The Beauty of Challenging Gender Norms: Embracing My Armpit Hair
I find it sexy when women don’t shave their armpits. A little bit of fuzz peaking out from the corner is hot, especially when sporting a tank top.
I started playing around with keeping my armpit hair when I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the comforts of living in the Bay Area is that it is a more accepting place to have armpit and leg hair as a woman. I find that there is less focus and importance on one’s, especially a woman’s, appearance in the Bay Area. In fact, it’s common and acceptable for women to not wear makeup on a regular basis. Almost none of my Bay Area women friends wear makeup. Some don’t shave either.
One day at a spa in San Francisco, a good friend told me that she wasn’t surprised that I didn’t shave because I’m queer. At first, I didn’t realize that keeping one’s body hair was a queer thing. But then, I thought about all of the women I knew who didn’t shave and they were all queer in some way or another. There does seem to be a link between keeping one’s body hair and queerness. It makes sense since, we, queers have always challenged gender norms and what is deemed “natural.” As queers, we’ve always shaken up society’s comfort zones when it comes to gender and sexuality, and we continue to do so. Queers have always challenged standards of beauty.
I’ve always admired queer artist, Peaches, for explicitly showing her body hair in her video “Set It Off.” In the middle of the video, her pubic hair starts peeking out from underneath her underwear and hair on her armpits begin to spread. Soon after, the hairs grow and grow and grow until most of her body is covered! Since, this particular scene and image has been EVERYTHING to me. Here is a famous female artist claiming her natural body hair and embracing it for the whole world to see. She is saying ‘fuck you’ to the standards and expectations that are placed upon women to erase their body hair. Her lyrics, “Come on, let’s set it off” are a call for all of us to reject the expectations and embrace who we are.
Placing the expectation on women to shave their body hair is another way we silence them. We silence their voice, their expression, and we keep who they are hidden. It is a way that we perpetuate the unrealistic ideal standard of beauty for women.
Shaving my legs has always felt like a strange and annoying act. Mostly because I’m often too lazy to shave, but also because it feels like I’m doing something that is expected of me instead of something that I truly want to do. In high school cross country and track, I was often too lazy to shave my legs, but I also cared about fitting in. I would wear long, striped soccer socks to cover the hair on my legs. Interestingly, the boys on my cross-country team would shave their legs because they thought it would help them run faster. Though they were doing it for athletic reasons, it was an act of defying gender norms, one that I found extremely attractive.
I’ve always been drawn to individuals who subvert gender norms. Since boys and men are expected to keep their body hair, I’ve always found it more attractive when men shaved their legs. My high school boyfriend shaved all of his body hair because he didn’t like any of it. Not all boys and men conform to the body hair norms either.
Although they’re not always conscious, decisions like this are related to our comfort to comply with society’s standards of what’s deemed masculine or feminine. We want to be accepted and our gender identities run deep.
I’ve fallen so in love with my armpit hair that I feel uncomfortable without it, and I even see its absence as less attractive. That doesn’t mean it is always easy though. Usually, I forget I have hair on my pits and when I’m reminded of it, self-doubt and shame can creep in, but the shame isn’t enough to make me change. I accept the shame and doubt because conditioning takes a long time to undo, but I don’t let it take power over my decisions and me. Sometimes, I do shave just to have a “clean slate.” I enjoy watching and feeling the process of my hair grow. I do shave my legs more often than my armpits. Partly because I think my leg muscle definition is more apparent with less hair. But, I’m still too lazy to shave them daily or even weekly.
When I look at any shame that I may feel, I realize that no one in particular is holding me to a standard of beauty. It is the voice in my head that society has influenced, it makes me question who I am and who I want to be. I’ve found that when I’m unabashedly being me, I attract people who accept me for who I am. For example, one of my good friends and I met in Mexico when we were wearing bikinis and my armpit hair was flowing freely. Later, she told me that my armpit hair was one of the coolest things she first discovered about me.
After recently moving to Los Angeles, I was expressing to that same friend that LA’s focus on appearance was rubbing off on me a little, though not enough for me to shave my armpit hair! She smiled and said, “Don’t do it!”.
I’m not suggesting that every woman needs to dispose of her razor and embrace her hairs. There’s no “right” place to be. It’s also not my intention to place judgment on women who choose to shave. I think women should do what they want. But, I’d like to see women who choose to keep their body hair as equally accepted as those who don’t. The expectation for women to not have body hair in order to be a “woman,” be beautiful, or be accepted needs to rest. And it needs to rest hard.
I am advocating for the acceptance of each woman and person to be their self. I want all beauties to be fully accepted and embraced, I want the importance on women’s appearance to be demolished. It is my hope that we are more conscious of beauty standards and think about why we participate in them.
Whatever we choose, may we embrace it unapologetically.