I got my first armpit hair when I was 9. For awhile it was just the one and I kept it around for quite some time. I was maybe a little mesmerized by its existence.
When others joined, maybe a year and a half later, I retaliated with a pink daisy-printed BIC razor my mother kept in the shower. I would proceed to retaliate daily for the next 15 years of my life.
Body hair removal is probably the easiest way we women can avoid looking like women (much easier than starving away curves, I’d guess), which is itself transgressive. It’s also something I’d never given much thought until last week, when I decided to stop shaving everything.
I made the announcement to a group of girlfriends in the park. “Oh get over yourself,” sighed one of them, a self-proclaimed hippie who stays away from razors. But she’s exactly that: a hippie. I’m not, and sporting hippie signifiers like hairy pits (and, on the beach, full fluffy bush) doesn’t mesh with whatever it is I’m presenting as. So, as the hair has tufted out over the past days, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about what it means to be a woman in this world, about the boldness of body hair. How puberty makes us enemies of our physical selves. I’ve also realized that, my goodness, I am hairy.
No, I’m not surprised. I’m slavic and Salvadoran. I probably came out of the womb as a mound of fur (must check with mother). At 13 a classmate caught a peek of my bare belly—this was the late ’90s, when we stupidly wore hip-huggers—and shrieked: “Ew *Kellikorducki, you be HAIRY!” which prompted me to depliate the entirety of my pelvis to my ribcage for the next ten years. In sum, I expected there to be hair. What I didn’t expect was how fast.
The hair on my head is a mousy medium brown, wavy and fine. Everywhere else it’s almost black and triumphant. It is darker and starker than the body hair of most of my hippie friends, freckled blue-eyed gals with freckled blue-eyed gal hair.
While visible in this phase, it doesn’t quite look like anything other than its owner being too lazy to shave. When it gets a little longer, it will be a statement. Because that’s what body hair is on a woman.
I find myself talking about it a lot. It’s summertime, so it’s out there. I feel eyes falling on it and then quickly averting. We’re very guarded about our hair, and seeing it on others can feel like trespassing. So, I tell people about my experiment. “I’m growing out my body hair, just to see what it feels like.” Not what it feels like to have hair of course, but to walk through the world as a person who does. As a woman, that is.
The reality is that nobody really cares. But, they do notice. “I didn’t want to say anything,” said a friend at a beach party over the weekend after I’d explained myself, “but I saw it.” Then, “I couldn’t do it, myself.”
So, another day as a hairy non-hippie, a bundle of mixed signifiers navigating July. I dare you to give it a shot.
*Yes, my name in elementary school was often Kellikorducki. Sometimes, Kellikorfucki.