We shave our legs, our armpits, our nipple hair, and even the tiny hairs on our toes.
We wax our bikini lines, pluck our facial hair, and thread our stray eyebrows.
We’re in a full-blown war with our body hair but…why?
Written by: Kayti Sullivan
“Oh shit is it time to kill the experiment?” This was my thought in my first week back at work after maternity leave. No I am not talking about the grand experiment of parenthood… What kind of sicko do you think I am? Halfway through my maternity leave I decided to quit all body hair removal. Now, sitting in a conference room with a colleague, I couldn’t help but notice her awkward glance at my underarms as I raised my elbow while writing on a whiteboard.
The experiment began in early May when my husband and I took a two week trip to Mexico. We hired a babysitter (because vacation is not vacation unless you shell over some extra cash for childcare) who turned out to be an utterly endearing and spunky 25-year-old. Donning effortlessly cool ripped high-waisted denim cut-offs and a midrift exposing tank, she shared with us her love of art, music, culture and told us stories of her life all around South and Central America. She was, in short, the bastion of Gen Z cool. After she packed away her art supplies one afternoon I couldn’t help but notice a tuft of hair emerging from her armpits, and the sun illuminating a sea of fully grown leg hair. Much to my surprise, and counter to the instincts of my highly socialized brain, I found all of her body hair absolutely adorable. (Not in a Single White Female kind of way, more in an “oh, I guess that’s an option that’s perfectly cute” kind of way.)
A 45 minute rabbit hole into the internet later, I discovered that rates of body hair removal are rapidly declining. Turns out our feminist ideas of questioning female beauty standards and subverting the patriarchy are taking effect, how exciting! So I thought to myself, “Fuck it, why am I bothering to shave anyway?” I have fair and sparse hair and I am about as feminist as they come…combine that with sheer laziness and we have a perfect concoction for some endearing fuzz.
That was the second week of May. Today, as I write this, it’s almost July. I have not taken a razor to my body, nor wax, Nair (remember Nair? The smell? The burn? How is that product still on the market? I digress…) or tweezers. I returned to work in mid June about five weeks in to the exp-hair-iment (see what I did there?). What’s interesting is that my husband does not care. I don’t care. None of my friends care. But something about being back in the office and noticing the scrutinizing gaze of a colleague, or knowing I will be delivering a presentation in a knee length dress in front of a group of people, has me wondering if I should kill this little experiment of mine.
Why is that? If I never returned to work I would happily dispose all of my hair removal products and live freely in my bubble, free of judging eyes and expectations. But something about conforming to the office environment has me wondering if I come across as “unclean“, “unprofessional“, “too feminist“ or “ that weird lady in the office who stopped shaving after she had kids“. And why would these potential interpretations of my choice bother me? I usually pride myself on my DGAF attitude about these sorts of things. I am very senior in my company and shouldn’t my good work and commitment matter more than potential judgements of my grooming patterns? My company is casual and liberal-minded (I work for a tech company in San Francisco for God’s sake) and no one cares if men have beards, bushy eyebrows or neck tattoos.
Maybe it’s trite to point out the double standard in hair management between men and women, or any of the double standards we uphold in ourselves and each other. But if it’s been pointed out, if it’s been talked about, and if we live in a modern world where “you do you“ and “women shouldn’t be judged by their looks in the workplace” are prevailing wisdoms, then why am I standing in front of a PowerPoint, arms raised, worried about what message my pits and peach fuzz are sending?
After all, haven’t we all fought as a society to enable women to make these kinds of choices? Beauty standards are ever elusive and evolving, from Twiggie to Beyoncé, and the casualties of the seemingly permanent war on body hair are well articulated by Nadine Ajaka’s Atlantic piece. Is it a wonder that young women are asking themselves if they really care enough to pluck and prune every day?
Because at the end of the day the only message I’m trying to transmit it is… shaving is annoying and it takes a lot of time, okay? Can’t I just look like the cool 25-year-old artist Babysitter from Mexico? I just wanna, like, live my life, man.