As the days are getting warmer, I feel myself increasingly anxious. My body, which I didn’t get to show much during the winter months, is becoming more exposed.
And so arises the question which didn’t need to be adressed since last September:
Do I shave my legs and armpits this summer?
I wrote an essay on exactly this topic a year ago on Medium. Back then, I still felt fairly anonymous on this platform. Writing about such a “shameful” topic (which it still is in my head) wasn’t a big deal. It felt like nobody knew me here.
It was safe to say whatever I wanted to say.
Today, I realize that there is at least a handful of people who come back to the stuff I write. I can see you — and thank you for being out there. But as much as I am happy to know that people are interested in my work, I am also more self-conscious about writing this particular piece.
What if people who read me will think I am disgusting? What if they run away and never come back after this? What if…
That’s scary. But it’s also precisely why I know I have to write about it.
As a woman, I still feel ashamed of my body hair
After having spent last summer working in the French Alps, I thought I became fully comfortable with my body hair. I exposed it almost every day during those three months— and I never got to hear a single rude comment. Curiosity about something so extraordinary — yes. But never a word about that I “shouldn’t be doing this.”
But this year I am in my motherland, Poland, where the culture feels quite different. And even though the summer hasn’t fully begun, I already got feedback that I “shouldn’t be doing this.”
A male friend of mine telling me as a “joke” that, if it was up to him, women wouldn’t be allowed to go out into the streets “like this.”
My mom pointing out with a sad face that “it looks ugly.”
When I hear such comments, I obviously feel uncomfortable — just like writing about it now. It is as if I was doing something wrong, that maybe even offends other people. And this feeling is precisely what tells me not to shave my legs this year either.
Through the lens of this discomfort, I get to see very clearly how the popular outlook on a female body disturbs me. Body hair is a perfect example of society trying to control the most intimate aspects of my existence.
And for what sake?
The imperative to shave is a form of control
I object shaving for various reasons — including health. But after facing the first intrusive comments about my body this season, I think that my main motivation to let my body hair grow is, indeed, to make a certain kind of statement.
Call it “the angry feminist” attitude if you like — I don’t care. In my perception, the experiences I am having simply call for a discussion about how female body is subject to control.
Yes, we need to talk about this — once again.
There are a lot of unspoken rules that the body of a woman should adhere to. Some of them are not so radical and it is hence difficult to say when a woman “crossed the line” according to the commonly accepted standards.
I am talking about — for example — the shape of a female body. We all know that it “should” be slim, right? It’s just that it is difficult to grasp where the “acceptable” figure ends and where the “too fat” woman starts.
With body hair, it is a different conversation — because this is an unambiguous standard. It is black or white. If your legs and armpits are shaved, you get the approval stamp on how you look. But when there is hair, you are automatically seen as outrageous.
I am asking: how does anyone dare to tell me how I should treat my body in such an intimate aspect as shaving? Why should I comply with such an arbitrary standard of beauty, which, in addition, causes me skin irritation, microwounds and boils on my skin?
I will not. And it is a statement. It is as close to being a rebel as I get. Because this kind of control over my body is something that I will never be willing to accept.
Growing my body hair is a statement
And to me, it is a big one. Even though I know I will be uncomfortable many times, the change of culture I want to inspire is much more important than this discomfort.
When I tried to explain to some of my female friends why I am “doing this” (or, rather, not doing what I am expected to do), they struggled to understand. Even if they accepted my argument about female body being controlled by societal norms, they still advised me to shave. What’s the point of putting myself out there to be finger-pointed? Just to make a statement?
Yes. “Just” to make a statement. For me, at this point, shaving my legs would also be a statement — it’s just that only I would know it.
It would mean that I am compromising my internal well-being for the sake of the external approval. It would mean that I succumb to be anxious about what somebody else may think of me through the prism of my unshaved body. It would mean that I give the authority over my body away to “someone out there,” who once upon a time decided that a “well-groomed woman is a shaved woman.”
I don’t want to reinforce that.
No matter how uncomfortable it may feel at times, I prefer to make a different kind of statement. One about loving yourself for who you are. One that reinforces a person’s right to decide about how they treat their body. A statement that says: there are no “objective” beauty standards. Only those in your head.
And who knows — maybe one day I will shave again. It could happen if I knew that this decision comes from my own need, rather than somebody else’s order. But for now, I choose to contest the status quo.
And it means that, for yet another summer, I will go around unshaved.