants like we have now. The alternative to roll-on was aerosol. Most aerosols were for men. They were also expensive and I was, as I have said, very young and therefore totally dependent on the purchasing decisions of my mother.
The armpit hair had to go. Like the hair on my legs, my underarm hair was fine and fair. Unlike my leg hair, it was tinged with ginger.
Then the pubic hair came in.
I remember my sister (two years older than I and brunette to my blonde) ribbing me about my lack of pubic hair, way back when. This used to really upset me until one day I had a revelation and shared it with her. “I’m blonde, all my hair is lighter than yours and I’m two years younger than you.” I think I was nine.
I also remember telling her that I had quite a bit of hair “at the back”. She, again, found hilarity in that. But I did. I had a hairy arsehole. What the hell was all that about? I was embarrassed and felt pretty damn weird about it. Until the next day, when she confessed that there was hair back there on her, too.
The relief was immense. I totally hero worshipped my big sister and just wanted to be completely like her, in every way. So much so, I used to say I liked the things she liked, even when I actually hated them, because she was my gauge of normality. (We would jump up and down with excitement when offered “triangle cheese” as a treat. I hated it. I still hate it. The same goes for anything strawberry flavoured. She loved the strawberry chocolate, in the box. We fought over it. I detested it. I like strawberries, you understand, just not anything with a strawberry flavour).
I digress. Having a hairy bottom just seemed so impractical to me. It still does. That’s because it is. Let’s take one of the dirtiest places of the human body, one of the places that you have to seriously clean up on at least a daily basis, and make it hairy. What’s that all about?!
The (slightly ginger) pubic hair eventually made its way around to all the places it should be… just in time for me to start my periods, when I was eleven.
Sanitary towels were the initial thing on offer. Again, mother was doing the shopping. I felt I had no choice.
Sanitary towels are crap, right? Well, they used to be crapper. No ‘wings’, just totally inadequate sticky strips that would dis-adhere and let your soiled jam-rag work its way up your backside towards the small of your back. Nice.
I was a heavy bleeder and this was proving totally impractical. The only alternative I was offered were towels with cotton loops attached at either end. You wore a belt around your waist with a ‘suspender belt’ clip dangling, front and back, to attach to the loops on the towel.
This did not last long. I was allowed tampons as soon as I actually asked for them.
But sanitary towels and body hair do not make for feeling clean. Remember the matted hair? Remember it adhering to the towel and all that was on it? The discomfort. The smell.
This would be so much easier, all round, if I was not such a hairy Mary.
I was sixteen when I first started to shave my lower hair. I just used to shave my undercarriage, to begin with, so no-one would actually know from looking at me.
This was not a fashionable thing back then. I remember going for a smear test and the nurse saying “Oh, you’ve shaved! Do you do a lot of gymnastics or swimming?” “No” “Oh. Ok” She was dumbfounded. I told my mum of this conversation and she said, “I expect she thought you must be a prostitute, then”. She was not joking.
As the years have gone on, I shaved more and more of my pubic hair. I have none, now.
Yet, as I age, my body is deciding to grow more hirsute. To the point that if I do not shave, I have pubic hair so far down my legs it’s like I am wearing a pair of furry (slightly ginger) boxer shorts.
The armpit hair is coarse and dark and you could strike matches on my legs, just the day after I have wet-shaved clean. I grow hair like a docker. I do not know any dockers. I don’t even know what a docker is.
And now my body has decided that I need hair on my bubbies. I grow two or three inch long hairs above each nipple. Yes, I have nipple brows. They appear at an inch long. Overnight. Just like the ones that grow out of my belly. These magical inch-longers get plucked out as soon as I notice them. Sometimes, this is when I see them on a photograph. That is not good.
My moustache is sometimes long enough to twirl. Thankfully, my facial hair is so fair it is invisible.
I am not going to shave it. If there’s one thing I have learned about body hair, it’s to leave it alone, if it is fine and fair.
Even though I am, if I am dressed at all, dressed in jeans and a tee, my unseen body parts are as hair free as I can make them.
For comfort. For cleanliness. For me.
Amanda Palmer’s got something she’d like to say about unrealistic expectations of beauty. On the surface it’s not zigackly the same as what Vix is saying. Underneath that, it’s all the same… When it comes to personal grooming, go with what’s comfortable and right for you. The rest of the world can go hang.
Tagged in: feminism and hair