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Body Hair: Not Just for Winter

Photo taken by Phoebe McGowan, yellow flowers that remind me of prickly hairs; August in York, England.

The first time I shaved my legs, I was in fifth grade. I strutted around my house, encouraging everyone to feel how soft and smooth my legs were. I had hardly anything to shave, but I think with all of the discussions about puberty and what would soon be happening to my body, I got overexcited. Looking back, it’s so strange to realize that I was simultaneously taught what I would be gaining in my transformation to womanhood, and how I should take it away. I was not told to be proud of my growth, but to be shamed by it, to remove it as quickly as possible. Men could embrace their roughness, they could be hairy—that equaled masculinity. But women were supposed to be soft and shiny, forever frozen in prepubescentness. They were supposed to spend money on changing who they are, spend time shaving every bit of themselves in the shower. Commercials for razors don’t even show women removing hair before they shave it… their legs are hairless from the beginning of the ad. So taboo is it for women to grow, to be natural, to defy feminine standards. Someone I was seeing once told me that if I didn’t shave, he would see me as a man. I told him I have hair because I’m a woman, because I am not a little girl anymore. Then I never spoke to him again.

Too many times have I listened to my friends spew misconceptions about body hair: that it’s dirty, disgusting, unkempt. I’ve tried to tell them that the hair is there to actually keep out the dirt, that washing it like you would any part of your body will keep it clean. Too many times have I seen friends raise their arms, revealing an almost always hidden small patch of hair that has tiny pricks coming to the surface, saying how much they desperately needed to shave. Never have I heard a male friend say this. This informal but widely obeyed rule only applies to women.

Last year I decided to embrace my body hair. All of it. I remember sitting outside with my mom, in the summer heat, wearing a tank top. Referring to my grown out armpit hair she remarked: “You know that’s not attractive.” Every part of a woman is expected to be “attractive” and “pretty,” but what do these words truly mean? Why must every part of me be attractive to society? My beauty and self worth does not depend on what I look like. I have armpit, leg and pubic hair, just like men. I even have much less hair than most men, but I am still shamed for it. While it was definitely difficult to get over the “attractiveness” I felt when I was hairless, I love embracing my natural self. I love rebelling against what it means to be a woman, and I have no problem making people uncomfortable. Uncomfortability forces us to question why we feel that way.

Don’t let winter be the only time you cease to shave, hiding your hair under big sweaters and sweatpants. Try letting your hair breathe and see the spring sunlight. Feel the love you have inside of you for every part we’ve been told to hide. But most importantly, do what feels right for you. Whether you love the feel of soft skin, or soft hairy legs, let that be your choice. Ask yourself why you shave.


Senior Phoebe McGowan, being carefree in my backyard last May; Photo by Phoebe McGowan.

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