What I learned when I stopped shaving my armpits
It’s been almost a year since I stopped shaving my armpits. It wasn’t an intentional, feminist act. I started getting a weird rash and realized that it was the result of irritation from shaving. So I made a (sadly) radical decision: I decided to stop shaving my armpits!
At first, it was okay, because it was winter and who was going to see my pits anyway? I began taking pleasure in my rebellion. As the little hairs started coming in, I started to think – wasn’t it really strange that I had no idea what my own armpit hair looked like? Since elementary school – and good ol’ pubery – I’d been slicing away the little guys, hating this bodily enemy without even understanding why.
I was nervous about what my girlfriend would think. She’s pretty chill, but also pretty consistently hairless, so I was worried about icking her out. I ended up telling her shyly that I’d stopped shaving my armpits because the abrasiveness was freaking out my skin, and she just sort of shrugged and asked why I was telling her. I cuddled her and thanked her, feeling silly for ever worrying, but also annoyed at weird societal norms that make women feel lucky to have partners that don’t dump them when their bodies change.
Beyond her, though, I was a little terrified about what other people think. While in body positive spaces it’s generally totally cool to choose to shave or not choose (#feminism!), it’s something that is still seen as a little funky by most people in public spaces. Beyond my own circle of feminist pals, and body posi accounts online, I can’t think of the last time (if ever) I saw a woman who didn’t have her armpits shaved. Even on those accounts, the hair is rarely just hair – it’s bedazzled or dyed or made to look less like, well, armpit hair. It’s prettied up, and mine was anything but pretty, at least in the usual sense of the word.
Over time, I realized I just needed to stop worrying. Of all of the bad things in the world, my armpit hair situation was minimal. Why would anyone else care at all? Even if they did, it wasn’t like they’d say anything about it… or so I hoped. I started forcing myself to go out without keeping my pits hidden. It was just too much work to always make sure I had a hoodie on me in case I needed to raise my arms to reach something at the grocery store, or do an exercise at the gym.
Nervous but determined to get over myself and my ridiculous fear, I end up in yoga class, front and center in a tank top. As the class progressed and the moves got harder, I found myself stretching out and reaching high, focused more on what my body could do, and zero on what it looked like. That is what empowerment feels like.