To Whom It May Dis-Tress
My irritation worsened with each stroke of the blades against my shin; inch-length black and blonde hairs felled for the sake of attraction. After the deed was done, feeling 10 pounds lighter and as if I had sold my soul for pennies, my legs shone pristinely bald, reflecting rays and sending signals to passing pilots, begrudgingly announcing my submission.
The occasion was a family vacation, one that, as always, required the tinge of normality I possess to overwhelm any and all aesthetic unconventionalities as society, namely my family, perceives them. The 14-hour drive was no exclusion to the harassment; nor were the days preceding.
‘’Can you do me a favor for Florida?” my dad texted, and I humored him although sensing the general path we were about to tread.
“Shave your legs.”
“I’m asking you nicely,” he said. “Will significantly lower the odds of a confrontation and we just don’t need it.”
“Sure,” I responded, knowing that it would ultimately end in my reluctant surrender.
My parents are not exclusively the issue here; we have all been conditioned to view women’s body hair in a vile light. The shaving trend (she says sardonically in response to a recently published article by Lewis Potton of Viral Thread, entitled “It’s Official, Ladies Not Shaving Their Armpits is Becoming a Trend”) spawned, as most deplorable things in America do, by the beauty industry, and at its core, with commercialism.
The idea of hairless underarms wasn’t aroused until 1915, when
the May issue of Harper’s Bazaar was released, including an ad that detailed a grainy grey image of a woman all smiles as she debuts her bare pits in sleeveless garb. The caption: Summer dress and modern dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair. A few years later in an ad put forth by Ashes of Roses, the first sentence daringly states: The fastidious woman day-to-day must have immaculate underarms if she is to be unembarrassed. The second line read: Sleeveless dresses, the thinnest of silk hose and knee-length skirts make superfluous hair embarrassing. Advertisements were so devious as to impart these insecurities before body hair had the chance to unfurl from the suppression of modesty; a consumerist, profit-lusting ploy that the razor and depilatory cream businesses perpetuated, and fashion magazines propagated, eventually convincing women and men that hairless skin was obligatory.
A few days post soul selling, we hit the road. Before long, I was sprawled out in the backseat, my laced hands behind my head as a pillow in lieu of the one I forgot. I was barely awake when I felt my mom pinching my toes. “Brantlee. B. BB. Shorty. Brant. Brant. Brantlee.”
“Can you shave your pits for me when we get there?”
I sighed, “I’d rather wear a T-shirt the whole time,” which encouraged her to ask, Why is it such a big deal?
It’s not, and that’s exactly the point. It is not about pissing you off. I don’t grow out my body hair out of spite for the beauty industry. It is not about an upcoming trend or fad. It’s sort of about offending elderlies, but above anything it is about my right to shave or not to shave based on the sole and simple principle that I don’t have to be bound to one or the other because of my gender. I don’t remember asking to be born and I definitely don’t remember choosing to be a girl. I don’t remember signing a contract that subscribed me to lady-likeness. I openly pick my nose, announce my bowel movements in crowds, neglect my hair for days. Deodorant has never been a top-shelf priority, nor has pursing my legs when seated. I’m happiest when I’m camping: dirty, cloaked in caked sweat and campfire perfume. On the other hand, I can run through 10 potential outfits before one suffices when I want to dress up, and even then I change at least three times more. I love the feeling of smooth, fresh-shaven skin against modal sheets, but not so much as to repeat the half hour process daily, or weekly even. I’m lazy. When I have enough time, when whatever reason I’m shaving for is worth enduring the stubble stage, or just simply when I feel like it, I’ll shave. Personal grooming is a preference that all individuals have the right to make based on their personal motivations, whatever they may be, and shouldn’t have to defend those personal decisions.
Last year, junior Kim Jones, grew out her armpit hair for a friend’s photo series on the body, and afterward “fell in love with the little bushes gardening [her] pits.” When she muscled through the prickly stage, Jones realized that it was much more effort to shave than it was not to. “I stopped shaving everything else because it became more of a chore than a priority,” Jones says. If she does shave, it’s because her socks tug at the hair on her ankles, or in the summer for reasons of comfort, for practicality, not for conventionalism.
Conversely, there are just as many reasons for women to feel the necessity to shave other than because it’s socially obligated (which, by the way, is still a personal preference). Senior Caitlyn Mills says she has been shaving since the eighth grade when she became unsettled by how dark her hair was in contrast to her pale skin, and continues to do so routinely because it makes her feel more comfortable with her appearance than she would feel otherwise. “I thought my already muscular legs looked overtly masculine with all the black hairs,” she says. “I guess it just makes me feel more feminine and sexy.”
Aside from seeking outside perspectives for the purposes of this article, I don’t go around asking people why they shave or don’t, or telling them what they should or shouldn’t do with their own body. Why? Stay with me here, it’s about to get complicated: I don’t ask because it’s none of my business and doesn’t affect my life in any way, and if I ever impose my preferences on other people based on what makes me comfortable, maybe I need to reflect on myself and recognize that as a personal problem. Logic 101 for whomever it may distress.
Unfortunately, my own transition from “prim and proper” to au naturel was turbulent at best. In the beginning, I caved and shaved under the pressure of expectancy, been self-wary of the opinions of others to the point of repositioning my limbs to avoid drawing attention to the outgrown hair. I have faced continual ridicule and prolonged stares and withstood it all only to succumb in the shower upon second thought. Now I’ve reached the point of acceptance, refusing to be embarrassed of a feature so innocent and humanly, innately present for whatever purpose it serves, which for now, is a tiny freedom that I don’t have to justify.