I woke up in a sleepy stupor atop my cheap college mattress. As I folded my arms behind my head and looked over at my then-partner, her eyes blinked awake, looked around, then landed on my underarms.
“What, you don’t shave either!” She enthusiastically lifted her arms to show me her unshaved underarms, “I chose to not shave because I don’t like how the patriarchy pressures women into shaving. Fighting gender norms is fun, plus I like how it looks against my femme-ness. How about you?”
My eyes flitted upwards as I pieced together my answer, only to respond with, “I don’t know. I just felt like it.”
It seems like many female and non-binary feminists have some reason behind why they don’t — or do — shave. It’s either a political statement, or it’s not. It helps them identify with their gender, or it doesn’t. They think it looks cool, or they don’t. I didn’t really have much of a reason. I was just standing in my shower, looked at my cheap Bic razor and thought, “What if I didn’t shave today?” I put the razor back on its shelf, “What if I never shave again? What would happen?”
I was simply curious about what would happen. What would happen when other people saw me? What would happen with my body? Would it react weird? Would I smell more? Less? Would it be itchy? Would it itch less? I had so many questions, all of which I never got to explore because from the day feathery hairs grew out of places I was implicitly taught were not supposed to have hair, it would be shaven off. No questions asked. The first time you shaved your pubes, legs, and armpit hair was much like the first time you got your period: a rite of passage into womanhood. Except one was natural and the other wasn’t.
So what would happen if I just let my hair grow naturally?
Well, honestly, not much changed in terms of how people treated me. It was around springtime so I wore a lot of sleeveless tops out. Nobody in my classes seemed to notice. If they did, they didn’t seem to care. Same goes for the cashiers at the cafe I used to get my coffee and breakfast from. Once I saw someone point at me and whisper something to their friend, but that could have been for many other reasons reasons. It didn’t seem like my armpit hair was changing my life significantly.
This was especially true with regards to both sexual and romantic partners I have had during this time. When my college friend noticed my pits, she was like, “But dude, no guy is going to want to have sex with you now.”
Which was quite rude to say and totally false because I have gotten much of The Sex from partners, male and female, while my underarms were at full bush. After our first steamy date together, I asked my current boyfriend what he thought about my armpit hair and he said, “I noticed it while we were doing the thing, but I don’t care. It’s your body. You’re still hot to me.”
So if your main concern about growing out your armpit hair is that someone is going to judge you for it, I can say that from my experience, that was never an issue. A bigger issue was probably the itchiness and the worst body odor that appeared in the first few weeks of my experiment. As the hair grew longer and my body acclimated to my new hairy biodomes, both the smell and itchiness went away. I could go several days without applying deodorant. It was as if my body could actually function and take care of itself!
Two years later, I found myself in my shower again, staring at my trusty Bic razor, chilling on the shelf in my new apartment’s shower. I used that razor to shave my pubic hair when my period comes around (my personal preference), but I had yet to shave my armpits. Again, I wondered, how would things be different if I shaved my armpits now? I wanted to see how my body would react after having grown out my armpit hair for almost two years. Also, would I feel any different about my body? Will I miss the hair? Will I prefer being shaven after all? With the curious excitement of a scientist, I grabbed the razor and shaved.
When I looked in the mirror, I saw that my armpits weren’t as dark as when I used to shave every other day. I looked closely and saw that my armpit pores were smaller than they had been before too. Some of my shirts that used to fit tightly around my underarms were now a bit looser. I started sweating more and my body odor came back, pressuring me to wear deodorant every other day now. I slept with my boyfriend that night and he didn’t mention anything, so even if he did notice, I don’t think he cared much. As much as it’d be cool to say that shaving or growing out my body hair had an immense impact on my life, the truth is other than a few practical benefits and drawbacks, having shaved pits was pretty much the same as having hairy pits. Except for one thing.
The most important thing I got from this experience was realizing that I had agency over my own body. There was something immensely empowering in not only seeing myself with and without body hair, but knowing that I had a choice between the two. In the end, isn’t feminism ultimately about having choices? While nobody is threatening you to shave your body, the pressure that women feel from both the outside and the inside is enough for women to never stop and question why they spend on average ten thousand dollars throughout their lifetime to shave. If you’ve thought this through and ultimately decided that you like shaving, then all the power to you. I’m not talking to you.
I’m talking to my teenage self, who would wear long sleeved shirts on hot days because she ran out of razors. I’m talking to my teenage self, who would use a rusty razor to shave because she couldn’t afford to buy a new one and an infection was better than having hair. I’m talking to my teenage self, who would run into the bathroom and shave her legs and pubes right as her then-boyfriend would start undressing her. Whether someone told you this or it was something you told yourself, I’m talking to all of the women out there who thought that they were unlovable for simply having hair.
I want to tell you that you do have a choice. Your feminist identity doesn’t lie in whether you shave or not — it lies in realizing that you have a choice between the two. Whatever choice you make, you’re still the same beautiful you.