Spoiler alert: it doesn’t fucking matter.
DISCLAIMER: As you may have guessed from the title, I’m going to be discussing body hair today. Keep in mind, these ponderings are just written for enjoyment and based off my own personal experience. My thoughts and feelings on the subject do not have to be yours. I only offer my own (sort of) mantra, in the hope that it will (sort of) help you consider your own. Okay? Okay. Onwards we go.
THE EARLY YEARS:
Growing up, I was always made to feel like my views regarding body hair categorized me as an outsider- some kind of eccentric weirdo lady. But in essence, I suppose it was an extension of the way I had always felt, long before I had to make any real choices regarding those particular preferences. I was never very insecure or self-conscious about my body, which is a punishable offence on its own if you happen to be female. Call it an early Panic! At The Disco song, if you will (“Feeling Good About Herself is The Most Controversial Thing a Girl Can Do (Without Taking Her Clothes Off)”).
For instance, a story that has been brought up to me on a regular basis over the years is people having strong memories of pre-pubescent me getting stark naked in changing rooms. Seriously- this comes up a LOT…and certainly a lot more than I’m personally comfortable with. Even though over a decade has passed, seeing me without clothes seems to have been a deeply scarring childhood experience for many, despite what little resonance it holds in my own memory. Apparently, I would just wander around without a care in the world, chatting to whoever and living my best life, as I got changed at my own, er, unique pace.
When I’m reminded of these instances, they’re always told with a smirk, an undisguised wrinkle of disgust, as the person recounts my little bare butt waddling across the girls changing room. But the nakedness on its own isn’t necessarily why the story has stuck. After all, this was long before I had any womanly assets to bother being modest about- I was still as hairless as a baby mole rat and my chest would have been flat enough to sit a full glass of wine on without toppling (please do not use children for this purpose).
No, the insinuation always seems to be that it was weird that I felt at ease being naked around my peers, given my bookish, geeky personality and traditionally undesirable body type. To them, it had been memorably funny because it seemed to be a sign of delusional confidence. Like “Why on earth would you, of all people, feel good in YOUR body with your pudgy little stomach and wobbly thighs? How embarrassing for you, am I right?!”
Keeping in mind, this was long before the high school changing room years when my female peers and I all became overnight Olympic champions at the unregistered sport of “Change Your Clothes As Quickly As Possible Without Revealing Any Part of Your Body Whatsoever”. Suddenly, it was an expected feat of human origami to be able to change into a full new outfit underneath your checked school frock, before shimmying out of it like a snake shedding its skin for the summer.
Even without the minefield of shared changing rooms, P.E. lessons were already one of the most brutal arenas for pubescent self-esteem to be forced to endure. It’s little wonder that so many girls contracted the mysterious condition of having severe period pains on a weekly basis (for about six to seven months out of the year). There was always a sense you were being evaluated and sized up in your sports bra, tank top and athletic shorts- not just by the opposite sex, but by the harsh, unforgiving gaze of other teenage girls. In our uniforms, we more or less all looked the same, but now our new bodies were up for display, to be compared and ranked against one another. Not only aesthetically, but by how well they functioned while running, playing sports, throwing shit. Automatically, this put me at the back of the pack because I had the athletic ability and hand-to-eye co-ordination of a large sack of potatoes.
But in terms of body hair, P.E. lessons also represented the first time my personal choices on the subject were exposed to any kind of scrutiny. I didn’t have dark or particularly bushy leg hair but looking down the bench to see a row of smooth, freshly shaven legs, it was hard to deny that my own were looking more and more sasquatch-like in comparison. It was the only time I remember feeling that unsettled twinge of self-consciousness kick in- a little stab of longing to come into school the next morning with goosepimply, hair-free legs.
But within a few minutes, the feeling had passed, and my mind went back to pondering if there was any conceivable way to improve the game of backboard dodgeball (preferably by removing the backboard, and by extension, the dodgeball).
The only other person with any stake in my personal grooming choices at this time was my first proper boyfriend, who considered my body hair to be amongst the ranks of his most powerful enemies (along with large bodies of water and any activity that made his blonde-tinged, spikey hair go flat). The result was one of many pseudo-feminist discussions, where neither party would budge on their poorly-argued, deeply heartfelt beliefs. He mostly took his frustrations out by drawing crude (yet intriguing) illustrations of me with a massive bush and asking anyone who would listen if this kind of stubbornness was normal in a young lady, let alone one to whom he was adolescently betrothed. Is it normal for her to not want to shave for me? Why will she not do what I want her to do? Aren’t girls meant to change themselves…that is, if they REALLY like you? Am I not doing peer pressure right?! HELP MEEEEEE.
Poor old sod. He never stood a chance against me and my powerful bush.
My mum was the spark behind every aspect of my early body confidence, and by extension, my attitude towards body hair. She is the magician behind every curtain and the answer to every question, without even trying to be.
When I was very little, I didn’t used to think my mum fitted in with what mums were supposed to look like, based on what I saw in books and on TV. It pains me to admit it, but my earliest notions of the feminine ideal were deeply influenced by everything that is shamelessly marketed to little girls- starting with fairy tale illustrations, before moving onto their onscreen counterparts in Barbie and Disney princess movies. My first archetype of beauty can be summarised in four, easy-to-swallow bullet points: young, blonde, skinny and white. Gross.
But plot twist- that wasn’t my mum. She wasn’t blonde and curvy like the mums in commercials and picture books. She was little, whippy and athletic with spunky short hair, and wore big coats with shoulder pads into work in block colours of red, orange and green because she was the boss. She wore preppy, groovy clothes with no makeup (ever) and had a box of colourful clip-on bowties in her bedside drawer. She worked late into the night, but still woke up at 6am every morning to make my school lunch, despite her inability to make sandwiches taste nice. And from as early as I can remember, I thought her body was the most beautiful thing in the whole entire world.
That sounds like a weird thing to say about your own mum, but whatever- it’s true. Everything about her was perfect to me, and yet the exact opposite of almost every beauty standard that I was being told to accept. The clear disparity between these two things probably wordlessly taught me something very early on- what I think is beautiful does not match what other people tell me it is.
My mum’s skin was all freckly and brown, covered with sun spots. Her smile lines curved up and out from the corners of her eyes like elaborate Egyptian eye makeup. When you gave her a hug, you could almost wrap your arms around her tiny waist twice. She told me we both had strong bike rider’s thighs. When she slept in late on a Sunday morning, she looked like a painting. Obviously, she didn’t walk around naked all the time- confirming she was not, in fact, crazy- but if you did happen to toddle into her room to while she was changing to ask a question or ask for another Arrowroot biscuit, she didn’t shriek or make a big fuss to cover herself. She’d just listen calmly while she picked out the right pair of jeans to tackle the day, before asking if you’d like to go choose some new books from the library after finishing your biscuit (the answer was always yes).
I never saw my mother ever be concerned about her body or show any signs of self-consciousness. She never apologized for being herself, even when it wasn’t what people wanted. As the parent of a young girl, she didn’t really need to need to teach me how to feel good in my own body because she just led by example, and this message was strong enough to carry me through my teen years and beyond. In all honesty, I am proud of my body because it reminds me of hers.
It was my mum that gave me one of the best pieces of advice ever in relation to body hair- that shaving your legs is totally pointless and once you’re an adult, no one cares. It is so true, and I cannot believe that following this puts me outside of the norm. Obviously, this might not be everyone’s preference, but what can I say? Once you ride the teenage years out like the bad fever dream that they are, literally no one gives a shit whether you shave your legs or not, Susan.
In fact, I can tell you from first-hand experience that if you don’t, nobody notices. And if by some strange trick of the light they do happen to notice, it is so unworthy of attention that they will not say a single word to you about it- NOT ONE. Not when you’re wearing a short dress with bare legs in the summer. Not when you go swimming or have sex or go to a fancy event. Seriously, I have better things to do with my time (like writing about the benefits of not shaving your legs, what a fourth wall break!).
Only three people in the entirety of my life have ever brought up my leg hair when I haven’t expressly mentioned it, and spoiler alert: they were all assholes. But even they were at a loss for anything innovatively hurtful to say about it- there just wasn’t enough raw, ripe material there to dig into. Although special props must go to the one dude who noticed my unshaven legs in class one day and waited until we were sharing a pizza in a parking lot weeks later to ask the age-old question that every woman dreams of:
“Hey Eve…are you a tomboy?”
Thanks a lot, Mum.
BELOW THE BELT:
Ah yes…finally. Now to address the greatest insecurity to women regarding their body hair, the real reason we’re all here: la pubis maximus. The great down there.
Obviously, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to pubic hair. But it is fascinating how something so bizarre can be subject to its own trends, just like fashion, that reflect the social, economic and political state of the world at a certain time. Or even directly relate to it, like how the rise of the sleeveless flapper dress correlated with the invention of the safety razor in the 1920s, or how pubic trimming came back into fashion after the bikini was created in 1946.
It’s also hard to ignore the impact of a billion-dollar industry that profits off convincing women to believe their bodies are imperfect until they are sold the correct tools to modify them. It pays to create a social norm where body hair on women is accepted as gross or unattractive.
But you know what? Having hair on my body makes me feel like a fucking woman, rather than a little girl. When I took the plunge as a teenager and decided to go full Brazilian for the first time, it immediately made me feel unnatural and icky, like I was trying to regress to what my body looked like pre-puberty- flat, hairless and so, so innocent. The sort of innocent you would kick and scream to protect. But for better or worse, that body didn’t belong to me anymore. I didn’t want to relapse back to a time before breasts and curves, or the glorious, newfound sexual desire they represented.
I certainly wouldn’t be the first to point out that it’s not a coincidence that the “no pubes” look is the one most commonly fetishized for women. It’s a reflection of a greater disturbing historical trend of sexualizing women at a younger and younger age, to try and reduce them to little girls- not just physically, but emotionally. To highlight their inexperience, naivety and “cleanliness” as qualities to find sexually appealing. Fuck you, I thought as I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror post-shave. I don’t want to play your psychotic little mind games. All raw, prickly and exposed like an oversized, fleshy baby, I felt more self-conscious than ever.
But aside from any other agenda, all I know is what I feel. Deep in the gut. And it’s that I feel so much more confident, comfortable and womanly when I have some form of hair downstairs. I honestly like the way it looks too. It makes me feel like the subject of an oil painting or sculpture, treasured relics from a time when artists would have viewed natural hair on a woman as deeply erotic- a sign that she is a free sexual being, not a sanitised version of femineity from a male daydream.
Oh, and if a potential sexual partner makes a comment or feels entitled enough to express their own negative preferences regarding this issue, guess what- I don’t want to have to have sex with them! Yes! Just when I thought I couldn’t love my body hair any more, it also doubles as a litmus test for keeping unworthy swines out of my queenly bedchambers. My pubes are truly the least offensive thing about me, so if a few adorable sprigs of hair gets someone going, wait until they get a dose of MY PRIVATE HABITS. Or better yet, MY PERSONAL, HEARTFELT OPINIONS.
Plus I find that any negativity about your body hair choices tends to come from plebs, as people who do have good sex know that when you’re having it, you’re not worried about your pube count or the cellulite on your thighs or the way your boobs are obnoxiously jiggling. You’re too busy thinking, “yessssss, it’s HAPPENING” as you and your partner get lost in sexual bliss. And I think it generally goes both ways. People that still have time for shitty opinions when they could be having FUN SEX are quite frankly “oxygen thieves” and not worth your precious time.
Similarly, I also don’t care about my partner’s body hair preferences, even if they differ from mine. I just want people to present themselves in whatever way makes them feel happy and confident- my only expectation is that you grant me the same respect in return (you know, the bare fucking minimum). What you chose to do with your secret garden does not make you any less desirable to me, my heavenly chums.
If you feel more comfortable choosing to have some form of hair downstairs, it also doesn’t mean that you are automatically barred from receiving any kind of oral attention. No one ever told me this- of course, good manners helps, and preferences do differ from person to person. But please do not be scared to ask your partner for what you want or concerned that being up-close and personal with your nether regions is going to be some kind of horrible turn off for them. Your body hair should not be treated as anything unpleasant or used as an excuse for you not receiving the pleasure you deserve. Pubic hair is natural, clean and perfect in every form- a sign of your body evolving over thousands of centuries to protect the most wondrous, delicate part of your body. It is nothing but a sign that you are a fully formed sexual being.
Full disclosure- I’m totally giving you advice that’s relevant to me, what a shocker. I often find myself refusing my partner’s offers to pleasure me or apologizing profusely on behalf of my pubes.
“Sorry!” I say. “I’m so sorry- what can I do?! I could hold it back, or maybe I have an alligator clip somewhere in my bag?! I’m so sorry for this major inconvenience, what can I possibly do to make it up to you? I’ll clean your car for the next week, I’ll make light conversation with your racist uncle at Christmas, I’ll do your entire tax return, just please don’t hate me because of my pubic hair.”
Sometimes just the idea of someone going anywhere near my vagina makes me feel so tremendously guilty that I feel like I have to compensate them for their selfless sacrifice- to offer myself in some way that makes their suffering worth it. Even when my partners been nothing but loving and generous, I still wrestle with the idea they must be secretly grossed out by my body hair choices.
When I first started having sex, I particularly struggled with believing that my partner ever really wanted to go down on me- like they were just offering out of ego or half-hearted obligation. It took time for me to realise (mostly from how frequently they offered combined with the almost embarrassing enthusiasm with which they approached the task) that they genuinely enjoyed it. It was hot for them beyond doing something that gave me pleasure. They were turned on by the parts of me that were natural and womanly, rather than repulsed- and some stray hairs certainly wasn’t going to stop them from getting involved.
Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate these early experiences more and more, and I try to translate that gratitude into showing the same kindness to new partners, regardless of gender. But despite the fact that I am now often the enthusiastic labourer, I’m still working on not apologizing for doing what’s comfortable for me. I try to remember that I am never turned off by other people’s body hair, so I should offer the same courtesy to myself. There’s nothing I admire more than the ability to find an unwanted hair during sex, laugh, flick it aside and carry on like nothing has happened. By acting like my own natural body is gross or some kind of obscene obstacle, I’m further insinuating the idea that hair on a woman is something worth of disgust (despite the fact I don’t think that about anyone else). Women’s bodies are so beautiful- they deserve to be respected and adored in every possible form.
Hair is your choice. Relish in it, create your own narrative, never be ashamed to do what makes you feel happy and comfortable. No decision regarding your body hair will ever make you less worthy of love.
After all: it doesn’t fucking matter.
Love Eve X