Before every middle school dance, I used to perform a whole (now, seemingly ridiculous) full body hair removal ritual. I’d shave my big toes, legs, pubic hair, and armpits, and swipe my razor over the rogue hairs below my belly button, in the center of my chest, and around my nipples. I’d pluck my eyebrows and any random sprouts on my chin, and then, as I carefully applied Victoria’s Secret Pure Seduction lotion all over my hairless body, I’d let a creamy white depilatory sit above my lip and dissolve my mustache. I knew I was only supposed to leave it on my skin for 10 minutes, but my wiry black hair was so stubborn that that wasn’t always enough time to remove it all. I’d leave the cream on for far too long, giving myself minor chemical burns around my mouth. The redness was embarrassing in and of itself, but I knew I could cover it with some thick Maybelline Dream Matte Mouse foundation. Anything was better than people knowing I had hair above my lip.
I’ve been self-conscious of my body hair for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure exactly what triggered it, but I can recall tons of times when my fear of hair was reinforced: As guys in my class made fun of anyone whose eyebrows were even remotely approaching each other, when I was one of the only girls in the gym locker room with pubic hair and everyone stared, when I watched my older sister try Nair for the first time and heard her shriek in the shower that it was melting her skin off.
I understood that body hair was bad, and getting rid of it—no matter how painful and annoying—was absolutely necessary.
Still, as diligent as I was with my hair removal, I felt like there was always stubble showing somewhere on my body. In high school, I’d balance my head on my hand at my desk or at the lunch table, strategically covering my mouth so no one could see my way-before-five-o’clock shadow.
As I got older, I was much less concerned with my leg, armpit and pubic hair. I still shaved, but I wasn’t embarrassed if I got a little stubbly. Everyone knew that all women grew hair in those places. It didn’t feel like a secret. But the hair everywhere else was still mortifying to me. I used to get so frustrated when partners would try to join me in the shower when I actually needed to shave. I couldn’t let them see that I had a whole maintenance routine for my stomach and nipples and FACE!
The thing is, my body hair never bothered me. I was just terrified that other people would judge me.
And so I convinced myself that I liked the feeling of being totally clean-shaven, too. I ran track in college, and on Friday nights before meets, I’d practice my same middle school dance ritual, ridding my body of any hair that might show in our bikini-like uniforms. When I returned from the shower, I’d announce jokingly to my boyfriend that I was a “naked mole rat.” I felt sexiest and most at ease around him in a totally hairless state. Looking back, I really don’t think he cared one way or another, but my discomfort with body hair made me assume he did.
When I moved from Iowa to New York City after college, I started seeing more and more women with visible body hair IRL, in art, ad campaigns, and on social media. I think that’s why, over the last few years, I’ve gotten much more comfortable with my own. I’ve wanted to grow mine out for some time, almost as an experiment to see how I felt about it, but as a single person, I’ve always been too afraid of what new partners might think.
Then the pandemic happened. At first, I stopped shaving because…what was the point?! I wasn’t seeing anyone, and I had always done it for others anyway. Plus, keeping up with an involved grooming routine in the middle of a worldwide crisis felt exhausting and trivial. This felt like my chance to just let my body hair do its thing.
And, unsurprisingly, it’s been a fucking awesome experience. My showers are quick and simple, and the skin on my legs, bikini line, and upper lip, which used to get really bad razor burn and irritation, has never felt better. Yes, at first my hair was spiky and a little itchy, but it only took about two weeks to get past that. I haven’t shaved since the beginning of March, and my hair is fairly soft at this point. I occasionally trim my bikini line with scissors because the length and volume can get a little uncomfortable, but I haven’t touched a razor in months. I’ve become attached to my hair, and I feel healthy and proud when I notice it, sort of like when you see your nails getting longer.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I didn’t really have to think about other people seeing my body hair. I was staying inside most of the time, and if I went out, it was cold enough for leggings and long-sleeved shirts, and wearing a mask concealed my mustache. But as it’s gotten warmer and I’ve transitioned to shorts and tank tops, there’s been no hiding my body hair. I don’t mind strangers seeing it, but rocking it around people I’m attracted to was tricky at first.
I’ve been going on FaceTime and socially-distanced outdoor dates with a guy I’ve been seeing since right before the lockdown in New York City. One Saturday, we rode our bikes to Coney Island. I was wearing leggings, but when we took our shoes and socks off to stick our feet in the sand, I realized my leg hairs were still visible around my ankles. I instantly tried to pull my leggings down to cover them. I doubt he even noticed, but I still felt self-conscious. I was hyper-aware of how obvious my mustache would be in the bright light of the sun when we put our masks down to sip drinks.
But I got through the date, exposed hair and all, and nothing catastrophic happened. I could tell he liked me. It didn’t really matter if I was hairy.
On our next date, we went running together. I wore a tank and while we were stretching, I knew he could see my armpit hair. Again, he was unbothered. Didn’t say anything. Didn’t really react in any way. I realized that, just like with almost any physical attribute, that other people would take my lead as to how to respond to it. If I didn’t act like it was a big deal, no one else would. And frankly, if someone can’t accept my ‘stache, pits, or hairy legs, then they’re not the right person for me.
Now, I no longer reflexively cover my body hair. Sometimes, I still feel a ping of self-consciousness when men I know see it, but it feels a bit like exposure therapy. The more I allow people to see it, and don’t get much of a reaction from them, the more comfortable I feel with it. At times, I like showing it off. And the longer I’ve had it, the more I love it. I like how it feels when it blows in the breeze. I like how it’s a sort of dating filter for people who are easily grossed-out by the reality of human bodies, or think it’s only socially acceptable for men to have visible body hair. I like what it says about me: That I’m comfortable with my body exactly how it naturally exists. I’m proud of how something I used to be so deeply ashamed and embarrassed of has become something I celebrate. It made me realize I can shift my perspective on any aspect of myself that I don’t automatically love.
I’m proud of how something I used to be so deeply ashamed and embarrassed of has become something I celebrate.
I don’t know if all of that means I’ll never, ever shave again. One day, I might want to revisit the naked mole rat life. Maybe I’ll want to be smooth for a special occasion. But right now, I have no interest in using my energy to get rid of my body hair. I like it just how it is. And honestly, I’m so tired of being ashamed of my body in any way. Growing out my hair has been one way to fight back against those feelings. And I hope it shows other people who’ve felt bad about their hair that it’s really no big deal. This little experiment has shown me how freeing it is to limit your beauty and grooming practices to things that you actually enjoy – that are for you and you alone. Turns out that without outside pressure, my beauty routine is incredibly minimalist.
It’s strange that it took a pandemic to finally make me realize that obsessing over my secret hairiness being exposed wasn’t adding any happiness to my life. But it’s been one small, positive thing to come out of all this. Amidst everything going on, seeing that my hair hasn’t stopped growing reminds me that I haven’t stopped growing either. There’s a satisfaction in seeing it get longer. Even though it seems like my life has been frozen at the start of March, my little hairs serve as a reminder of the very real passage of time. I know it’s only hair, but letting it just exist makes me feel free.
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