Being a fat hairy dyke is a bit of a stereotype, but, you know, if the flannel fits.
I stopped shaving my legs about 3 years ago and I stopped shaving my armpits about 2 years ago. I’ve shaved both a few times in the last few years for other people’s weddings. It felt easier to shave than to explain to relatives.
What was I going to say? It’s none of your goddamn business what I do in the shower, Aunt Bertha? My butch lover has taught me to farm and I’m moving to a feminist commune, Uncle Jim?
The truth is just that I’m tired of policing my body. I’ve done it for nearly 25 years. It’s exhausting. And, as I’ve recently discovered, I actually don’t have to do it.
People view body hair on women as unfeminine, unclean, and undesirable. But my legs and armpits don’t grow hair as a political statement. They grow hair because I went through puberty and that’s what happens to adult bodies.
At first, not shaving started just because it was more convenient. Razor burn hurt, shaving took time, and it’s not like my partner cared. My leg hair is pretty light and even in the summer it’s hard to tell I haven’t shaved unless someone is sitting right next to me. It didn’t feel like a big deal.
I felt freer with hairy legs. I liked the way the summer breeze felt in my leg hair and I liked the peace of just leaving my body alone.
Teddy was the first person I met who wasn’t a man and didn’t shave their armpits. A lot of Teddy’s friends didn’t shave either. It was a new world for me. I wasn’t sure if it was for me or not, but what the hell, I was 22 and down to try stuff. So I tried out not shaving for a month.
Having hairy armpits felt like a much bigger deal than having hairy legs. It was dark and visible and in people’s line of vision.
At first it felt weird, but then I got used to it. Now I don’t think twice about lifting my arms in public. I do avoid wearing shirts that would expose my underarms at work, but I tended to do that even when I was shaving. (The entire notion of professional clothing is also so gendered and classist but that’s another discussion.)
I didn’t mean for it to be political. I just wanted to feel like my body belonged to me.
Up until that point, I had spent 22 years trying to fight with my body to get it to look like what other people thought it should. I shaved, I plucked, I squeezed, I dieted. I did everything except just let myself be.
My body comes with a soft belly that folds on itself when I sit. It comes with thighs that squish together when I walk. And it comes with leg hair, armpit hair, and the occasional chin hair. There’s nothing wrong or right about that because bodies don’t hold moral weight. They aren’t good or bad. They’re our homes, they are us, and I’ve been trying really hard to feel at home in mine. I still don’t feel at home every day, but the days when I can just let myself be, I feel like I am close.
But now I have a decision to make about my wedding. And with our engagement photos around the corner, it’s starting to feel pressing.
In the photos I will have forever, do I want to see my body hair? Will I feel more comfortable dancing through the night with it there? Or will it be more comfortable to know that no one is looking? Will it be more comfortable to just shave and not have to explain?
Will I feel ashamed if I give into the pressure to shave? Or will I feel so stressed about the politics of body hair that I can’t enjoy my wedding if I don’t shave?
I don’t have the answers to these questions. I go back and forth about it at least once a day. My choice will be pretty visually obvious either way, but I didn’t want to pretend like it wasn’t an active choice.
In summary, being a woman is hard. As freeing as it is to live my life as a fat hairy dyke, I feel so much more pressure than I thought I would to alter my body during the wedding process.
I don’t think it would be a failure to shave. Just like it’s not a failure to wear makeup or spanx. These are all things women like me do to feel better and look more acceptable to society. I’m not ashamed of doing these things, but I want to know exactly why I’m doing them and I want to do them on purpose.