It’s Hairy: My Tricky Relationship with Razors and Femininity
About the Series: It’s Hairy
Hair is one of those things that’s always, well, there, whether we like it or not. It grows, it shifts in color and texture, it pops up in places we don’t really mind for. But more importantly, it tells a story about who we are, whether previous childhood memories about it pave a complicated journey or current feelings towards our follicles say a lot more than just a hair style. It’s Hairy was created to encompass these complex stories for several identities: Black, trans, Middle Eastern, nonbinary, lesbian, and more. Each piece, written by the people who personally go through these hair journeys, tells a story of how hair is always about more than hair, where hair acts as a lens for diverse narratives, revealing that no hair journey is the same.
Age ten was when I slowly began to see all of my 5th grade peers start to eradicate all of their leg hair, spending hours of their pre-pubescent years making their legs silky smooth as a marker of femininity. I envied these girls, even though the light blond hair on my adolescent legs didn’t compare to some of my friends’ darker hair. Soon after my best friend started shaving, I begged my mom to buy me a razor so I could do the same. She knowingly replied with, “You do realize that your hair will grow back black if you shave it, right?” I fully believed this statement, but was also equally angry that I couldn’t participate in a landmark of girlhood, especially as I seemed to be the only one who wasn’t shaving at this point in my life.
Some months after, as I increasingly got more infatuated with the idea of shaving when flipping through the pages of American Girl’s The Care and Keeping of You, aka my holy grail as a preteen, my mom finally granted me access to doing the thing that literally every girl my age was doing. I was finally going to shave my legs! All the years of getting taunted by school peers and summer camp friends would come to an end. That night, I sat in my mother’s bathtub, slathered my legs in shaving cream, and got familiar with the five-blade Venus Embrace razor, one I would continue to use throughout adolescence. One hour and three nasty cuts later, I had legs that, although mimicking the hair-free legs I had three years ago, signaled my journey into womxnhood.
“For the next five years, I would continue this pseudo-hygienic practice, making sure my legs were shiny and hairless, even when they’d be covered by jeans for a third of the year.”
For the next five years, I would continue this pseudo-hygienic practice, making sure my legs were shiny and hairless, even when they’d be covered by jeans for a third of the year. Soon after, I began shaving my armpits, which exponentially grew back thicker every instance I shaved them. Maybe my mom was right—my body hair didn’t grow back darker, but it would slowly become thicker, courser, requiring me to shave even more. I didn’t even stop to think about why I was shaving—it only led to immensely painful razor burn and a lack of looks or comments from others. At some points, however, I wouldn’t shave as much as my peers, maybe once a week. This would transform my legs into a prickly mess that was hardly visible but would still be noted by other girls—I was shamelessly made fun of at summer camp for not shaving my legs in the lake everyday. After returning home from camp, I would shave my legs every other day, making sure to not miss any spots, no matter how long it would take. I would then enter thigh territory, a terrain that took twice as long and felt even more pointless, as my thigh hair continues to be a light shade that’s practically invisible.
I approached my peak of femininity come high school, which was marked by solely wearing dresses and skirts for the next three years. My bare legs required them to be hair-free, especially at my traditional high school that held every stereotype and clique you see in the movies. To be deemed popular as a girl, you had to either be hyper-feminine or play lacrosse, so my nonathletic self chose femininity instead, making sure to shave my legs at least twice a week. At this point, the idea only exhausted me—having to spend 20 minutes in a scalding shower dragging blades across my legs just to be look like an acceptable teenage girl in a Southern suburban town truly, at the end of the day, didn’t feel worth it. Yet, I continued the ritual simply to fit in, similar to how I forced myself to have pseudo-crushes on boys only to fit into the uber heteronormative atmosphere my school produced.
Nearing the end of my high school experience, my practice began to dwindle to once a week, to twice a month, to even once a month. I felt liberated by being able to let my leg hair grow past its stubbly phase, but would still quickly go to my tried and true razor whenever it became noticeable. This was out of fear and being policed by the people around me—my friends from dance commented on the leg hair that would poke out through my pink tights, and my mom, who once was cautious about me shaving, now enforced the practice and even policed me for for having slightly hairy legs. Her hyper-feminine ideals framed shaving as simply an act of hygiene, and I only stopped to think—why do womxn have to shave their body hair as an act of hygiene, but the rest of the population didn’t need to follow this seemingly required rule? So, I continued to make the ritual less and less regular, transforming it to an activity I lightly dabbled in. I purposefully made the act of not shaving regularly a radical act of resistance, mostly to my mom, but on a broader level, to society’s funky expectations of womxn.
“Why do womxn have to shave their body hair as an act of hygiene, but the rest of the population didn’t need to follow this seemingly required rule?”
My first year of college hit me like a ton of bricks—I was finally able to live on my own and be free to do whatever I wished with my body. I was slowly but surely coming into my queer identity, something that almost made me feel even worse for shaving in the first place. I was thrown into a community of confident queer womxn, particularly with my gender studies major, that proudly let their body hair grow naturally, and as a baby gay, I looked up to them so much that I decided I was going to (mostly) stop shaving only because I wanted to revolt against norms just like them. While it obviously takes more than not following typical ideologies of femininity to smash the patriarchy, I still felt powerful by connecting the act to the political.
My style soon followed this decision—pants replaced most of my dresses, and my aesthetic became more androgynous, even slightly masculine. This facilitated the act of not shaving, as most wouldn’t even see my hairy legs, or even my hairy pits if I wasn’t wearing anything sleeveless. My decision to not regularly shave soon became an act of laziness rather than a political one—I realized that the sole reason I wasn’t shaving wasn’t because I wanted to dismantle the heteropatriarchy, but because I was tired of wasting time and water and getting far too many cuts just to fit into an ideal of femininity that I truly didn’t desire, anyways. I actually liked the hair on my legs, and I loved seeing how long my armpit hairs would grow until someone would have to ask me, “How long has it been since you shaved?” It felt almost like a safety blanket of my own agency to let it grow, and a sign that my body is naturally doing what it’s essentially supposed to do. Yet, my hate-turned-infatuation with my own body hair still irked my mother; her decision to give me a set of razors for one of my Christmas gifts a year ago, which she thought was an act of kindness, drove me wild. Luckily, my 19-year-old self didn’t take this as a sign to start shaving regularly again; instead, I kept the razors for whenever I wanted to shave next, whenever that would be.
“I just despised the policing of body hair—both for the removal of it and its opposite. I hated that people who would never come into contact with my legs would tell me to shave, or even insist that they could never let their leg hair grow that long, implying they think every womxn should also shave, but I felt even worse when I did decide to shave, and people would tell me to at least pick a side”
This gift was the symbol of allowing myself to truly think about my decisions regarding my body hair. Was I purposefully not shaving only because I wanted to resist systems of oppression and reclaim ideologies of femininity as a person who identified as a femme? And when I did decide to shave, was this only because people told me I should? I decided I didn’t really care for either side; rather, I just despised the policing of body hair—both for the removal of it and its opposite. I hated that people who would never come into contact with my legs would tell me to shave, or even insist that they could never let their leg hair grow that long, implying they think every womxn should also shave, but I felt even worse when I did decide to shave, and people would tell me to at least pick a side. Why are there sides to shaving, of all things! We should instead allow anyone, no matter how they identify, to do whatever they want with their body hair. If you want to wax it all off, go ahead. If you never want to come near a razor for the rest of your life, feel free. And if you want to go months without shaving, and suddenly have the urge to spend hours getting rid of your body hair just to have smooth legs for a few days, do it! Sure, there might be agency in purposefully not shaving to prove a point, but isn’t there actually more agency in controlling your body hair in whichever way you please, simply because you, not others, feel comfortable with it?
Most importantly, understanding the decisions I make regarding my body hair and how it reclaims womanhood in various ways allows me to feel even more comfortable in my own skin. When I do choose to let my leg hair grow to extreme lengths, I feel even more like a womxn than I did when I consistently shaved. For the first time last fall, I didn’t pick up a razor the entire semester, and I had never felt more like myself. Just as being queer is already a redefinition of what it means to be a womxn, or really what gender means at all, letting my body hair out in the wild was my own definition of what it queerly means to be me.
When I returned home from my semester, however, I had a sudden urge to shave every inch of my legs, and I felt just as good doing this than I did when I grew it out. Now, I simply do whatever feels best in that moment with my body hair, which usually consists of this: typically straying away from shaving for long periods of time, unless the (rare) desire urges me to. I let my armpit hair grow as free as it can get, until I decide it needs a trim. It may continue to be this way for the next decade, or I may shift my entire routine by the end of the year. I still get glances, particularly for my hairy pits, like when I raise my arms in dance rehearsal or wear a tank top in the summer. My peers still tell me that I should maybe think about shaving my legs when they reach very visible lengths. Yet, for the first time in my life, I feel confident about my choices—and that’s the beauty of it all.
About the Author
Natalie Geisel is in her third year at The George Washington University studying women’s, gender, and sexuality studies with a minor in communication. Her love of writing sprouted from starting her fashion blog in high school, and her current written work spans from topics such as style, LGBTQ+ content, and music. She is interested in intersecting gender and sexuality into the world of wellness, hoping to add a queer voice to its editorial side. When she’s not writing, she spends her spare time at dance rehearsal, attending local indie shows in the DC area, or finding the best cafes that serve oat milk. She’s passionate about inclusive sex education and sustainable fashion and thinks everyone should be, too.