This morning I did what I do every Saturday morning, I opened my laptop, popped onto Youtube, and perused the latest videos from my subscriptions. This perusing will generally result in me watching a few interesting vlogs or short doco's that inspire something in me, sometimes this will be a personal response and other times I will feel compelled to speak up and put my spin on an idea or concept. Well, that happened today with Ingrid Nilsen's video on why she stopped shaving, I will let you have a watch before I continue with my thoughts….
Where to start with this discussion, I have so many starting points in my head... I will start from the beginning...
1st Time I Shaved My Legs:
I was 12 when I hopped in the shower one hot summers evening. I had just come back from a swimming lesson and needed to wash the chlorine off my skin (and yet that smell always seemed to linger, so matter how much soap I used). Having recently started High School I had quickly become aware that many of my friends at school had smooth legs and it had disturbed some self esteem cog in my brain. That cog had been getting looser and looser as the weeks went past, and this particular evening, as I showered the chlorine off my skin, I spied Mum's razor on the shower shelf. The steam from my shower made the bathroom foggy and I furtively glanced towards the bathroom door, as if I was expecting Mum to suddenly pop her head around the door; I grabbed the razor. Before I knew it I had shaved my left leg up to the knee and after that it felt silly to hold back - the rest of my leg hair disappeared. I carefully placed the razor back on the shelf, turned the water off, hopped out of the shower, dried off, and put my nightie on. I then promptly, and thoroughly out of guilt, found Mum in the kitchen and told her I had shaved my legs. I got the response I expected, a lot of shouting, disbelief, and I was told, in not so many words, “that’s it, you have to shave every few days now, you have done this to yourself, I’m going to have to get you a razor now….”.
Ever since I had been swimming training for the Paralympics I had been shaving my legs, and waxing my underarms and bikini line. All of the girls on the swim team did it… and even some of the boys. Another team hair removal trend was the waxing of arm hair, a trend I never took up, but the idea was that by removing as much body hair as possible you would swim through the water faster. I was entrenched in a culture of extreme body hair removal and I thought it was the absolute norm. So imagine my surprise when I attended my first ever competition in Europe and there were girls competing with hair on their arms… on their legs, their underarms, and even the odd one with a bit of bush peaking out from their cossies. I can’t even remember what country they came from, and not every one of their team members were embracing the body hair, but it went against everything that I had been subliminally told since I was a young girl. I was shocked, I remember standing at the end of the pool with one of my team mates giggling and pointing and generally being a bit rude about it all. I could never imagine letting my body hair grow. I was determined that I would never have underarm hair on show or bushy pubes, or hairy legs, never, never, never.
Awakening at Uni:
In my mid twenties I was attending my first ever uni degree - Fine Arts - I didn’t really have any idea of who I would be a fellow student with. It was a really mix, some youngsters straight out of school, a lot of middle aged women there to find themselves, neurotic A-types, like myself, who wanted to leave being the best conceptual artist ever, and various Hippy types, the ones that were vegan and spiritual and those that took drugs to seem spiritual. I got to know them all and became lifelong friends with a number of them, but there was one lady who left a particular mark on my hair removal journey, I can’t remember her name, but let’s call her Star. Star was in her thirties and was one of the vegan hippies. She had this gorgeous long blond hair that she let hang naturally down her back, her clothes were always a bright yellow, and from under her arms, like a tiny thatched cottage, stuck out tufts of dark blonde underarm hair. One day a number of us, including Star, started to discuss body hair and whether to shave or not to shave. Star made it clear, she didn’t want to shave and so she didn’t, her husband preferred her au naturel everywhere. She felt sexy and natural and having body hair didn’t impact on her relationships with the two most important people in her life, her husband and son, so why would she shave.
In Ingrid’s video she talks about the history of hair removal and that we women have been under the bodyhair/shaving “male gaze” thumb since Before Christ…. that is a scary thought. When I think back to the social pressure I have felt under to shave my body hair it actually makes me feel ill. The thing is I know that feeling of shame and guilt well. In my thirties I have found that come Autumn and Winter I tend to shave a lot less and let the underarm, leg, and pubic hair grow unashamedly, and there is something so liberating in that - for one, I spend a lot less time in the shower when I am not shaving. Yet, as soon as the weather heats up I grab the razor again, it is like a heat inducing tick. All I can think though is that I have better things to be doing with my time then spending time removing hair that will make other people more comfortable with a body that already makes them uncomfortable (disability: another blog post to come?). Whew, what a sentence. Dare I take up the challenge? Shall I learn to sit with that feeling of guilt and shame about something that is completely natural? Will I put down the razor once and for all?
I think I might give it a go, just to see what happens, how it feels, and to help me confront the social pressure that makes me feel that I have to shave if I am going to be of value to anyone.