words and #GIRL @a_ahlz
I stood in front of the mirror in my Miami hotel room at my naked body. I had worked to learn the delicacy of loving one’s self, and had come to appreciate the dimples in my thighs, the stout of my legs, the robustness of my shoulders that laughed in the face of halter tops. I didn’t hate what I saw in the mirror. The puff of hair revealing itself from my under arms – I was proud of it. But now I considered shaving it all off. I considered crying. I considered the structure of my face and wondered if I was still pretty, even with the armpit hair of a man (which is exactly the same as a woman’s btw).
I had moved to Utah, gotten sober, gotten spiritual, started rock climbing and doing yoga. I felt more myself than I had in years and I was utterly in love with life. One summer day, while groping mangoes in Whole Foods, I encountered a woman with hairy armpits and I complimented her on them. It was impressive! Especially the way she gave so few fucks about showing them off to the world (or for now, the Whole Foods produce department). I wondered if the hairs blew in the breeze when she walked.
I am a hairy girl. When I was in middle school, I cried because the older boys called me “gorilla arms”. I was shaving my arms by high school (along with the rest of my body). At a certain point, you get tired of shaving everything below your eyebrows. My showers were 20 minutes longer on days that I shaved. And waxing is expensive (also ow!). I was done with it – the trying so hard to keep my body smooth, to hide the truth that, yes, women have hair everywhere, just like men. I always got compliments on my thick head of hair and my long lashes – why was this any different? I decided to stop cold turkey.
I was in the earlier stages of a relationship, and I was surprised to hear my boyfriend say “screw it – grow it out!” This was the first of many turning points in our relationship where I realized I was dating a real man. Not like the boys I had fiddled around with for years, the ones I refused to fart in front of or sit a certain way lest his hand grazes the rolls on my stomach. I loved him even more for supporting me in this. So I grew it out. I went to yoga and lifted my arms to salute the sun and I could feel my underarm hairs growing along with me and my soul. Sounds corny, but I felt like I was experiencing a personal renaissance.
More than anything, it was a test to my personal confidence, because I knew that the time would come when people would see my armpits and shudder in disgust or question my femininity. Did I stop wearing tank tops? Hell no. Did I enjoy the feeling when someone at Comic Con walked straight up to me and asked me “excuse me, is that part of your costume?” Definitely not. Granted, I was dressed as Hillary Clinton, with a pink tank top that said “feminist” – but no, these hairy armpits were mine. And suddenly they were being gawked at. Another person gathered and asked “what made you want to do that?” I tried to explain, “why not? Why do women have to shave what men don’t?” but they continued to stare. Here I was, trying to give this big “F you” to The Man, and my body was still being objectified and stared at. I wanted to normalize the female body, make people see it as really no different than a man’s – armpits aren’t sexy? – but it had backfired. Still, these men had an opinion that they felt I needed to hear. If I was trying to say “F you” to the patriarchy, they still wanted to tell me how to say it. They wanted the last word.
This wasn’t what I wanted. But nevertheless, I persisted. I said Fuck those guys. My friends loved me, my boyfriend still thought I was beautiful, and I was proud of myself.
After almost a year of not shaving my armpits, I went on vacation to Miami, where my older brother lives. Miami is probably the last place you will find anyone with hairy armpits, so I was a little nervous about being in a bathing suit on the beach, surrounded by plastic butts and perfectly flat stomachs, but I did it anyway, and I felt fine. My dad thought I was weird, but he supported me. He learned the phrase “gender equality”. But my brother was not so supportive. One night, we got into a heated debate about my armpits. What a stupid sentence! But yes, we actually got into a fight over my underarm hair! He told me it was disgusting, which I took well. I didn’t expect him to like it. He also told me that if I ever decide to become a lawyer like him, I cannot present myself in a professional setting with hairy armpits and still be respected. This may be true, unfortunately, but I told him I am nowhere close to being a lawyer, so the point is moot. Plus, the only way to change that norm is to do exactly what I’m doing. He then said, “we’re going out with my friends tomorrow night and will you please shave before then? I’m honestly embarrassed for them to see you”.
I told him to Fuck Off, but back in my hotel room, I was overcome with sadness. I looked into the mirror, twirled the little tufts of brown hair in my fingers and wanted to cry. Not for myself, but for him. And for all of the men in this world who are somehow frightened or disgusted by a woman having 2 inches of hair under their arms. As if these wispy hairs are machetes waiting to castrate any man who comes close. I thought how sad it was that my brother is embarrassed of me, and I ultimately decided that was his problem. I realized my brother was insecure. Welcome to being a woman! I was no longer insecure. I had faced death and personal hell in my life and overcome it – I was proud of myself. When I talked to people, I looked them dead in the eyes and knew they were listening to me. If anyone were to judge me based on their own personal inadequacies or fears of nature, I don’t want to be their friend anyway. I no longer had time for this bullshit.
The next night, I wore a shirt with sleeves. On the flight home I looked up pictures of celebrities who had stopped shaving their armpits – Sophia Loren, Sarah Silverman, Miley Cyrus, Jemima Kirke, Penelope Cruz – and sent them to him. Then I went home, wrote this article, and dyed my armpit hair pink. Because Fuck the Man.