I am a woman blessed with dark, luscious locks cascading down my white legs.
A woman whose full-grown armpit hair can be spotted peeping through arms pressed tightly against her sides. A woman whose pubic hair spills out onto her legs—full, whole, grown.
I began growing out my body hair over four years ago; right around the same time, I shaved my head.
Immediately after hair had been removed from the top of my head and lengthened on the rest of my body, I got the question…but why?
Well, it all began because I wanted to see what would happen if I reversed the traditional roles of body hair women are expected to have by societal standards. I was tired of fighting patriarchal, capitalist norms in theory but replicating them in my daily life. I had also recently come out as queer.
So one night right around the new moon, a group of friends in Boulder, Colorado took turns shaving parts of my head while surrounding me drumming and chorusing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as I sat cross-legged on our tiny balcony cradling a white lotus candle in my lap and beaming tearfully from ear to ear.
This ceremonial night marked the beginning of a lifelong path of extricating my own innocence from patriarchy’s ironclad grasp. It also instigated a thorough and continued exploration of how the inhumane beauty standards imposed upon women are an embodied reflection of both patriarchy’s intentional shrinking of women and the capitalist mantra that we are never enough just as we are.
The issue of body hair crosses genders, doubles over, extends, backflips, twists, is so far from binary. And. It is extremely important to name the truth that—in the binary (false as it is but with a strength that grips the roots of this culture and cultures worldwide)—girls and women are all but required to remove their body hair for social acceptance by the dominant culture, while men and boys are not.
Although not all women have wombs, I do speak from the place of a woman with a womb, because that is my lived experience.
I am a woman who bleeds and stinks. A woman who is tall, a woman who yells, a woman who gets angry and jealous. I am a watery woman who dares to feel deeply, one who is wild and sometimes destructive with her anger.
I speak as a woman who is also gentle, soft, and nurturing.
A complex and contradictory woman.
A woman who is sexy because of her hair—not in spite of it.
My message, while rooted in my womb, extends beyond race, class, and gender to something that is innately human: the right to feel at home and uninhibited in our bodies.
Feeling at home and uninhibited in my body is a freedom I am in the process of unearthing. Finding this freedom requires unlearning the rigid rules I was taught about what to do with my hair.
In middle school, I would spend an hour each morning perfectly straightening my hair. Me as a white woman with nothing more than gentle waves in my chocolate brown locks would do this. I can only imagine the heightened pressure felt by a black or Indian or Jewish woman, or any woman with a full head of lusciously flowing hair.
I remember in high school shaving my pubic hair until my labia was raw, bleeding, red, stinging. The pain and discomfort that arose from this vulnerability took precedence over any pleasure wanting to unfold during these years and for a long time afterward.
I stopped shaving my labia when high school ended, but would often lie about being on my period during sexual encounters because I didn’t want them to see that my body does indeed produce pubic hair.
This pressure to straighten our hair, to rip out hair on every part of our body, to paint our faces, our nails, to douche the human scent of our vaginas away is all a process of shrinking women.
If we think about it, babies are born with little to no hair on their bodies. As we grow and mature, we develop hair. Babies are hairless. Full-grown women have hair—a lot or a little, depending upon one’s genetic makeup, but hair nonetheless. Yet as women we are encouraged to remove this marker of womanhood, of age, of life experience and maturity from our bodies by having baby-soft skin.
This is not a mere style choice. This is a patriarchal power play. Keep women hairless, keep them hating their bodies, keep them small, keep them silent and afraid so they won’t speak out against the system.
In the book Witches, Midwives, and Nurses, the authors point out that a woman accused of witchcraft in 1600s Europe was “stripped naked and shaved of all her body hair” before being subjected to various kinds of torture (Ehrenreich & English). Wise women’s bodies were shaven as a way to make them vulnerable and powerless, expose them for the “crime” of connecting to the earth, of being wild, primal, animal, sensual, instinctual, wise—exposing them for a crime that is not a crime.
The shrinking of women is nothing new. We’ve been primed to believe there’s something disgusting and flawed in our very body’s existence. At the same time, we feel we must pretend that living under patriarchy doesn’t make it insanely challenging to feel at home in our own skin.
It’s time that the shrinking of our bodies, our truth, our voices, our songs, our wisdom, our hair comes to an end.
I have been on a path of shrinking and blooming into my body hair and then shrinking and blooming a little fuller with each season.
The summer after I first started growing out my hair and left the safe container of my school in Boulder, something happened: I avoided the beach. I avoided tank tops. I avoided shorts.
I love the beach, I love tank tops, I love shorts, but I hate the shame I feel when someone looks up at my face, down at my leg hair, then quickly up at my eyes again, and a sympathetic yet confused smile spread across their face.
Or the unsolicited comments, in my case always from men, like, “Ooo, I like them hairy women!” and, “Damn girl, those pits! She don’t shave!” or the silent stares, those are the worst. Gah.
So finally, that summer, I made a decision: I’m shaving. I did it and felt instantly free to frequent the places and people I loved.
The advice I have for my 19-year-old self, and for anyone in a similar position, is when the will to have full body hair as a middle finger to the man becomes more of a cause for anxiety and suffering than joy and passion, shave, wax, tweeze, groom in anyway that feels good! And adore yourself for doing so.
By choosing to have body hair but feeling restricted in our movement throughout the world, we fall into the same pattern of bodily restriction and judgment we intend to counter. The Body Hair Positivity movement is about feeling safe, sexy, and lovable in whatever body we have—regardless and because of size, color, shape, and amount of hair.
As Sera Beak says in the book Red, Hot and Holy, “Aligning our ordinary life with our evolutionary divinity is a path of fire. You burn. You grow. You burn. You grow. Constantly. The only stability is our trust in the process.”
We are here to support each other on this path of burning and growth, calling in rather than calling out. When we call each other out, when we ridicule a sister for shaving her legs, or shopping at Walmart, we are reenacting capitalist norms just as we have been conditioned to do. We are speaking from our individualist boxes, driving each other further apart into isolation and loneliness. We need space to be held while we burn, figure it out, learn to feel sexy with hair, and release shame. We need love over judgement, compassion over call out, awareness over cut-throat shaming.
The realization that it is truly safe to have body hair—I will not be killed, no one will assault me because of my hair, no one will tell me to leave the room or stop being my friend (at least not the soul friends I deserve)—has transformed the way I walk through the world with hair. When fears arise, and they do, I listen, I breathe into them, honor, and release while stepping gleefully into the fire of definite judgement, a dose of confused wonder and possible disgust.
I am learning to feel beautiful standing tall in a dress and sometimes heels at a family gathering with full leg hair exposed as I lift my arms into the sky and smile as people stare, trusting that the best protection is love radiating from the inside out.
I am grateful for the gift of reminding those around me, just by existing as I am, that there is another way to live, one where we don’t have to be ashamed of our bodies and the way they naturally exist.
I am grateful for my hair as a powerful piece of my truth, my beauty, my resistance, and my womanness.