Body hair is often a source of shame for people — especially for those who identify as women. For O.school's own version of No-Shave November, we wanted to hear from writers about their evolving relationships with their pubic hair. No matter how you choose to style yours, we celebrate your love for your body.
It was the end-of-the-year party for my eighth grade class and I’d gotten a new swimsuit — a bikini sprinkled with delicate flowers — for the occasion. I was nervous, but also excited; I felt so grown up in my new suit and anxiously anticipated my crush seeing me in it. I pulled it on and looked around the changing room at the other girls, then down at myself.
All around I saw girls with smooth hairless legs and bikini lines. There I stood, recently sprouted dark hairs speckling my legs and little curls emerging from the sides of my bikini bottoms. My thirteen-year-old self crumpled. I quickly grabbed a towel and wrapped it around me, curled my arms around myself, and tried not to cry.
This hair, which I hadn’t given so much as a second thought up until then, was suddenly mortifying to me. I made my way to the edge of the pool, concealed as much of my body as I could manage, and hoped that, once in the water, no one would notice the hair that was on my body and no one else’s.
My Hair, But Not My Choice
Body hair continued to be a source of shame for me as I grew up. At age 19, my date reached under my ankle-length skirt to rub my leg, prickly with a few days’ growth. “Well!” he exclaimed, “I guess you weren’t planning on having sex tonight.” At 21, my boyfriend told me he’d be more attracted to me if I shaved my pubic hair into a landing strip. At 24, my husband refused oral sex, saying it was disgusting if I didn’t have a shaved vulva.
Shaving has never been an easy or comfortable experience for me. I have highly sensitive skin and break out in painful red bumps for days afterward, no matter which razors or products I use. Even wearing underwear hurts for days after I shave. But in my relationships, that was never important. What was important was having a body that looked and felt exactly the way my partners wanted it to. What was important was their desires; mine were disregarded, never asked about or considered.
For some reason, I didn’t think to question that. And so, for each of those men, I got out my razor and did what they wanted. I shaved.
Taking Back My Body Hair
When I was 33 years old, I realized that I was queer and came out. I lay in bed one day with my first queer lover. “What do you like?” I asked, “I mean, for my hair.” They looked at me with appalled confusion on their face. “What do you mean?” they asked. “It is your body.”
In that moment, I realized for the past 20 years, since that day in eighth grade, I’d been so focused on other people’s expectations regarding my body hair that I hadn’t stopped to question what I wanted. I’d given up my autonomy instead of claiming my body — and its hair — as my own.
That year, I grew out my leg hair and marvelled in the sensuality of my bedroom fan blowing on them, new sensations running all through my body. I grew out my armpit hair and was surprised by how much more comfortable I felt that way. I grew out my pubic hair and was tickled to find that I have a little curly tuft right above my clit that I can play with.
As my hair grew, so did my confidence and my feelings of ownership over my body. I wore shorts with my hairy legs and didn’t care. I performed burlesque with hairy pits and felt just as sexy as ever. I didn’t shave before sex and didn’t apologize for my hairy pussy. I realized that, if people wanted me, they could take me as I am and as I want to be; if they didn’t want that person, then they weren’t worth my time.
It’s funny to think that something as simple as not shaving the hairs that naturally grow on my body would make me feel so empowered, but it has. In a society where femmes are so often expected to conform to prescribed beauty standards and tailor their bodies to the desires of others, going to the beach with unsmooth legs and a few hairs peeking out from my suit feels like my own personal revolution.
These days, I keep a razor in the shower, and every so often — when I feel like doing a bit of extra pampering — I’ll shave my legs or give my pubic hair a trim. But now, it is on my terms. It is my decision because it is my body. I am the one who gets to choose.