Mirror, Mirror: On Femininity And Body Hair

Fairest shmairest! Let’s get real about beauty and body image. Mirror, Mirror is a column running every other Thursday on The Frisky. It is written by Brooklyn-based columnist, freelance writer, and bagel enthusiast, Kate Fridkis who also writes the blog Eat the Damn Cake. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatthedamncake.

One lazy, yet revolutionary summer, I let my leg hair grow, just to see what would happen. I’m not kidding, all of the guys I met liked it, even if they had to tell me secretly later, after making fun of me first. I was surprised by how silky it was.

I was 15. My mom made me shave when I started a job in the fall.

I am still not sure how much body hair should matter, but I lean towards “not at all” and the rest of the world seems to think “SO MUCH OH MY GOD PLEASE SHAVE YOURSELF BEFORE WE ALL BARF OUR BRAINS OUT.”

At this party the other night, I listened as the women talked about how they were all getting electrolysis and laser hair removal. There are some great deals on Groupon, apparently. Everyone was getting their pubic hair done first. Then probably all the rest.

I’ll be honest, my pubic hair rarely occurs to me. I mean, yeah, it’s there, I went through puberty and stuff. But mostly, like a backwoods, hopeless, potentially dirty barf-inducing dork-chump, I just assume it’s fine.

And mostly it’s fine. Except for this one time when I took off my clothes and the guy I was with said, “Wow. Um, the last girl I dated was Asian, so…”

I didn’t know how to react to that so I just went ahead and had sex with him. But other than that, no one has been too disappointed or offended. And even that guy got over it pretty quick. (How do hairy, Asian girls feel, I wonder?)

All of my friends are getting electrolysis now, though. So something is up.

“It’s not for guys,” a few of them explained. “It’s for me.”

Which is good, since it’s permanent. But also, sometimes I hear these reports about guys who won’t go down on girls unless they’re waxed. Or the guys dating my friends who just prefer the “clean” look, so my friends do it out of consideration.

I honestly don’t understand why hair looks gross to people. I missed the memo. I was watching “Star Trek.” Which is good because I actually have a patch of hair on my lower back, where there is probably a law against it. It’s just there. Just flagrantly, defiantly hanging out, ruining my chances at happiness. I have hair on the backs of my thighs. I can’t see it so I go through life acting like it’s not there. I have really hairy arms. My dad used to pretend to be a gorilla when I was little. He’d do his gorilla impression in front of me and my friends and we’d all think it was hilarious. But it’s no joke, he is a hairy beast, and so am I. I remember my mom saying, when I complained about the hair on my legs, “Huh—I’ve never gotten any hair on my thighs. It just … stops.”

Like she had just realized that her daughter was a different species. There is definitely some hair above my upper lip. My little brother pointed it out to me quite often, just in case I’d missed it. I had missed it. I just figured girls got some hair there, just like girls got some hair on their knees and thighs and in a little patch on their backs.

I might have been right. I have no idea. Because all of the girls and women I know make sure that no one knows exactly where they’re sprouting forbidden hair. It’s a secret.

Sometimes I look around and I get the distinct impression that I live in a world where it is not cool for women to have any hair anywhere except for their heads. Where women are supposed to have sleek, gleaming, utterly naked skin, and then, somehow, cascading locks of thick, lustrous head hair.

Like an idiot, I shaved my head instead of the rest of me. I don’t know how to be a woman.

And forget about the women in the movies. No matter how many delicate scratches and how many streaks of dirt women in movies acquire after weeks of surviving in a war zone or battling zombies, they NEVER sprout even a hint of leg hair. God forbid. The camera zooms in for an intimate moment with their trembling, full lips and welling eyes, and the skin between the bottom of the nose and the upper lip is as pristine and smooth as marble.

I know. This is not a movie. If this was a movie, my legs would be longer and I would be able to run in heels, while shooting a ladylike gun. This is not a movie, but everywhere I look, in real life, women are eradicating every last hair.

I just don’t like how arbitrary these feminine hair rules feel. And how much time it takes to deal with all of the little supposed flaws our bodies produce. And how friggin’ painful eyebrow threading is. Once was enough. Someone told me the second time is easier. I’m not going to find out. If that’s painful, I don’t even want to think about getting my pubic hair done. I don’t even want to know what’s going on with the backs of my thighs.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting waxed, zapped, threaded, whatever, if you don’t like to have hair where hair is stubbornly growing. I think it’s good for women to feel good about the way they look, and if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.

But I hope that the women and girls who don’t mind having unruly pubic hair and don’t really think about the hair on their knees won’t feel increasing pressure to make it all disappear. Maybe that’s our cultural aesthetic, but it’s not mine, and I want to defend my right to be lazy, hairy, and attractive all at once. I want to defend the right of girls going through puberty to feel like the ways in which their bodies change are good, and womanly, and don’t need to be quickly corrected. I even think that it should be OK for women to NOT shave their legs or their armpits. And yeah, I shave mine now. I have, ever since that summer when I was 15.

It’s hard to go back to having to explain my decision and getting weird looks from my conservative grandfather and listening to my friends debate the subject every time my legs were in the room with them. And even listening to the guys I went out with get all surprised that it was actually fine with them. That maybe they actually liked it.

Why is it so shocking, that body hair might not be a disgusting, terrible thing?

Why have hairlessness and femininity gotten so wrapped around each other?

I don’t know. Maybe someone has written a book about the origins of hairless femininity. There are probably gender scholars who have a lot of theories. The dichotomization of femaleness and maleness, where strictly opposing qualities line either side of the division, facing off like they are going to fight—if hairiness is male, then hairlessness has to be female. But even guys aren’t really supposed to have back hair, so I don’t know what the deal is.

Whatever the historical explanation, I’ve gotten the message, loud and clear, but I’m not willing to let it anywhere near my vagina. Or my knees. Or that patch of hair on my back. Sometimes I reach around and absentmindedly stroke it, and it feels kinda of nice. Surprisingly so, for something that’s supposed to be so gross and forbidden. For something that is breaking every law about being a sexy woman.