My Story [Loving Our Bodies, Part 2]

While I agree with him that it’s not fair that women are expected to remove all of that hair while men are not expected to. Whatever way you look at it, is unnecessary and well just not fair. Why is it gross on a woman but not a man? While I understand this inequality, I am so socially conditioned that I can’t break through with leaving hair because I hate the idea of someone thinking of me as ‘gross’ and well I have heard those terms too often in response to female underarm or leg hair. Don’t get me wrong when I see other women with underarm hair or whatever I am not grossed out instead I want to say ‘good on you’. I just can’t seem to do it myself.

[From Me=Bad by kristy]

I’ve been on-again/off-again with things like shaving and bra-wearing. For the shaving, I faced intense pressure from some members of my family, mainly my father (who, of course, does not shave anything but his beard), and was called “gross” the few times I went out with hairy legs until I actually had it out with him and told him that he was not allowed to say that shit to me. He still does sometimes make niggling remarks, though the more I point out that those kinds of remarks are exactly why he and I aren’t close, the more he at least seems to try to stop.

I haven’t shaved for almost a year now. The last time was in summer because I got annoyed at my hair. Although I actually stopped shaving my pits completely in the summer because I kept getting painful ingrown hairs. I do trim them occasionally, because I don’t like the way it feels if it’s really long and I’m sweaty.

For anyone who wants to try to stop shaving, I would suggest starting off slow. For about two years I would shave in summer (where people could see my hair from my short sleeves and occasional skirts) but leave it long in winter, where the only one who was looking at it was my boyfriend at the time. And, well, I knew he didn’t care and furthermore if he did, I wouldn’t have been with him.

The hardest thing for me was taking the step from secretly growing my hair to publicly doing so. Like kristy, I was terrified of being seen and called “gross” — after all, hadn’t I heard that same rhetoric from my father? Hadn’t I heard my friends and family say the same things about other women who didn’t conform properly to the beauty standard? Hadn’t I, myself, once both said and believed the same things?

I was terrified. I was defensive about it. But I did it. I made my point. Right there in Miami, one of the most image-conscious cities in the USA, I put on my short skirt — in the full heat of summer, I was not going to stick to jeans, let me tell you! — leaving my legs in all their hairy glory for all to see, and marched right out of my house.

I had to go to the supermarket. I was with my best friend at the time and, believe me, I was paranoid. “Everybody’s staring at me! They’re judging me! I know what they’re saying, ‘Gawd, look at her. Doesn’t she care enough about herself to try and look good?’ I just want to die!”

But, then, because my feminism had given me the vocabulary to deal with and understand my situation, I told that part of me, “Why is it that going out as your natural self makes you want to die of embarrassment? Why is it that being proud of what you look like by nature must mean that you aren’t taking proper care of yourself? Men are allowed to grow any part of their hair that they please without these comments. That’s holding women to an unfair beauty standard. That’s inequality in action, and it’s your duty to fight it. This is why you’re a feminist. Because women aren’t allowed to feel comfortable with ourselves just the way we are.”

And so the next day, without shaving, I put on another short skirt. And the next day. And the next. I had to have it out with my father a couple of times. I was defensive to my friends and family if they asked about it. But I did it. Every day it got a little bit easier, I got a little bit less defensive, and my family started to accept it as just another quirk from the one in the family who has always marched to her own drummer.

Is there any day where I slap on my skirt in my hairy-legged glory that I don’t feel any anxiety, or any shame? No. I will most likely live and die with those feelings, thanks to the way we are socialized from young girls to feel that our natural bodies aren’t good enough. But I can’t let shame or fear run my life. I won’t let it.

So, World? My name is Andrea. I do not shave or wear makeup on a regular basis. And, you know what? I am a strong, beautiful woman who is perfect just the way she is.

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This entry was posted in Feminism, Gender Cultism, Loving Our Bodies, Series. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to My Story [Loving Our Bodies, Part 2]

  1. Jo says:

    *applauds*

    I’m still a-shavin’, but I have to say I’ve been thinking about this lately. I had a spate over the last few months where I didn’t think about shaving ye legs, and decided to one night because I like the feeling of smooth skin, sans hair. But it did give me pause — if I have daughters, will I teach them this? Will I still be doing it? Or will they come to me at age 11 or 12, requesting a lesson?

    I don’t know what I will decide, honestly. I don’t usually have to deal (notice how it’s “deal” and not some more neutral verb?) with other people seeing my legs (funny how that’s an issue) because I don’t wear skirts (too many issues there, no comment for now) and shorts don’t look right on me (1- I needed a reason?! and 2- I’m not secure in short shorts, and they’re all short shorts on me).

    Just trying to type something here that doesn’t smack of the system is … well… impossible.

    But just because I’ve read this, I just might give this a shot.

    Tekanji, you always get me thinking. Thank you.

  2. tekanji says:

    Jo said:

    Tekanji, you always get me thinking. Thank you.

    That is one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. Thank you. Like, seriously. Thank you.

  3. arielladrake says:

    Yes. A lot of that sounds familiar. I did the not shaving in winter thing for a few years, and haven’t shaved my legs in I don’t remember how long (though I do on occasion). I’ve had recent thoughts about getting my legs waxed because I find the whole process rather curious, but I’m doing battle with the fact that I want to get it done, but I don’t really want to have hairless legs. It’s quite strange. The process always seemed more fascinating to me than the result. With my armpits in particular (where I’m now down to slightly more often than I shave my legs), it always seemed like this odd challenge, and then I regret it, because when it starts to regrow it gets all itchy, but it’s fine when it gets a bit longer again.

    I did have a thing with regular make-up, which came out of bad eczema when I was younger, to the point where my face was often red and peeling and flaky (that was loads of fun in high school), so I turned to make-up to cover it up, which further irritated my skin, and so on. Strangely, what got me *out* of the makeup thing was when I started going out to goth clubs. Yeah, I started with the whole makeup schtick, but it got to the point where shortly after arrival I’d have sweat off most of my make-up whilst dancing, which usually felt weird, so I’d have to stop dancing to take it off properly. After a while I just stopped, because it seemed utterly pointless. Now, I wear make-up when I feel like it. I occasionally have days where I put make-up on if I’m at home by myself all day. Because I feel like it. Which is what all of this stuff SHOULD be.

  4. I am a strong, beautiful woman who is perfect just the way she is.

    You so very, very much are!

    Thank you for being here. Thank you for continuing to speak out. Thank you for inviting me to speak out alongside you. I know there’s so much work to do, and it seems like there are never enough voices who speak the truth – but, hey, you and I are here, and what we do does not count for nothing. That’s hard to remember sometimes, so that’s why I’m saying it now.

  5. Beste says:

    Tekanji,

    There is something about you that gives me hope.

    Ditto on what Jo said.

  6. Katie says:

    I am a strong, beautiful woman who is perfect just the way she is.

    You so very, very much are!

    And besides, even if you’re not perfect (either overall or in looks) it’s not because of your refusal to be hairless or your refusal to be a certain weight or your refusal to be a different hair color than you started or whatever else others might try to convince you makes you farther from perfect than you could be.

    I just wanted to say that in case anyone else here, like me, was raised in a very strong, “Don’t ever think you’re perfect–you can be very good, and you should always try to be, but don’t think you’re perfect” environment.

    As for me (and I hope this helps others like me reconcile ideas like this), I simply think, “I am a strong, beautiful woman who is exactly as close or far from perfect the way she is as she would be with various appearance interventions.”

  7. Kristy says:

    “Is there any day where I slap on my skirt in my hairy-legged glory that I don’t feel any anxiety, or any shame? No. I will most likely live and die with those feelings, thanks to the way we are socialized from young girls to feel that our natural bodies aren’t good enough. But I can’t let shame or fear run my life. I won’t let it.”

    I love this part, and I must admit I imagined that if you go around with hairy legs/underarms that you have finally removed the shame and anxiety. Something that I certainly haven’t managed to do.

    In winter I don’t shave, and my legs am certainly not always shaved in summer either but I feel almost like I am cheating because my hairs are relatively fine and i’m sure most people don’t notice it. But underarms seems to be the bardest for me.

    Thanks for another great post!

  8. Sara says:

    Not getting shit for failure to shave is one of the most wonderful things about having a reputation for being lazy :) “Why don’t you shave your legs?” “Meh. It takes too much effort.”

  9. Jo says:

    Katie said:

    And besides, even if you’re not perfect (either overall or in looks) it’s not because of your refusal to be hairless or your refusal to be a certain weight or your refusal to be a different hair color than you started or whatever else others might try to convince you makes you farther from perfect than you could be.

    I just wanted to say that in case anyone else here, like me, was raised in a very strong, “Don’t ever think you’re perfect–you can be very good, and you should always try to be, but don’t think you’re perfect” environment.

    To Part the First: Yes, yes, yes! I’m pretty, tall and I was skinny in high school (12 years and 75 lbs ago). I got “why don’t you be a model, you’re so tall” a lot. A lot. Almost as much as I got “You must play basketball”. Almost. For their standards, I was too heavy at my measly 127 lbs. (5’10”). I’m currently trying to lose a little weight for my health (I’m not 30 yet, my knees aren’t supposed to hurt already) and I am, very pointedly, not aiming for that ‘ideal’ 150 lbs. I feel I will be quite comfortable at 175, thank you.

    I also like my hair color. I don’t need highlights, I don’t want to fry my hair, thank you.

    To Part the Second: I was too, at least in my nuclear family. My aunt is a hairdresser though, and several relatives have had cosmetic surgery. Ick. I like me, and I plan to get old and look old. Micromanaging my looks is not my idea of a good time.

    tekanji said:

    That is one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. Thank you. Like, seriously. Thank you.

    You’re welcome, and you do. Take this as a compliment too: this blog, and your posts in it, are one of the reasons I’ve started writing about feminism at all.

  10. Jo says:

    For their standards, I was too heavy

    That would be the standards of the modeling industry. Sorry. Forgot that.

  11. arielladrake says:

    I also like my hair color. I don’t need highlights, I don’t want to fry my hair, thank you.

    I don’t need highlights either. But sometimes I like having chunky bolts of green or purple or bright red. When I get older and my hair goes grey, I’d like to spend some of the time with bright blue hair (because I can’t do it now without way more bleaching than I’m comfortable with), because I think it’d be fun. And like the make-up thing, and the hair-removal, I don’t think it’s about demonising any of it, it’s about trying to create a society where these things aren’t requirements; where those who make the different available choices aren’t made to feel like they’re not real women, or bad women (or men, incidentally. I recall the abuse some of the guys I knew in the goth scene dealt with because they thought that make-up and hair colouring could be fun).

  12. Kevin Li says:

    Isn’t it normal to not care what people think? I mean it’s one thing to know, but it’s another to act on it.

    Like the old saying: “Nobody can make you mad. You make yourself mad.”

    Frames of control right? Did I tell you about the time I dyed my hair blonde and shaved everything except 2 strands at the front? I get a kick out of seeing people’s weird reactions. You gotta try forcing Japanese people to go on a date. You get the most interesting facial expressions. To me, it’s abstracted to a sales process, there is no rejection no fear no pain, just a pursuit of information.

  13. tekanji says:

    But that’s just it, Kevin, for women it’s not normal. The amount to which I don’t care what others think has been a hard earned battle, and I continue to struggle every day against the pressures I continue to face. Women are seen first and foremost by their looks (even powerful politicians don’t get away from it).

    Like the old saying: “Nobody can make you mad. You make yourself mad.”

    That strikes me as very minimizing and ignorant of power dynamics. Can I choose not to get angry when people try to leave comments on my blog to the effect of that I’m a bitch, whore, need to suck their cock? Sure. But that doesn’t erase their power, doesn’t change the fact that those kinds of comments are common in most popular forums (mostly online, but these guys do say the same shit offline), doesn’t change the fact that because it’s okay to verbally abuse women it’s that much harder for us to break into male-dominated fields (see my recent post on Kotaku).

    I don’t “make” myself mad, because I don’t fabricate the hurdles in my way. I allow myself to deal healthily with the maddening injustices of the world because, if I didn’t, the hurt and the bad feelings wouldn’t go away, they would just sit around unacknowledged and make me wonder why I was so unhappy all of the time.

  14. arielladrake says:

    Kevin, tekanji. My partner and I had this sort of discussion a couple of months ago. At this point he’d been doing a lot more feminist reading and such-like than in the past, and one day he turned to me and said (paraphrasing here) “Okay, I might be wrong here, but is it a function of privilege that I have the kind of social status that allows me to not have to care what other people think?” I’d been having trouble articulating why his confusion about why I got upset was kinda frustrating for me, and then he said this and I was like “YES. That’s it.” And that’s really what it comes down to. Because part of privilege is knowing that it’s highly likely that the people making judgements about you don’t matter as much as you, within the current social structure. Being non-privileged means being painfully aware of the fact that it’s usually likely that the people judging you matter as much as, and often more than you do, again, within the current social structure.

    Also, I think tekanji’s right that boiling it down to ‘not caring what people think’ is a bit of an oversimplification. I mean, there’s not caring what those with social power think of whatever subversive choices you’ve made, and there’s not caring when you are the one in that situation with social power. They’re different dynamics, though on the surface the action might seem the same.

  15. Kevin Li says:

    Woah this is really high level stuff. I’m going to need help breaking this down :-).

    Still a bit confused, you’re basically saying that while you are able to control your anger, other still have power over you and make it harder to break into “male-oriented” fields.

    I don’t think I understand what you mean by “power dynamics”. I thought it was just like 7 habits, or am I trying to stretch it too far? Internal vs external control?

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you want to get into business / entrepreneurship right? I always thought that in a truly capitalistic market place, if you’re the best at what you do and “bring home the bear” who cares what sex, race, sexual orientation you are. I just like people that succeed and are driven to help me succeed. Okyakusama wa kamisama desu ne? Ok, so I just finished Atlas Shrugged and am a bit idealistic.

    Wow, the social power comment is way over my head. I think I better go back to expanding my network on LinkedIn…

  16. Kevin Li says:

    One more thing:

    http://www.mentornet.net

    Mentor network for professionals / researchers. Mostly for women in engineering and technical fields to find strong female role models in industry. They’ve got some heavy hitters in the consulting / ibanking / tech business.

    Always good to get in contact with people that have “been there and done that”.

    Enjoy!

  17. becki says:

    I’ve let my leg hair grow in the winter since I was 15, I’ve let my armpit hair grow in the winter, until I had to wear a short-sleeved shirt, for the past few years. This is my first year that I’ve decided to leave it alone. As spring approaches, I have more and more moments where I want to shave it all off just so I don’t have to hear my family tell me how weird I am, but I hate shaving. I hate the time it takes, I hate the chemicals I have to put on my body to prevent chafing or cutting myself, I hate the feeling when it starts to grow back and most of all, I hate that I’m expected to.

    I gave in about a week ago and chemically removed my armpit hair. While talking to my mom about my grades and the fact that I believe I’m getting A’s in both the classes I’m taking right now, she noticed that the hair was gone. She congratulated me on shaving my armpits, but was completely uninterested in my grades, except to say that she wishes she’d gotten A’s when she was in school. I was ashamed that I had given in and with her comment, I’m more resolved than ever to let the hair grow.

  18. Kristy says:

    I know this is an old thread but I would love to hear more about the bra wearing issues. I mean there are many reasons why not to wear a bra, just wondering which one motivates you the most.

  19. Calfaile says:

    . . . The fact that most of the time, I can’t *find* one?

  20. John says:

    Here in California, especially among the dancer and spiritually-conscientious kinds of communities, it’s common for women not to shave. And you know what? Often it’s more appealing/attractive/sexy than shaving (though this is definitely a case-by-case thing!)

  21. Pingback: FAQ: Aren’t feminists just hairy-legged makeup haters? « Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog

  22. Philos says:

    First, I am sorry for spreading like a virus all over your blog! :3

    I want to comment on this part (btw, how do you do the quotes? Is this html or something else?):

    “For about two years I would shave in summer (where people could see my hair from my short sleeves and occasional skirts) but leave it long in winter, where the only one who was looking at it was my boyfriend at the time. And, well, I knew he didn’t care and furthermore if he did, I wouldn’t have been with him.”

    The first sentence deals more with public opinion or the public area, the second with the private or personal area. Also, we have the culturally imposed belief of women ideal of beauty and a particular taste. I add a third observation or social behavior, that of judging by one’s appearance and that of judging by character, intellect, moral conduct, etc.

    Patriarchy and public/private opinion: the patriarchy imposes a belief of what constitutes a beautiful woman all over the media, from comics, playboy magazines, news, porn, fashion, etc. this belief is reinforced by the audience of this medias by creation of mores and social conducts, language, etc. which are based on the media image of woman. It is a kind of large net, interconnected and mutually influential.

    One question could be that how do we know which particular traits in women are product of this patriarchy oppression, and which are not? But I think, that the question has an assumption, that of being there “a trait” that belongs to women. As if women was a uniform group. I deny this. We should see ourselves as individuals and as blank slates, with respects to personal preferences in behavior, beliefs, clothing or what have you. The individual is like a consumer in a shopping mall. The consumer is our freedom, the shopping mall are a myriad of traits and characteristics. We are not forced to buy or do what the malls tell us, we choose from what the mall has by exercising our freedom (although one could retort that the mall does indeed force us to buy, in the sense of limited choice, after all we can buy only the items that the mall decided to have. But I hope anyways that you get my silly analogy :P).

    I think that both areas (private and public) should be condemned, the public, because it has no right to annoy the individual (unless harm is involved to a third party), and the private, if it is based on cultural, social and any other uncritical assumption and conditioned taste.

    But now, say, your boyfriend may dislike that you are hairy, but not because he is fond of oppression or because he is influenced by the culture around him, but because of personal taste. Do things change here? We could say that he is shallow, but are we not supposed to please those people we love if doing so we do not feel oppressed? If they ask us shave or something, ^_^, because I think you look more pretty or attractive with no hair, and if that does not cause us any disturbance (we are indifferent to it and we do not feel our freedom to be attacked), and we do like to please him, is it still wrong to do it? I think the problem lies between asserting our individuality and freedom, and the limitations we face in social relationships. But you could say, as you did above, if he does not accept that I feel better with no shaving or I am indifferent to it, then he would not be my boyfriend; after all, in relationships, we should tolerate our individual personalities and freedoms. But is it unlimited tolreance or is ther a limit? I usually think of harm as a limit, but some would disagree.

    So, to end this long rambling, incoherent post (I have come to know that my posts are overly long!), as long as freedom and our individuality is preserved, that is, if we feel like shaving or do not feel like shaving (to use this example), there is no problem in what we decide, because it is our OUR choice not of the OTHER.

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