Female Body Hair: No Right or Wrong

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Lottie discusses female body hair, cultural expectations and why neglecting to shave does not have to be a political statement.

Discussions about female body hair are much like the offending follicles themselves: while a lot of people might hope that the conversation will just fall off the proverbial armpit never to return, it resurfaces, pricklier than ever and often leaving you with an uncomfortable itch from ingrown hairs, razor rash or the harsh reality that society’s obsession with no hair is infantilizing women.

Before I started writing this piece, I thought that the issue of female body hair had progressed further than it really has (mostly because of my own laziness when it comes to shaving). Public opinion of female body hair is at the equivalent of the two/three-day post shave period; the hairs of acceptance haven’t yet sprouted but we’re starting to see the roots. And yes, this article will make as many hair puns as humanly possible.

I go to gym classes around 5 times a week. I remember to shave my armpits once a week… usually. One can safely assume then that at least 2/3 times a week I treat my anaerobic acquaintances to the horror show of prickly ‘pits.  I’ve come up with a fool-proof way of avoiding ostracization; I loudly declare (before anyone has time to notice that I am a messy failure of a woman); “OH NO I FORGOT TO SHAVE.” It’s brilliant, because now everyone knows that I am as disgusted at myself for being less feminine in public as they are – social equilibrium is restored. We can all get on with our burpees in peace.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to shaving, but most of us think there is.

That, in a nutshell, is where the problem with shaving culture lies. There is no right or wrong when it comes to shaving, but most of us think there is. I used to shave everything every day because I thought body hair was disgusting and masculine, and that if I didn’t shave any man I slept with might worry I was hiding a surprise penis under the bush. That is genuinely exhausting. One of my friends brought a guy back from a night out and made him wait in her room while she secretly shaved (risking him thinking she had the runs) rather than remain hairy and happy.

All the women I asked said they wished they were more confident about their body hair. Allowing yourself to have body hair as a woman is a political statement. To some (mostly men) not shaving is identifying yourself as a man-hating, bra-burning (even typing that made me furious) ‘feminist’. I applaud anyone brave enough to stand up and publicly talk about how damaging the expectation for zero hair on women can be; sometimes I don’t shave because I am a feminist and I think I shouldn’t have to. I’m also lazy. So lazy that I leave chipped nail varnish on my nails for weeks, and on my toes for months.

I’m going to stop apologising to strangers for my armpit hair at the gym. I’m also going to stop bullying myself for being an ogre if I don’t shave, and an anti-feminist if I do. I think we’ll all stop feeling so pressured to always look acceptable when we force ourselves to view our body hair nonchalantly. From now on, let’s talk about female body hair as if its natural and normal.

Lottie Ledger