Body hair and femininity. Eek! Where do I begin? Here’s my experience with body hair from the beginning.
When I was twelve, a couple of girls were at my house and giggling and laughing and then pointing and calling me by the letters,“H.A.!” “H.A.!” which they eventually confided meant Hairy Armpits. Not long after that I asked my mum if I could shave. As a result of the teasing, I felt I should also shave my legs. Although they didn’t call me H.L., I believe it may have been implied. My mum taught me how to shave my armpits and lower legs, warning me that once I started, I couldn’t stop; I’d always have to do it. I was okay with that; it would be worth it to not stand out as abnormal among my peers.
As I matured, whether by psychological force or culture or nature, I began to equate body hair as negative and unfeminine. I always felt my looks to be slightly boyish—with a small chest contributing in that department. Those traits, combined with the homophobic town I was growing up in, resulted in me doing whatever I could to retain my femininity—from shaving armpits and legs, plucking eyebrows, to wearing make-up and hairspray. I tried ear-piercing, jewelry and padded bras. Many of those habits didn’t last. By the time I was raising kids, I’d dropped the jewelry, make-up, hairspray and eyebrow plucking, preferring the simplicity of being natural. I cut my own hair to save money and am happy with a simple hairstyle that requires little maintenance.
I’ve kept long hair most of my life. Why is it that head hair feels more feminine if it is longer and thicker while other body hair feels masculine and undesirable and less is better? In my twenties, a friend of my roommate told me about a woman he dated who had a tattoo of a lawnmower “down there” which he found to be an incredible turn-on (although I suspected this was more likely something he’d seen in a magazine than real life). However, shortly after this conversation, I had what I considered a “nightmare” during which I discovered my whole chest was growing dark, curly hair like a man. Thankfully it was only a dream but I recognize this is another area of my body that gets attention—when I want to feel more feminine, the hair must go! And as far as “down there”, my desire to mask that anything grows beyond my bikini line, ever, once led to a very bad experience with waxing. I’ve since tried plucking and trimming and well, I’ve always believed that that area is best left to imagination so I won’t go into detail of its current state.
So, on to the point of this post! I recently discovered a large moustache whisker had appeared on my face. This ignited several fears in me, the first being that if I plucked it, I would always have to pluck it because I feared it would come in larger and darker and thicker. Shaving is not an option—a lone long hair could become many. So I left it. But as it grew longer, I grew more self-conscious. I found myself turning that side of my face away from people, keeping a safe distance during conversation, hoping they couldn’t see that far, and even avoiding places where people were gathered. At times I wanted to blurt out what I was feeling and why I was doing it, hoping for comic and sympathetic relief from others, but then I didn’t want to draw attention to it in the case that it wasn’t noticed.
I forced myself to accept my masculine moustache as short-term pain for long-term gain. I checked the mirror daily. I vigorously scrubbed my face, each time hoping that today would be the day the hair would naturally release itself from my pores. I laughed at my insanity. This experience made me question who came up with the idea that body hair, which grows naturally on women, is unfeminine. And then I remembered that it was ADVERTISING! Still, my beliefs are firmly entrenched and although I have beautiful feminine friends with armpit hair, I prefer to justify my shaved pits as a comfortable habit.
And the day I touched that moustache hair and saw it crumble and fall, I was very happy and felt ALL GIRL again!