Growing up with Body Hair: A Journey to Self Love.

Via Juliana Ivey
on Jan 5, 2016
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In elementary school I didn’t look like the other girls.

They had light skin and delicate noses and manageable hair of all different colors. The only other girl who looked like me was my best friend Genesis. She moved away in second grade. In fifth grade, I watched as my crush of three years gave a mix CD to my bully.

In middle school I wasn’t sure where everyone was getting their new, form-fitting clothing. I got out my mom’s sewing machine and redid the seams on all the jeans she had bought me until they choked my thighs. I took a dress I used to wear when I was six and made it into a mini skirt I would secretly wear to school. Someone told me one of the popular boys said I was hot; the Abercrombie-clad girls who looked at me from a much closer distance told me I really needed to start shaving my legs. They said it was easy; they said they didn’t even have to shave above their knees, because there really wasn’t any hair there. I did, though.

I think I was 12 when, at a girl scout meeting, the leader (someone’s mom) complimented my friend on her newly neat eyebrows, which she had recently shaved into submission. The girls proceeded to go around in a circle and, after examining every face, declared that everyone there had naturally perfect eyebrows…except for me. The leader said nothing. I went home and started plucking with blunt tweezers, pulling out everything I could.

Around the same time, my uncle told me I really needed to take care of my mustache. After plucking proved too painful, I resorted to using depilatory creams, which gave me chemical burns on my upper lip that I covered up with my $5 foundation from the drugstore. They never seemed to have one that matched my olive skin tone.

When I was 13, I got my period and my first catcall.

In high school, I shuddered in shame as my crush lifted up my shirtsleeve to see my tan and revealed my hairy arms. I promptly shaved them.

At 14, I got my first boyfriend and my first kiss. I took off my shirt in front of him, but only after removing the trail of hair from my navel to my jeans. It was not long after that, after several jokes made on the quad, that I realized I was not supposed to have hair on my vulva. I shaved that off too. My friends said it was easy; their hair was so fine that all they needed was a few swipes. I bled. I bled every time.

By college I had perfected my routine. I had saved up enough to get regular bikini waxes—full Brazilians, everything off—which my boyfriend appreciated so much that he once shaved his own pubic area in solidarity (but only once). I figured out how to wax my own face. The prior existence of hair on my upper legs, belly, arms, and upper lip was a secret only time without my tools would tell. I was hairless from the eyebrows down, and as far as anyone needed to know, it was natural. They could expect it from me. I made it my mission to get laser hair removal as soon as I could afford it.

Sometime last year, something switched. I found it odd that someday, if I had a daughter, her pubic area and mine would look the same: hairless. Prepubescent. I felt somewhat disgusted with myself, and stopped getting it all taken off at my monthly waxes. I started leaving some hair. It made me feel more real.

I began to realize that my eyebrows, though having grown back significantly since the middle school frenzy, were still being kept in a shape that was not their own. As I started to question what makes each one of us beautiful in our own way, I realized I actually did not know what my face naturally looked like. The fear from middle school and high school was beginning to dissipate, but the habits remained. I decided to let my face come back.

Last month, I began an experiment. I stopped shaving my underarms. It felt incredibly odd lifting up my arms to do my hair every day and seeing hair there too, but a part of me liked it. I felt real. I felt natural. I felt strong, and wild, and independent, because suddenly societal conditioning was not in charge of my body. I was.

Another part of me didn’t want to deal with the lingering looks. So a couple of days ago, I shaved them again. I lifted my arms and looked at myself.

That was when the weirdest thing happened. I looked at my bare underarms and I giggled. I was bald; I looked like a baby. It was so weird! Why did I do that? Because people might look at me? Because my boyfriend might think it’s weird? It was certainly not for any reason that I found valid at that point. I decided to let it grow back.

Today I am 22 and I have decided to let myself exist as I am. I have decided that if someone will not accept or respect me because of hair on my body, they are truly not worth my time. I have decided that I would like someone to fall in love with my real face. I have decided that I may continue to remove hair in some places, and that’s okay too. I have decided that my worth is not derived from my outer casing, but by the fact that I have a soul full of love inside of it.

You are a unique expression of consciousness. You are an inimitable aspect of this universe, experiencing itself with wonder. Explore yourself. Embrace yourself. You are magic, you are a work of art, and you deserve your own unconditional love.

Let the decisions you make about your body come from that place in you that knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you are beautiful just the way you are.    


Relephant Favorite: 

Measuring Up: Unlearning Body Image Issues.


Author: Juliana Ivey

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Instagram/rebeccatun


About Juliana Ivey

Juliana Ivey is a yoga instructor, Tantrika and earth worshipper currently living in Santa Cruz, California. She believes that we are all unique manifestations of the same divine loving Heart, and that by tapping into that truth, we can save the world. Find her on Instagram here.


18 Responses to “Growing up with Body Hair: A Journey to Self Love.”

  1. Hannah Muse says:

    Thank your for sharing your story with the world, you sweet brave yogini. You are beautiful. Love, your very hairy-legged yoga teacher (Hannah ❤️)

  2. Bre says:

    You sharing this story at this particular time has hit me, hard. You spoke to me, through me and with me, my sister. The timing of this story coming out today and with my current self in this moment, is serendipity working at her finest. I’ve chosen to let some hair grow as well. First, my pubic hair. And as of a month ago, my legs. I feel like me again. I look down at myself and can’t help but giggle, because it dawns on me how something so natural and innately beautiful has been replaced with idealizations of the hairless woman.

    I want to thank you, but I also don’t. You were meant to write this on this day. How can we possibly thank chance?

    I thank you for being your most humble, authentic self.

  3. Evelyn Wilde says:

    Thank you for sharing! I am encouraged by your writing to continue my personal journey of letting my body be in its natural state…clothed in naturally occurring hair as well as discontinuing the use of undergarments. Where did all this extra material come from, I often question… And who needs it!

    I savor the thought of other women being true to their natural self.


  4. atenea says:

    How wonderful to read a woman reach this conclusion at 22. You have a rewarding path ahead of you, bravo!

  5. Thank you for this refreshing article; part of being a woman is having hair on your pubis, underarms, and sometimes face and navel. As an Italian/French woman I have learned to embrace most of it, and I am more inspired because of you. Thank you!

  6. Carly says:

    Thanks for this very honest post. It's crazy the amount of time and money we spend on hair removal. Kind of funny even. Can you imagine ancient cultures/cave people witnessing this obsessive ritual?

  7. Jayne says:

    I was exactly the same. And it was at 21 I started not shaving public hair at all. Now I haven’t touched that area in 2 years and it’s just weird when I look at it to think this is found weird/not good by society. It’s just so normal and natural looking. And I have to say one does feel more confident when you go around with more hair. I stopped shaving my arms as well and it really is freeing. And you do feel more wild and confident.

  8. Juliana says:

    Yes!! Haha I love you Hannah! Thank you for being such a light in my life. <3

  9. Juliana says:

    Bre – I feel you. I felt a sudden need to write this a few weeks ago lying in bed late at night. I churned it out in less than an hour, and knew I needed to find a way to get it out there. I'm so glad my words could be a part of your journey. So much love and light to you, sister.

  10. Juliana says:

    Namaste, Evelyn! Thank you for your response. I savor that thought, too. How wonderful would it be for no woman in this world to feel ashamed of herself.

  11. Juliana says:

    Atenea – thank you so much! I have so much hope for the future; I firmly believe that we can ease so much suffering in this world by starting with how we view ourselves. I love publications like elephant because they provide such an amazing platform for self-discovery, self-healing and social awareness. I'm honored to be a part of it. <3

  12. Juliana says:

    Carly – right?? Reading up on the history of hair removal is almost comical. If you haven't yet, I recommend looking up when Western women first started shaving their underarms. It's pretty hilarious 🙂 I realized I had been operating under the unexamined assumption that women had ALWAYS removed all body hair. How ridiculous.

  13. Juliana says:

    Jayne – I feel the same way. I had considered stopping hair removal for a while, and always saw it as something radical that I had to be very brave to do, as if it would be difficult and I would have to sacrifice for it. Now it seems so simple and "normal". I find myself really wondering when all body hair below our eyebrows started to become a 100% masculine thing, and why.

  14. Juliana says:

    Colleen – you are very welcome 🙂 It's so interesting how differently female body hair is viewed in many parts of Europe vs. the United States. It really speaks to the fact that hair removal is a cultural trend and not a hygienic or biological necessity.

  15. Shivani says:

    Hi Juliana – thanks for this awesome article.I have struggled with body hair issues my entire life and they have caused a lot of emotional distress over the years. I don't shave my legs or armpits – I haven't for several years now except on a few occasions – and totally relate to your story about shaving and then giggling because it looks so strange. Even though I choose not to shave, I still deal with body acceptance issues and negative feelings around my body hair. But here is kind of an interesting story. I lived with my Gurus in a northern California ashram (Devi Mandir) for some time. At one point, one of my Gurus – Shree Maa – who is considered one of the great female saints of our time, looked at me and told me I should remove my mustache, that I looked like a man. When I left the Temple I cried. And I felt very angry. Why would Shree Maa say that to me? Aren't Gurus supposed to be focused on the inner beauty – not the outer? After a lot of distress and tears, suddenly the humor of it all hit me. The only reason I was so upset about what Shree Maa said is because I still placed soooooo much stock in how I looked. Body hair was still a huge issue me. But when I realized the ridiculousness of putting so much weight on appearance when there's a whole infinite universe out there, it struck me as funny. Of course we need to take care of ourselves, but I'd rather spend my mental energy thinking about Sanskrit, the Universe, and service than fret about my mustache. It's way more fun! And then, deep in my heart, I felt Shree Maa smile down upon me. The Guru works in mysterious ways…. 🙂

  16. Doris says:

    From one hairy girl to another: Amen sista! My lifelong battle with hair was a direct reflection of my journey to self-love and total self- acceptance. I still laser, wax and shave. I will probably never be “ok” with having hair on my rear. But at least I don’t make myself feel less worthy or feminine because of it.

  17. Hannah says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I think it’s interesting how we all feel the need to validate our own choices. Each of us have our own normal. But, what I take away from this article is that we need to be brave and question why we do the things we do. Is it really for us? I can tell you, I do my eyebrows because they grow so long and stick up! As a teen, I too felt peer pressure to start shaving my legs when my hippy mama didn’t introduce me to a razor. There were years where I felt un-feminine with hair. It’s been a real struggle. Being a blonde, I have so much hair on my arms and body… And when I’m tanned, it may be fine, but it is oh, so present. The biggest lesson to me is seeing my hair as feminine and not something to be extinguished. I never thought it was until other women told me it was. It’s not what we do, but why we do it.

  18. Hannah V says:

    Hi Juliana,

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! I think it’s interesting reading the Facebook post responses from when this article was shared via elephant journal to see each woman defending her decision to shave or not to shave. To hell with it.

    I take away from your article that we must each assess the reasons that we do the things we do, not what we actually do. My mother, bless her heart, has not shaved her underarms for years and her legs are very often unshaved. She doesn’t care. That was my normal. And it wasn’t until high school when I was wearing a jean skirt in september and my blonde hair was bleached against my tanned skin that the other girls made me feel abnormal. For some reason, after that I became obsessed with getting rid of the hair on my body. Someone teased me about the white bushy hair on my arms, and I shaved it (only the left one because my big sister caught me in the act). I was constantly chasing the race of time until I couldn’t catch up.

    Now, I don’t shave regularly (much to my boyfriend’s dismay, though he’ll never say it). Sometimes I do. Underarms and my eyebrows are the most consistent. As a blonde, I’ve got a lot of hair. And it makes no difference to me anymore whether it’s shaved or not. If i feel like it, I will. I no longer associate my femininity with a hairless body. That was my mistake for so many years. Somewhere, after puberty I was racing to look like puberty had never happened. I love my hair. I love the hair on my shins, even the fuzz on my breasts, the hair running down belly button, even the hairs on my big toes are getting the love from me these days.

    Ladies, let’s continue to show solidarity to one another. Be brave and question the reasons we do the things we do. And the reasons we associate beauty with certain characteristics. Patriarchy thrives when there is division amongst women. We are more powerful when we are united.

    Stop shaming each other.