The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Let’s begin by stating the obvious fact that we all have body hair, and there is nothing shameful about it. There’s no “but” to that statement — having body hair is COMPLETELY NORMAL!! However, that fact is often easier said than embraced, especially for women. Like many of you, I’ve struggled for my entire life with what to do and how to feel about my body hair.
Like many women of Latin American descent, I have no shortage of body hair. My most prominent form of body hair has always been my arm hair, even when I was a newborn. Just ask my mother, who affectionately referred to me as her “fuzzy baby.” For the first few years of my life, I was unaware of how much body hair I had in comparison to the people around me, but I still remember the exact moment that I lost that blissful ignorance. I was in elementary school, and a boy on the bus pointed at my arms and called me a gorilla. It was one stupid comment from a kid, but, from then on, insecurity about my arm hair became a constant. For the rest of elementary school I wore a blue and grey striped Happy Bunny jacket (if you don’t remember Happy Bunny, by the way, look it up for a good rush of nostalgia!). I wore my jacket on the hottest days of the school year and even during recess. However, hiding under my jacket didn’t stop people, specifically boys, from commenting on my body hair. Even the elation of getting my first boyfriend in elementary school was ruined when the other boys pointed out that, because of the amount of arm hair I had, I was “more of a man” than my boyfriend.
I wish I could say that my experience was unique, but all women go through a similar change when we stop viewing body hair as a neutral part of having a human body and start viewing it as something women shouldn’t have. Whether you can pinpoint the exact moments that this change occurred like I can or whether it was more gradual for you, women experience this transition into body hair stigma as we begin to internalize societal expectations.
Flash forward to high school, and I started freshman year P.E. where I had to trade my comfortable long sleeves for a short sleeve P.E. shirt. Cue the boys who felt far too comfortable commenting on girls’ bodies. Even my crush joined in on the teasing. One joking comment about my arm hair later, I was holed up in my bathroom applying Nair for the first time. After an unfortunate allergic reaction, I began shaving my arms instead, which I continued to do until my freshman year of college. I know what you’re thinking, and, if I could go back in time and simultaneously hug and slap some sense into my past self, I would.
I stopped shaving my arms during the first COVID lockdown because no one was around to see how hairy my arms were. When it came time to begin my reintroduction into society, my hair had been restored to its pre-shaven glory. Much to my surprise, I actually got sad at the idea of shaving them. That’s when I realized that I had never shaved my arms for myself. Honestly, I never actually disliked my body hair; I only disliked the judgment I received from other people about it. That got me wondering why I would ever willingly waste my time minimizing myself to make other people comfortable. Why was I conforming to the idea that women should have less body hair than men if I didn’t even believe that to be true? Why was I still letting unsolicited comments from my childhood bullies control my actions?
I’m not going to pretend that I’m on some moral high ground because I choose not to shave; our bodies, our choice. The point of my story is that I finally started doing what I wanted to do when it came to my body hair. I wish that, during all those years I spent miserably wearing jackets and shaving, someone would have asked me this simple question: are you altering your appearance because you want to or because you think other people want you to?
Sometimes I think about how much anxiety I let something as trivial as body hair cause me, and I laugh. Other times, I think about how many girls like me spend what is supposed to be their joyful youth trying to fit into these unrealistic expectations, and I get disheartened all over again. It’s tempting to blow off everything I did when I was younger as something stupid I did just because I was a kid, but there are girls everywhere doing similar things right now to make their bodies look “acceptable” to others. In fact, I know that there are thousands of women with stories similar to mine. Sure, women are fighting far worse battles around the world for their bodies’ rights, but I’m tired of acting like seemingly small transgressions — like condemning women’s body hair as unnatural — do not affect our body images. Negative comments, no matter how small, about the bodies of young girls have the power to affect their body image for years to come. Which leads to the larger issue here: why do people, particularly men, feel so comfortable making unsolicited comments on women’s bodies? Why are women still being manipulated into believing our body hair is not natural?
Having body hair is a natural and neutral part of being a human being. The things we do to our bodies — like shaving or waxing — should be about what makes us feel comfortable and confident, not about what others tell us is “normal” or “proper.” So I challenge you to answer the same question I finally asked myself after so many years of doing what others told me to about my own body: are you altering your appearance because you want to or because you think other people want you to?