I was doing a typical morning scroll through the blackhole that is Instagram’s explore page in early January when I came across something.
As is the norm for the beginning of January, many people were opting for healthier lifestyles at the turn of the New Year: some were attempting a vegetarian diet for the first time, others began going to the gym every day, or practicing yoga. Some, like my dad, cut out alcohol completely (bless their hearts). But there was one trend that stuck out to me, personally, and that was #Januhairy.
As I tapped through the hundreds of photos of women varying in age, shape, color, and size, I felt the strong urge to follow suit. Had I ever allowed my body the chance to behave naturally? The longest I’d ever gone was a few days, unintentionally, after leaving a razor at home while on vacation for a week, and shaving immediately when I returned.
When I thought back on it, I realized I had been shaving since I was 10 years old. One school day, I had come off the school bus crying about a boy in my fourth grade class who had called me a gorilla in front of my classmates, pointing out the long spider-leg black hairs that covered my calves and thighs.
This was the same boy who had pointed out that I needed to buy a bra, before I had realized the mistake of wearing a white shirt with the first signs of breasts at the ripe age of 10, far ahead of the rest of the girls in my class.
The night of my traumatizing school day, my mom took me into her large master bath and sat me on the edge of her oval-shaped tub, outlining the correct methods for shaving the tricky angles of one’s legs without drawing blood. By the end of it, the basin of the tub was no longer beige to match the rest of it, but had a film of one-inch wavy black hair.
Though it had horrified my mother to realize I was covered in manly amounts of leg hair, it wasn’t the only way we could have gone about the bully’s cruel commentary. More than once during adolescence I bought into this same belief that I needed to present myself a certain way to soothe the male perception of my physical appearance to fit in. All before I was even a teenager, but the patriarch was steadily being dismantled, and I wanted a part of it. So, I threw away my razor, and began my journey back to life as a primitively-groomed young woman.
I’ve been a long-time follower of many hair-embracing feminists, such as @RipSnorter and the previous bachelor contestant, @Bekah. They’ve always inspired me, as my eyes would glaze over after hundreds of glamorous selfies and staged group shots polluted my feed. They stood out, diamonds in the rough, as women who embrace the raw, the honest, and the authenticity that lies within each of us. They represent these values in photos where they accept the natural aspects of being a woman, such as breastfeeding leaks, menstruation stains, acknowledging and owning their sexuality–even during pregnancy–and naturally furry legs, pits, and pubic areas… despite the publics’ cruel bashing of their choice to do so. These women were awakened by their radical decision to not live by societal norms, and I was moved.
All of January, I remained unshaven and mostly unbothered. At clothing stores, I would try on a top and be taken aback by the protruding prickliness underneath my arms, remembering absent-mindedly that there was hair growing freely there. Slowly, I became accustomed to the dark patches. I had assumed it would be a curly, chaotic brush of hair like my fathers that peeked out of his workout tank tops as he smothered me into the crook of his hairy arm during nap time. Instead, I was granted soft swaths of short, dark hair that swept this way and that against the mound of my armpit. I realized rather than grossed out like I assumed, I was becoming fond of the new addition.
Then came the birthday party. A friend of mine, Alyssa, had invited me to her birthday bash in the city along with ten other of her closest pals. She was going to celebrate her birthday at the beach. A beach party in January? The heart wants what the heart wants, I guess…As a beach-native and Piscean water baby, I had no qualms with a trip to the beach during any season and responded back with, “I’m game,” in seconds. Just a week away, my mind immediately jumped into planning-mode (where it frequents quite often, if I’m honest) and the obvious question came to mind: What was I going to wear?
I felt a sudden pang of fear. I had just agreed to go to a beach party, where I would likely be wearing a bathing suit and everyone would see my ape-like armpits. A flash of my entire fourth grade classroom laughing at my bodily hair filled my mind and I shuddered to think of a possible repeat. Then, just as quickly as the anxiety appeared, it was quickly replaced by a moment of clarity: Do I care what they think? And would they even really care?
To both, the short answer is “no.” The long answer is that all of my anxiety had no foundation. From kindergarten to graduation day, we are all consumed with physical appearances. We think that with the right amount of makeup, or the proper diet, or hours spent straightening our hair, that we deserve love. We become obsessed with the idea of creating perfection and lose sight of the reality that no one can. It’s hard to shake those beliefs when they’ve been drilled into you for years.
Looking back, I remember the fad diets, the constant exercise, the excruciating amount of time spent comparing myself. I wish I could tell that girl, so obsessed with beautifying the outside and capturing eye’s instead of hearts, that none of this would matter and that one day she would find herself a blonde, skinny shell of a person who hadn’t done an equal amount of work on the interior. But some of us have to learn the hard way, and that I did.
I’d come a long way from the girl who shaved every inch of her body each morning to the one floating in the bathtub, feeling goddess-like with boy-length armpit hair. It took years to reach the undeniable fact that beauty has no standard. It is defined only in the hearts and mind of each individual. It’s the same reason I stand by the statement that I don’t have a type; I know it when I feel it. Because what’s on the surface isn’t nearly as important as what comes from within it.
Despite my recent epiphany, toward the end of January, I grew tired of the feeling of fuzz underneath my arms. I began wondering why men didn’t shave like we did. Rather than feel empowered by the hair, I grew annoyed as it continued to flourish and expand. Hair everywhere was a nuisance: it could be itchy, it clumped together when sweating, it created odor more quickly, and overall, I didn’t feel sexy with hair on my body. I decided I preferred the smooth, dolphin-like calves and the feeling of air against my skin as I lifted my arms overhead. But, I wasn’t a quitter, and January was nearly over. Besides, what would people think if I quit now?
I am ashamed to say that this self-conscious angst still protruded through the fog of my thoughts, and is not limited just to the physical. And I knew that the group of people I would be with wouldn’t care. And the ones who did, were not my friends, or the people for me. This realization caused me to stop and assess why I began this self-discovery journey in the first place.
I could forego shaving like the feminists, or don the razor at every shower like the beauty queens. Either way, no one really cared what I did. But I knew then–whatever I was doing–it should always be for me.