Some of my fondest memories from sleep away camp were the bi-weekly shaving parties my friends and I threw. We filled a bucket with water, brought razors and shaving cream outside to the bunk’s concrete porch, and blasted “Call Me Maybe” as we shaved the nonexistent hair off our legs.
These parties began when I was eleven and still very much prepubescent. But shaving made us feel grown up and mature, like we had unlocked the window to womanhood. It was very much a rite of passage, a milestone that I didn’t question, and an activity I perceived as non optional.
I took my new razor home from camp and used it as my wand of womanly sophistication, allotting time during every playdate to teach my friends the proper way to shave. This was, of course, before I became a nihilist and realized that removing all visible body hair was a sadistic form of cultural and patriarchal oppression.
It wasn’t until coming to Bates that I realized not all women get rid of their body hair. A substantial amount of my friends here grow out their leg hair or armpit hair with pride, and I am often asked to validate the fuzziness of their appendages.
I originally felt liberated by the apparent disregard for cultural beauty standards, but it didn’t take long for me to notice the catch: no matter what a female-identifying person chooses to do with her body hair, she will be judged.
From an overt perspective, the increase in women at Bates and elsewhere choosing to leave their body hair intact is a form of feminist liberation. Yet, it fails to take root if we as women continue to put each other down based on what an individual decides to do with their body hair, whether that be leaving it, getting rid of it, or somewhere in between.
This past week at Professor Rebecca Herzig’s talk on body hair in conjunction with FemCo, my friend sitting next to me took stock of everyone in attendance’s legs, noting the presence, or lack thereof, of hair. She turned to me and remarked, “Wow, I think everyone here shaves their legs.”
My instinct was to apologize, as in the moment I felt that my decision to shave was being framed as an assault on feminism. In fact, this wasn’t the first time the status of my body hair was used by others in questioning my identity as a feminist.
Soon after I declared a GSS major, my mom asked me one evening at the dinner table “so, when are you going to stop shaving?” I realized that the lack of hair on my body was being manipulated by others’ judgment to convey a message and that this was simply out of my control.
What anyone decides to do with their body hair should not be subject to public discernment. The removal of body hair on female identifying people is a cultural phenomenon that cannot be easily unwritten. It is perfectly valid for someone who identifies as a feminist to feel power in expressing their femininity through the removal of their body hair, and the same goes for the decision to let it grow.
The toxic cycle of judgment, however, undercuts any goal one has in moving towards a more equitable and less sexist society. It perpetuates the idea that women’s bodies aren’t inherently our own and validates the notion that the appearance of a women’s bodies is entirely for public consumption. Real liberation comes when, and only when, the status of one’s body hair can be posed to the world without fear of judgement.