‘Eugh, you look like a man,’ my brain tells me as I inadvertently stretch in front of my bathroom mirror. It’s been three weeks since I started working from home, and so naturally, three weeks since I stopped shaving… everywhere.
Now, I’m what boomers would call an insufferable feminist. As in, my sister has a rule that I can’t talk about feminism when we’re visiting family because it always results in hours of arguments. What can I say? I read and write about all of the ways women are worse off because of the patriarchy on a daily basis – not exactly thoughts you can brush off over brunch.
When it comes to beauty norms, I’ve committed the last few years of my life to ridding myself of that deeply engrained misogynistic notion that tells me I need to look perfect at all times, that my complexion must be clear, my body skinny but fat in all the right places and my skin both smooth and completely hairless.
I’ve used positive affirmations, cleansed my social media feeds and made sure to actively challenge images of so-called ‘beautiful’ women that I see on a daily basis (in my head, of course) and honestly, for the most part it’s been a huge success. I actually convinced myself that my ginormous crooked nose is fucking gorgeous. Yet, on this likely lifelong voyage, there is one norm I am yet to even attempt to challenge: body hair.
At least… until quarantine happened.
‘Oh my god, I don’t have shave for weeks,’ I thought, my brain instantly entering into a dream-sequence where I walk barefoot through fields in loosely-flowing dresses feeling at one with Mother Nature (turns out, the furthest I’ll get is my flat balcony).
Every time I catch a glimpse of my now bushy armpit, I flinch. ‘You look dirty. You look like a man. You look ugly,’ my brain screams.
I had this idea that not shaving would liberate me, that I’d love every second of my newfound freedom and shorter showers, so much so that I would unlock a more evolved version of myself and choose not to shave even after lockdown ended.
Because that’s the ultimate goal, really, not just to be free from the judgement of the outside world because I’m trapped inside my home, but feel free from it all the time - whether I’m on a public beach or about to bare all in bed.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t been that easy. In fact, I’ve been desperate to shave it all off for the last week. Every time I catch a glimpse of my now bushy armpit, I flinch. ‘You look dirty. You look like a man. You look ugly,’ my brain screams. And honestly, as disgusted as my thoughts seem to be with my new body hair, I’m more disgusted with the fact my brain is telling me this at all.
I’ve watched and loved the growing number of women choosing to put down the razor – from Miley Cyrus to Jemima Kirke to Paris Jackson. I vividly remember seeing pictures of Madonna’s daughterLourdes Leon frolicking on the beach with locks under her arms and thinking ‘What a fucking icon’. Hell, I see 21-year-old influencer Florence Given dance on Instagram every day and am in awe of how someone so young can be so powerful.
Why, if women in the public eye, women younger than me, women put on a pedestal as the most beautiful in the world, can rid themselves of this patriarchal requirement to be hair-free, can’t I? How is it that I sit here – with all my male gaze rants and capitalism-is-scamming-us-all tirades – loathing my body for having hair that I know to be clean and would consider beautiful on anyone but myself?
Now, one could argue it’s because I’m not shaving for male approval, but rather I’m shaving for myself – so that I feel confident and comfortable in my own skin. But that argument would be wrong. Because, the only reason I feel more confident and comfortable after shaving is that I’ve now conformed to what society deems is a beautiful woman. If I hadn’t spent my entire life only seeing hairless women on screen and in real life, the likelihood is I would feel beautiful no matter how hairy I was.
I try to trick myself that I love that amazing feeling of newly-shaven legs against fresh bed sheets simply because it feels good. In reality, I love that because it makes me feel clean, pristine and like I have my life together. Why? Because we associate body hair with unkept, lazy women who don’t shower.
The truth is, almost every way we typically alter our appearance is to appear more beautiful and thus conform to the male gaze. Now, I’m not saying that’s wrong – if we want to shave our armpits to feel more confident in dealing with the rest of the problems that get thrown at us, we are fully entitled to. But, the conclusion I’ve come to is that conforming to the male gaze exists on a spectrum – and I want to do everything I can do be happy on the lower end of that spectrum.
So when I find myself hating the hair growing under my arms and elsewhere, I can’t help but be annoyed at myself. I thought I’d come further on this journey but clearly I hadn’t been pushing myself far enough.
That’s why I’ve come up with a plan – to Stockholm syndrome myself into loving my body hair. To tell my armpits I love them every day – literally – and manifest affection for this hair through positive affirmations, physical touch and frankly, telling myself lies until I believe they’re the truth. Regardless of how much I want to shave it, I refuse to. Now that I’m writing that down, I actually have to stick to it.
I know it seems dramatic. ‘If you want to shave just shave,' my sister's voice yells at the back of my mind as I write this. But that’s not a solution to tackling the beauty norms that clearly exist deeper within me than I thought. If I learned anything when I began doing positive affirmations to attempt to love my natural face, it’s that rewiring your brain to believe you are beautiful with a big nose, spotty skin or small lips is a long, boring and repetitive journey.
What you receive in the end though, is entirely worth it. I’m happier within myself now than I ever have been, I’m more capable of engaging in healthy relationships, of being more confident at work, of feeling less anxious in social situations. All because I lied to myself that my nose is beautiful every day for a few months.
If I can rewire my brain into believing my body hair is beautiful, I’ll save myself much more than money, time and tellings-off from my friends when I’m late once again because I forgot to shave my legs till the last minute. I’ll save myself from a life of thinking I’m dirty purely from growing hair – and when you think about it, that is way more ridiculous than me talking to my armpits.