Body Hair: Proud Or Ashamed?
For those of you who have never met me in person, it’s about time you knew something about me. It’s a burden I carry, it’s something that makes me stand out from the crowd. To some it’s shameful, to others funny. Here it is - I have hairy arms.
I’m not talking a bit fuzzy, or a smattering of blond peach fuzz, I’m talking black, pretty thick, and obvious. I’m talking hairier than a lot of men - that’s an entertaining comparison. I’m also very pale, so it stands out, stark and beautiful against my melanin-lacking skin. I’ve had it all my life and it makes me part of an exclusive club - The Hairy Woman Club.
To get it out of the way, no, I’ve never shaved my arms. I think I was close when I was about 10 and mentioned it to my mum, who then responded that she’d never shaved hers and never would. She said she was proud of her arm hair and that she liked it because it was soft. I don’t think my mum even realises that I remember this, and it is the only reason I’ve never taken a razor to my gloriously hairy arms in my life (I will say, I’ve had patches of my arms shaved for tattoos, but my God, the regrowth is horrible and just reinforces why it’s a terrible idea.). Kind words about yourself have a huge impact on impressionable children - doesn’t that make all the negative ones feel quite poisonous?
The furthest I’ve gone into hiding my hairy nature is to bleach my arm hair. It’s a tedious and tingly process that lasts maybe a few weeks if I’m lucky, but makes me feel a little less self-conscious about how obvious it is. Because that’s the thing - while I’m not ashamed of it, I’m not comfortable with it. While that one comment from my mum has saved me countless hours of shaving and horrible ingrown hairs, it doesn’t diminish the stigma about women with body hair.
Just because I don’t remove anything from my arms doesn’t mean the rest of my body is safe either. I shave my legs, my bikini line, my armpits, my feet, my moustache. I pluck my eyebrows, my chin and my tummy and my sideburns. I carry out a full scale war against body hair, except my arms. What a lot of effort to try and be the sleek goddess woman I’m supposed to be, but never will. That’s just the removal of things from me, I’m not even going into the other things like what I’m supposed to add or act like. But I digress, or do I? Because body hair is interwoven into misogyny and is a big feminist issue.
Body hair is such an issue because when women have it we are seen as less female, less human, more disgusting, easier to ridicule, and easier to dismiss and ignore. It serves as another distinction between men and women, another barrier put up as why we’re different. It’s also an element of intersectional feminism because of the way non-white women (and men) are policed for their hair, body or otherwise. Trans people are judged for having too much or too little because of its status as a gender signifier. Body hair, or the absence thereof, is one gender divide that no one seems to want to talk about, let alone cross, so my arm hair has become rather important to me.
I know that as a cis-gender white woman I undoubtedly have privilege when it comes to people’s perceptions of my body hair. I’m so obviously female in a lot of other ways, and I remove other hair, so the hair on my arms often goes unnoticed. And the hair of white women has been made the societal default, so even when noticed, I’m not outside the prescribed default of anyone’s expectations by more than one degree. Yay for me?
My point is, if I have one, is that my hairy arms are about the only thing that I do not have a deep shame about, and I find that strange, even though it’s my body. I wish, seriously wish, I felt that way about my other body hair but I really don’t - I hate it and am ashamed of it. Perhaps addressing my hairy arms in this post is somewhat of a love letter, perhaps it’s an exploration into why I don’t hate it, but either way the fuzz that prospers on my arms is maybe the only thing about me that rejects societal expectations. And that’s pretty amazing, even if I say so myself.