By Kelsey Brown
It was senior year of high school, and the guy I had crushed on for years was finally paying me some attention. Of course, that didn’t mean much——in reality he just wanted to have sex with me. But eager-to-please me, seeking validation in others as always, gave in. He finished, I was surprised because it had just started (a sad reality for too many sexual exchanges), but he was done, so we were. We had barely finished when he looked at my naked body in bed, and felt comfortable enough in his six-foot, 120-pound frame to say.
“Hey would you mind shaving your stomach? I just don’t really like body hair on girls.”
It was something to be self conscious of that I had never even thought of. Guys had a power like that, to make you hate parts of yourself you never even gave a second glance to. Of course, high school me is insecure and impressionable. I felt that panic of embarrassment flood over me, starting with dread stabbing deep into my gut. Suddenly I was hot, face flustered, desperate to be out of that moment and to never have that moment again.
“Okay,” I said, grabbing for my clothes. He turned on American Dad and probably never thought of his comment twice, and pretty soon I took his comment with me and left. All of a sudden I hated my stomach, and all it’s hair. God it was so hairy. How had I not seen it before? I looked at the rest of my body with newfound disgust. Why did I have so much? Why was it so dark? Not remembering that both men and women are covered in hair, and it was nothing to feel shamed about.
Men do not understand how often they make casual, critical comments towards women, and how it rarely leaves our heads. I’ve internalized every negative comment men have made at me, and even accepted them as parts of me; hateful descriptors of my body, my hair, my face, my being. Parts of me that used to exist freely, now weighed me down with dread and anxiety. Now when I took off my shirt I’d think, Wait is my stomach hairy?
Body hair is a strange phenomenon. We are all mammals, we all have it, yet women are preferred to be bald like a freshly plucked bird (strangely, paralleling our pubescence). I never thought about why I was shaving, I just did it because it was what girls do, and what men preferred. There’s a lot we just do without thinking, and sometimes we’ve got to question: Are you doing this for you? Or just because someone told you?
It may seem unremarkable, but for the first time in my life, I grew out my body hair. It wasn’t for any radical reason, I just honestly did not care about shaving, and in quarantine felt like I had no real reason to. I wasn’t out dating or trying to impress anybody, and my body hair didn’t bother me, so why bother with the razor burns and shave? I began to feel amused watching people’s eyes drift nervously from my underarms back to my eyes.
I stopped shaving my arms, another ritual I had been pressured into by girls I carpooled with in middle school. We were in one’s room, and they were talking about how smooth their arms were, and how great shaving was. They’d all shaved their arms, and looked to me, the odd one out. By the end of the week I shaved, and made an indefinite weekly commitment to keeping my newly prickly arms smooth.
Now my arms are hairy, and I doubt I’ll ever shave them again. I realized my arm hair doesn’t actually bother me, and doesn’t make me any less attractive. Of course, there will be men who differ and impose their unwanted opinions onto my feminine existence, but honestly I do not care. It is body hair, we all have it. I’m not going to pretend to not because a man is grossed out that I naturally have the same thing he does.
Growing out my body hair has forced me to subconsciously examine my relationship with it. With it I realized I didn’t feel any less beautiful, deserving, or lovable. I didn’t have to attach my worth and validity to appeasing the opinions of men whose perspectives hold no value in my elf. I loved myself and was beautiful with my body hair, but I couldn’t feel that whole-heartedly or honestly until I lived with it and freed myself of my insecurity.
This morning I took a longer than usual shower, and shaved my body completely. There was no reason, I just felt like it’d been long enough. I hadn’t intentionally stopped shaving, it just came as I felt more comfortable with myself and less motivated to shave. But as I was shaving, I thought about how not shaving had shifted my relationship with my body hair and overall self. It didn’t matter if I had hair or not, I loved my body and my self regardless. I was beautiful with or without. It was something I’d been looking for since middle school: self acceptance.
Years ago, I would’ve been too ashamed to even tell my friends what my high school crush had said to me. It filled me up with so much embarrassment and shame. But I’ve grown to have a healthier relationship with my self, and am learning to rely on my own validation. I don’t exist to be consumed, to be liked, or to be how others perceive me. I want to go through life and do things because I want to, not because I feel like I should. Though it seems minuscule, claiming autonomy over my body and learning to view myself beyond the narrow lenses of patriarchy, is the first step to achieving more independence and acceptance.
I’m a student journalist studying at CSULB. Currently I work as the opinions editor for the Daily Forty-Niner. Poetry and creative writing on the side.