The first time I stopped shaving my body hair was when I was 21. I stopped shaving my vagina to prevent ingrown hairs and razor burn, two things that had caused me great pain for many years. I had been shaving nearly every inch of my body since the age of 13 and never questioned what shaving was actually doing to my skin and pores.
My boyfriend at the time thought my actions were a personal attack on him and had many unfounded thoughts on my reasoning. The conversation that ensued was both comical and hurtful. Shortly after, we broke up and I stopped shaving my underarms as well. It was utterly freeing. That spring I had moved back home when my sister and I began discussing our lack of shaving and thoughts on female body image when unshaven. Every time I looked in the mirror, I got a little more comfortable with the image of brown hairs growing under my arms and elsewhere until the sight became beautiful to me. It reminded me that I was a woman and women have hair. It honestly made me feel a bit more human, too. Through this experience I began to realize that hair is so very biological. Under our arms, on our vaginas, all over our bodies. Skin is our largest organ and hair has completely amazing evolutionary purposes to protect that organ. It is nothing to be ashamed of and more importantly, it should not be expected that every woman shave.
As a child, my mom frequently walked around our home in the nude. It was the 90’s; she had a bush. She was also a devoted advocate for embracing the female form in every respect. I had seen her body hair as a child. Yet, when it came down to me having sex for the first time, I felt it absolutely necessary to shave nearly every inch of my body in preparation. I had a girl friend, two years senior, present that encouraged wholeheartedly. She shaved also. A part of it was that no one had really explained that sex was for adults. I felt pressured to look as “good” as possible while, in all actuality, I should have been focused on how I felt making that decision. I was focused on the external expectations for a sincerely internal experience. According to the media I was bombarded with all my life, hair, especially “down there,” was unattractive and seen as barbaric. Even PETA released a fur trim advertisement insinuating female pubic hair was unattractive.
I have been taught from a young age to be grateful and comfortable in my skin regardless of adversity. This was rooted in my mother’s deep realizations on her experiences as a woman, mixed race individual, and freethinker. These roots were invaluable after my own experience of childhood molestation and, later, womanhood. Victim is a nasty label we are all best removing from our vocabulary. The term victim has inevitably negative connotations of being weak and unable to help yourself. It is no coincidence that rape shaming exists in a world where those who experience rape are labeled victims and treated as such. Think of the difference between your emotions upon hearing rape victim versus cancer survivor. It is no coincidence that grown women are, at times, expected to be as hairless as a small girl. Our ideas of sexuality are deeply rooted in preying upon children and the weak; historically this had pertained to the “weaker” gender. Sex is something vulnerable and having no as an option has been looked down upon for thousands of years. Specifically in hetero relationships and interactions, actual consent from the woman is, more often than not, optional. This is apparent in our television, movies, pornography, marketing, and society as a whole. I have never witnessed a sex scene where the woman had hairy legs being caress by a Gosling type character. This leaves women questioning their worth based on how smooth their skin is. Beyond me. We must, absolutely must, create a culture of consent in our society lest we base our daughters’ worth on superficial and sexualized standards.
So, down to biology. Doctors know that shaving imposes constant stress on the skin similar to exfoliation. However, shaving can easily lead to over-exfoliation, as well as a compromised lipid barrier. Our lipid barrier protects the epidermis by keeping moisture in the tissues and controlling the entrance of external chemicals into the deep layers of the skin. If this lipid barrier is compromised, underlying tissues will release water readily, creating a dehydrated skin condition. The ingrown hairs and razor bumps are Pseudo folliculitis Barbae, a skin condition which disproportionally affects African Americans and individuals with course or curly hair because the angle of our hair follicles. Thus, promoting shaving to those who really should go without if only for the sake of their skin health. When the hair grows with a kink or curl it winds around like a corkscrew, making it more likely to turn into the skin, forming an ingrown hair. The body then recognizes this ingrown hair as a foreign object and triggers the inflammatory response that includes redness, itchiness and pimple-like bumps that can fill with pus. Continuing to shave only exacerbates the situation and can lead to more serious bacterial infections at the wound sites not to mention the low-grade fever we are all probably running due to these sores.
I did this because I wanted the freedom to control my standards of body image. I encourage all women and men to do the same instead of buying into corporate marketing tactics aimed at making money rather than promoting public health and diverse views of self-image. We are individuals; we must act like it and embrace others who do as well. Whether this be shaving or not, just know the status quo is always up for debate. My current partner never imagined he would be intimate with a woman that had hairy legs or “excessive” body hair in general. Yet, my unabashed flaunting has definitely changed something for him because I get my hairy legs caressed just like in the sexy movie scenes all the time. Let your standards be your own. Live them. Love them. Share them. Embrace those who respect them. Give empathy to those who don’t. Who knows, you could change some minds with as simple a question as, “why do I shave?” or “why do I find body hair unattractive?”
June 8th is National Body Hair Day as claimed by Bustle.com.