Last week American Apparel shocked/induced eye rolls/delighted shoppers by accessorising their mannequins with pubes. The Internet erupted with opinions: some thought it was gross, others empowered, and a few asked why they were so schizophrenic in their support of women—a Petra Collins capsule range here, a sexual harassment suit there. Where you stand on pubic hair is your own choice, but it’s something that I can’t help but noticing has becoming increasingly fashionable lately.
Now to call pubes fashionable is ridiculous I know, it’s like calling your spleen fashionable, or your ACL muscle: they’re just apart of you and in a perfect world would warrant as much attention as any other body part that spends the day unthought of. Before American Apparel jumped on the bandwagon it was getting pretty crowded with the previously mentioned Petra Colins’ Instagram ban, Gwyneth Paltrow’s TV confessions, and a slew of other celebrity endorsements. And despite whether AA was using a growing dialog about body hair to sell Brazilian cut bathers, it’s still a dialog worth having.
Although it did beg the question, if we’re ready to accept our vagina’s in their natural state, why are we so scared of our underarms? Surely hair that lives in your t-shirt is less terrifying to the wider world than that living in you pants? Everything we know about societies hang-ups would lead you to assume that underarm hair is less terrifying than bush. But apparently it’s not. Save for the odd Kern shot it still makes people squirm like it was 1959.
Now this isn’t coming from my observations at the pool, but rather personal experience. Since starting this site I’ve spent more time thinking about gender, bodies, and expectations than ever before. And something I kept returning to was my own relationship with my hair. I spend my life trying to coax my mane to look like a pre-civilization mess, let my eyebrows go in high school, and have long since embraced my own bush. But despite my apparent confidence when it comes to going natural, I always kept my underarm hair in check. Until this year. After hours reading and talking about self acceptance and body love I began feeling more and more awkward when I pulled out my little pink razor in the shower. Who was I to preach to other girls about not bowing to anyone else’s perceptions of beauty when I was editing my own image twice a week? Not only that, but every time I saw another girl on the street with a little tuft sticking out of her sleeveless top I was increasingly impressed. It was sexy, it was cool, she immediately took on an extra dimension and oozed confidence.
Without even realising it I slowly began ignoring my lady schick and did what felt right—nothing. Then summer hit. Over the past few weeks I’ve realised that facing our own insecurities are nowhere near as tricky as facing other people. The reactions I’ve received have been varied and enlightening. Most girls have praised it, a surprising amount of boys dig it, but I didn’t realise how much I’d find myself justifying it. I guess I’m trying to justify it right now. Every time I stepped out to the pool with a friend I found myself giving a “I have to tell you something” speech before pulling off my shirt. I was as if I was revealing some horrific, deadly, infectious growth on my body. And despite how smug I felt in front of the mirror for casting off my own body dispersions, I couldn’t help by endlessly justifying my choice and was surprised by how much I found myself hoping they’d accept me. It wasn’t the picture of empowerment I expected.
Although as I mentioned a lot of people have been into it, peoples distaste has been the most telling. When I first floated the idea that underarm hair was kind of sexy I was met with an ocean of horrified faces and, “ewws”. Of course I protested that as far as I could find, no one was able to give one solid answer as to why hairless was better: it’s natural, men embrace it and we don’t flinch, everything that’s telling you it’s wrong is perpetuated by a male driven view of female beauty—people weren’t buying it. My own mother (who fought for civil rights in apartheid South Africa and considers herself a socialist) screwed up her face, tried to argue hygiene before sighing and saying, “It’s just not nice Wendy”.
Their dispersions were the nail in the coffin for my little pink razor. Seeing so many people go to pieces over a repulsion for a part of the female body was a surprising show of 21st century gender response. But the most worrying thing is we can’t even verbalise why we think hair free is better. The only excuses offered were aesthetic. Sure a few people argued sweat and hygiene, but evolutionary logic makes it pretty clear we’re meant to have hair and are largely better off for it. On a side note, over this heatwave I’ve found I sweat remarkably less.
Ever talk came back to what is and isn’t “gross”. We’re lucky to live in a society liberal enough for us to celebrate both our femininity and our feminism in the same breath, yet our blind devotion to a beauty myth we don’t fully understand but are prepared to perpetuate lives on.
To be clear I’m not saying if you shave you’re a bad feminist, if you prefer a hair free look go for it, after all your body is your own above everything. And I don’t want to put my hand up to say this choice is forever, we’re constantly changing our appearance based on mood. But do me a favour and just think about what you’re doing and why next time you lather up. There’s no shame in the shave, but don’t shave with your eyes shut.