Grow Your Body Hair Out & ‘Let Yourself Go’
I used to believe that growing out my leg hair was a symptom of ‘letting myself go’ and not taking personal responsibility for my hygiene. The lack of body hair became equated with cleanliness and how much self-respect I had. If it was long, that meant I did not love myself. It is a train of thought that launches you off the cliff into patriarchal notions. Modern, western world shaving practices are the love child of capitalism and branding practices that trick the consumer into thinking a preference is essential.
The phrase, ‘letting myself go’ implies rule-breaking or a slow descent into chaos. We have been taught to always make sure that we have control over our bodies and to manage our unique ecosystem. In the age of body agency, you would think control means freedom, but unfortunately, it does not. All of our decisions are informed by voices in our lives, which we must always interrogate.
These voices are the eye-catching tabloids you can’t help but stare at in line at the drug store, and the pitying whispers from other women. Because don’t you know, it’s the greatest sin against womanhood to not care.
If we are preaching body positivity and self-love, we need to erase the phrase: letting myself go.
It’s all rooted in the male gaze and how we, as women, have come to regulate our bodies based on rigid standards. When someone on the bus looks down at my hairy legs, unfurled basking in the summer heat, they see an example of undesirability. I embody a person who has stepped out and let go. I am a dangerous individual to many people who live on autopilot. Try to imagine the looks I get when I am holding my girlfriend’s hand while I am wearing shorts?
I am their worst fear: undesirability.
I am not anti-shaving. I still shave my underarms, shave my legs once a year, and my belly hairline if I feel like it. It is based on my mood and usually a choice I make every time I step in the shower. It is never out of obligation to some mysterious norm or what people will think about me. If being in a relationship with a woman has taught me anything, it’s to not give a fuck what is going through people’s heads.
The beauty industry category “shave body” has dropped 5% in sales over 12 months that ended in June 2019.
Meanwhile, women’s razor startup Billie, which launched in 2017, has raised $35 million in funding. The brand is known for its pro-body hair message. It seems counterintuitive, right?
Billie, a shaving supply company, markets itself to the modern woman who lets you know, like a good friend, that they are they for you whenever you need them. The marketing techniques of burgeoning beauty companies targeted towards millennials allow their consumers to exercise agency and choice over their bodies.
Hair removal then is not compulsory, it is a choice. Billie states in their video campaign that “however, wherever, and if ever you want to shave” they will be there. It’s intelligent and in line with the body positivity movement and cry to free women’s bodies from the male gaze.
“We wanted to be a body brand for women, and we sell razors, but we didn’t want to tell women that they had to be hairless,” Billie co-founder Georgina Gooley
Just like any other feminist movement, the body hair celebration has become co-opted and promoted widely by public figures who are more often than not, cisgender, white and a publicly lauded body type. While, all this time, LGBTQ+, and BIPOC bodies have been in the endless battle between cultural shame and personal celebration of their body hair. This exploration in gender-bending, through hair, is a part of a queer person’s journey. While marginalized groups are usually trailblazers in many of these movements, they are not the dominant voices in the conversation at large.
Many straight, white actresses, models or influencers only broadcast half of the conversation. They rightfully champion the reclamation of choice and body ownership but are unable to comment on gender creativity, and expression. Most will never know how dangerous it can be as a queer person to have body hair.
“Hair removal for transgender women isn’t just vanity or feeling gender-stigmatized, it’s an issue of personal safety; having a five-o’clock shadow or long white spiky hairs glinting in the sunlight signals to the world that your body is in flux.” — Juno Roche
Body hair becomes another whitewashed and straight dominated discourse in culture and mainstream media.
I can only speak as a cisgender, white, queer, soft butch woman. My leg hair is long, not soft, nor iridescent. It is the exact opposite of peach fuzz that women are semi-allowed to keep around on their bodies. I stopped shaving three summers ago. I was recently out, mostly wearing masculine-presenting clothes and felt zero need to fit into a prepubescent type anymore. I wanted to stretch to the farthest, unexplored recesses of what it means to be a woman.
I have only shaved a handful of times since then, as it has become more of an annual ritual like when the trees lose all their leaves. I want to challenge Armitage, a notable body hair positive photographer, who said that having body hair is a “casual and loose” experience. I will acknowledge that it can be in safe environments where no one cares. The deep conditioning about what it means to be a woman is thrown upon me every day and it can be exhausting to show my hairy legs in the summer. You may be asking: “is it worth it?”
Ultimately, it feels like me as I love the soft meadow of hair growing all over my legs that positions me as in between feminine and masculine. I am uncontainable and unable to be pinned down. It is the satisfaction of not existing in a preset norm and creating a personal rulebook, which queer people have been doing since the beginning of time.
If you decide to grow out or shave, make sure you are doing it only for yourself. It will not be easy to exist every day in a society that fears your transgression, but the feeling of freedom is sweeter and worth it.