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Despite all our feminist ideologies, it can be a bit frightening to face off – your body against the world. This is something I've become increasingly aware of; the impression that my body is not my own, instead, it belongs to the advertisers, to the businesses, and to all the people who want to determine my worth based on how I look. But I've since shed that feeling, and with a hot summer ahead, it feels good to know my legs and armpits are just fine the way they are –whether they are pale and hairy or waxed and tanned. Realizing that the only relevant input on my body is me, and, ultimately, learning to take back ownership of my body in its natural and expressive forms has been incredibly liberating. Here is (roughly) how I did it. First it’s important to recognize why you feel weird/embarrassed… Patriarchal society gains power by convincing women (and everyone else) that they need to look a certain way to be attractive, desirable, fuck-able. It may have been more obvious back in the day when an advertisement would tell you, straight-up, that in order to get a husband you have to have long soft hair, or smooth legs or a small waist. Nowadays these messages are not only more subtle and wide-spread, they are already engrained in our minds and our parents minds. My dad, for instance, thinks I will attract the “wrong crowd” because I do not conform to certain gender roles. This translates to: no respectable boy will want to marry you like this. And although he has well-meaning intentions, this body-policing is hurtful and genuinely unhelpful. What a cis-woman “should” look like is a notion we are all too familiar with, often sub-consciously. It is important to realize that this is why it can feel awkward or embarrassing to raise your arms and show your hair. Its natural place under our arms has been overshadowed by decades of conditioning to think otherwise. But that doesn’t make it gross. And it doesn’t make it embarrassing. Recognize your body hair as holding a kind of power that men are not granted.
Body hair as resistance
Walking on campus on a hot day, a car full of scrubs hollered at me out the window of their car (TLC style). In response, I raised my arm up just enough for them to see my armpits and gave them the finger in front of everyone on campus. The funniest part about the whole experience was the fact that I could actually see in their faces that my armpits bothered them more than my flipping them the bird. My body hair offends those who are not ready to accept me as a human being. To them, I am my body. I am something to be yelled at out the side of their convertible. The fact that I could use what these perpetrators were reducing me to to protect myself from their invasive gaze made me feel empowered. Remember - not all men are scared of body hair – but those that are do not deserve your time. They deserve your resistance. They deserve to be caught checking out the feminist on campus only to feel embarrassed by my response. Your body is powerful. It is only one facet of who you are but it doesn’t have to work against you – even if you don’t conform to how it is “supposed to look.” My body is a complex expression of who I choose to be and how I want people to see me.
Your body. Full stop.
Body hair is not embarrassing; it is a statement and a means of resistance. That said, it is still hair. Which means it can be annoying, and it can feel yucky in the sticky sweaty summer months. I know this because, after months and months of hairy legs, the summer heat arrives and I try harder to keep cool – sometimes that means shaving my legs. And, to make things even more confusing for people, I still don’t shave my armpits because I like the power it gives me. The point is that whether you want to shave for practical reasons or you recognize that it makes you look more feminine and that’s what you want to portray – your body is YOURS. It is yours only and no one has the right to shame you for whatever choice you make with it. Explore yourself, try different things, and don’t ever let someone tell you what is right or wrong to do with your appearance and your body. Don’t feel limited by societal expectations. As Leslie Feinberg said, “people of all sexes have the right to explore femininity, masculinity—and the infinite variations between—without criticism or ridicule.” You have the right to shave, or not shave. Your body is yours. Feminism isn’t a rule book; it’s a conversation about what we’re told and how to question that. A feminist does what they want with their body because that is taking control of their own narrative.