07 Mar Loving My Hairy Self: A Social Experiment
For the last few months, I’ve been doing something rather unfamiliar to me and that is growing out my leg hair. As a teen I was taught that shaving means looking after yourself; it’s hygienic and constitutes general cleanliness. If you don’t shave you are unkempt and quite possibly a lesbian. At least that’s the misconception.
The first time my mom saw my leg hair she cried. Yes, actual tears. She couldn’t believe her daughter was rejecting societal standards. She said, if anything, she was worried about how other people would treat me. Since I stopped shaving, I have often been tempted to just shave it all off. But my inner self wanted to explore these feelings of inadequacy. Did these feelings come from me, or were they provided to me by others? I remember when I first saw a womxn with hairy legs, I felt disgusted too, and although this was years ago I have never forgotten that reaction.
The most common reaction I receive from people are stares, first at my legs and then only at my face. I couldn’t always gauge the exact reactions, especially from men. But the looks I receive from womxn are the most painful as they range from sheer disgust to pure outrage. In that split second my mind races and I think, “oh my word, what must they think of me?”, and then I try to regain my sense of self. I go back to the question: why am I doing this in the first place? Yes it is a social experiment, but it is also a test to myself, although of what I wasn’t quite sure yet.
I noticed several changes in my mood. In the beginning I was constantly feeling self-conscious about wearing short clothing that would bear my legs, and I mostly only did it with people I felt comfortable around i.e. my closest friends and myself. It was daunting to go to open spaces and just flaunt my natural state, but then something rather unexpected happened. After a while I grew attached to my hairiness.
In the 1920s when sheer dresses became popular and sleeveless clothing was in, razor brands jumped at the opportunity to market their products to womxn deeming hairy legs and underarms as “undesirable” and “unfashionable”. It was unprofitable to have hairy womxn running around and you know, there’s nothing quite like making someone feel self-conscious in order to get them to buy into something. I’ve worked in advertising, so I can account to that.
And it continues today…
I remember when I was in middle school and a boy I liked looked at my legs and said, “Gross, you should shave those, womxn don’t have hairy legs!” That was the day I asked my mom to buy me a razor. Little did I know that this was the start of my internalised misogyny and having to make changes to myself to please the people around me – not just men but also womxn. The only person who was never quite content, I realised years later, was myself.
We have to ask ourselves: why? Why do so many womxn hate their bodies?
Beauty discrimination is real. It exists to control us. It’s so ingrained in fact that I find myself subtly reinforcing it in my own mind, subconsciously, all the time. For me, 2016 was truly a year of self love and the beginning of my break away from the societal pressure to meet the beauty standard and the expectations of other womxn to do the same. I have always wanted others to accept me (as womxn, we are told that the approval of others is very important) but what does this acceptance mean if I can’t accept myself?
At this point I think it’s only right to say hail to the body positivity revolution because this movement is teaching womxn everywhere to reclaim their bodies and to practice unapologetic self love. Practicing self love feels amazing and I’ve started to revel in my new found love for myself, hairy and all.
Up until I discovered body positivity, I had believed what I was told to believe – by parents, friends, teachers, men and the media – that my purpose is to fulfil the standards and roles set out for me as an assigned female (and I can only imagine the oppression which other marginalised groups suffer).
You see the thing is every body is valid and should be treated with respect. No matter what it looks like or how it’s presented. Relieving myself of the expectation to be “acceptable” – or at least trying to – has done wonders for my self confidence and eased the anxiety I felt about my looks. As a womxn who is not only cisgender but able-bodied, slim, white, and blond-haired, I know I am privileged in that I’m already closer to meeting the beauty standard than most. But even still, I am not quite good enough if I don’t shave, or wear makeup, or try to appeal to the male gaze.
If what we really want is for people to love themselves, we need to stop having expectations about what that looks like. People say that I don’t “look after myself” because I do not present myself in a certain way yet today I practice more self care than ever before and that’s what looking after yourself really means.
Want to join the body positive revolution? Take a look at these epic Instagram pages that celebrate love of self.
Who could forget Frida Kahlo? Undoubtedly one of my favourite people of all time. They were known to refuse to shave their hair, as you can see.