Illustration by Katie Ward
‘Imagine you woke up in an actual vacuum. On a table in front of you is a packet of wax strips. Aside from sheer boredom, do you think it would even occur to you to spend the next few hours painfully and painstakingly removing all the body hair below your neck? I put it to you, madam, that it would not,’
Clementine Ford, Fight Like a Girl.
My war with my body began sometime around puberty. I was the first girl in my class to have a growth spurt, start growing boobs and have hairs start emerging on my shins. Despite how tiny and light these hairs were, they felt like a flashing red sign shouting ‘look over here, something’s different!’ Not understanding that these things were perfectly natural for my body to be experiencing, I began immediately to try to ‘correct’ the ‘faults’ that were making me different. I’ve been removing my body hair since I was 11. Now, at the age of 23, I look back at so many years of waxing, shaving, epilating and using various acid-based creams to remove my hair, and I can’t help but think: why?
Why did I put myself through so much effort and pain to conform to an unnatural expectation of hairlessness?
What’s so wrong with removing female body hair? ‘Smooth legs feel nicer’, ‘I just prefer the feeling’, ‘men won’t find me attractive’ – all things I’ve said before in defence of my choice to remove my body hair, and arguments I still hear from many female friends. But here’s the problem: it’s not a free choice. We haven’t been raised to think that we can shave or not shave and both are fine. We’ve been raised to believe that hairlessness is beautiful and normal, and that to have hair is masculine, ugly and fundamentally wrong. Therefore, each time you pick up a razor or book in to get your regular wax, you’re not exercising a free choice. Our choices don’t exist in a vacuum; they’re informed and shaped by the society we live in and by the preferences of those in positions of structural power over us. Our bodies and choices are all driven by the goal of achieving the ‘perfect female form’, but perfection is a myth. ‘Beauty’ is arbitrary and changeable, and thus we get trapped in a cycle of trying to ‘fix’ ourselves.
Trying to unlearn the revulsion I feel whenever I see hair growing where it hasn’t for over a decade is truly challenging. But this challenge is worthwhile. Learning to reclaim my body from the world that has controlled it for far too long is a revolutionary process. Every time I glimpse my body hair and cringe, I’m forced to examine why I’m cringing, and in doing so, I’m able to consciously unpack what I’ve been trained to believe. Every moment of discomfort is thus turned into a tiny victory. I remember when I’ve seen the rare woman brave enough to buck society’s expectations by wearing a short skirt with visible leg hair, or a singlet with unshaved armpits. I’ve always felt jealousy and admiration for these women enjoying their natural bodies, and seemingly giving zero fucks as to what anyone else thinks. And I now realise that I have to be the change I wish to see. I need to be brave, and so do you. We need to lift each other up and be responsible for creating the society that we want to live in. We all need to find the courage to say ‘Fuck you world, I will do whatever I want with my body, it belongs to me, and it’s not for you’.
I’ve increasingly grown frustrated and weary with the amount of money and time I invest in adhering to – and thus promoting – a body image that I know is incredibly toxic. This has led to the decision that I’m done. I’m done trying to fit anyone else’s expectations. I’m done spending hours every week removing a natural part of my existence. I’m done pretending that removing my pubic hair is anything other than the creepy normalisation of sexualising women’s pre-pubescence. I’m done shrinking myself so as not to take up space. And I’m done feeling self-conscious in a bathing suit during summer. So I’m not going to. I’m going to actively re-train myself to do more than accept my body; I’m going to learn to love it.
The Get Hairy February campaign aims to challenge toxic beauty standards and raise awareness of broader gender inequality issues by encouraging women to not remove their body hair during the month of February. The campaign is fundraising for the Full Stop Foundation, which supports survivors of domestic violence. There is a clear link between social gender inequality experienced by women and increased rates of violence against them. If we truly hope to achieve a gender-equal society, we have to challenge gender roles wherever we see them.
I’m not done growing yet. This is a journey. I encourage you to try Get Hairy February. Every time you see new hair that you’ve denied the chance to grow, step back and think about why you have the impulse to remove it. Embrace your body, and see what it feels like to actually be in your natural state, not in the state decided for you by ‘beauty’ products and companies (who are ultimately trying to make a profit). If your naturalness makes others uncomfortable, recognise that this is their hang-up, and that you don’t have to cater to what they want to see – your body is not for anyone but you! My body is spectacular in whatever way it wants to grow, and so is yours.
Be free, let go and grow.
A group of women at ANU have joined together to undertake Get Hairy February. If you’re interested in participating then check out gethairyfebruary.org and join our Facebook group: ANU Gets Hairy.