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Embracing My Body Hair (...Kind of)

By Akanksha Singh

body-hair-self-confidence

Hair.

If you’re anything like me, it’s everywhere… and minus what’s on my head and my eyebrows, I don’t much care for it. While I’ve mostly come to accept my body for all the shapes it has been and all the shapes it might be, my body hair is something I’ve yet to come to terms with.

After my last breakup, however, I went full gorilla. Which is to say, being Indian, I let everrrrrything grow out. I decided that my body hair wasn’t going to be something I let define me and my femininity. I’ve always been inspired by people like Harnaam Kaur and Sophia Hadjipanteli for embracing some part of themselves that society somehow didn’t deem *acceptable*.

For a solid month-and-a-half, I embraced my body hair. I unapologetically wore skirts with my cactus-y legs and sleeveless tops that showcased my armpit hair.

But when I decided I was going to download Bumble and start dating again, everything changed: I wore jeans to hide my leg hair. Gave up the sleeveless tops. And, when it eventually came to it, I caved. I was uncomfortable being seen as hairy: I waxed, epilated, tweezed, and shaved.

Looking for answers, I reached out to Dr. Alexis Conason, a clinical psychologist, as well as a handful of people who’ve successfully embraced their body hair, to find out why we sometimes feel pressure to remove it, how to overcome self-consciousness, and how to take practical steps towards embracing it.

first thing’s first: accept that it all starts with society

I know I’ve been conditioned to be this way — to view the hair on my head and eyebrows as *normal*, and the hair almost everywhere else as gross. When I was in high school, there were no mainstream movies with hairy women. Hairy men? Loads. And real life was no different.

As a society and as a culture, we tend to be grossed out by the idea of having hair where it grows naturally on our bodies. “I don’t think there’s any deep, fixed reason we find body hair unattractive,” says Dr. Conason. “It’s illogical, but we’ve been indoctrinated to believe that certain beauty standards are held up as ideal.”

why is hair removal viewed as a rite of passage?

Rather than embrace growing older through our (body) hair growth at puberty, we tend to view its removal as something to embrace instead. I remember girls in school talking about bikini waxes and Brazilians in the open. Not because they were being frank, rather because it meant they would be deemed ~cool~ by the boys (and each other).

“Being allowed to start shaving was a thrill similar to starting my period or needing to wear a bra — it was a symbol of becoming older and more like a real woman,” says Flora Baker, 30, who has given up shaving for nearly two years.  

it’s not easy giving up body hair removal because it’s not *expected*

Despite being comfortable with her body hair now, Flora was bullied at school for being hairy and was even called a “monkey” at one point. During my grow-out phase, I stopped tweezing my eyebrows, too. After I reached the one month mark, the first thing one of my closest friends did was comment on how I was due for a salon appointment.

Thanks to society, fitting in can be a confidence booster, and it can also feel like a necessity. And multiple people who’ve embraced their body hair agree — they all shaved or waxed or tweezed at one point in the past to fit in.

But mustache veteran, Anna Paradox, 53, who gave up dealing with her upper lip hair during menopause says it best, “Why do *I* feel bad about having a mustache? Why should women give themselves pain for beauty?”

learning to challenge the norm

Perhaps I’d have a different attitude altogether when it comes to the hair on my body if I’d had certain role models growing up — if I didn’t associate manicured nails and shaped eyebrows as things that drove me one step closer to being what I perceive as ~feminine~.

“Having role models like Harnaam Kaur, Balpreet Kaur, and Sophia Hadjipanteli is really opening up opportunities,” says Dr. Conason. At a time when our society continues to push a beauty ideal that is literally impossible to achieve, she says, one way for us to overcome our biases is to recognize that we are not alone in how we feel.

I wish I’d given growing out my body hair a fair shot, but I caved under pressure. When I asked Molly Fuller, 38, about her thoughts, she suggested starting by not shaving one part of my body, and then going from there. “I haven’t shaved my legs in years. I still occasionally shave my armpits in the summer, but I feel like it’s *my* choice to do it or not do it.“

Perhaps if I’d given it more time and consciously thought through my decision I wouldn’t have felt so guilty for not trying properly the first time around.

embracing can go either way — bare or there

At the end of the day, it’s just hair, and it will grow back regardless of what one chooses.

“I grew up with a lot of body image issues. And settling into my hair is one important way to feel at home in my own skin,” says Katie Ann Simpson, 29, who didn’t actively start shaving until she was 21.

I did try growing out my body hair again, for just a few weeks before I found myself questioning the decision… again. This time though, when I removed it, I didn’t feel guilty. I realize now that I can't and won't compromise the comfort and confidence I feel without my body hair. Grooming is too deeply ingrained in my idea of self-care and outward appearances with my self-confidence.

Maybe I'll try again at some point, but for now, body hair isn’t for me — and now I know that’s okay.

What are your thoughts on body hair? If you remove it, have you ever considered giving the grow-out a go? Start the conversation in the comments.

Akanksha Singh is a full-time writer and part-time coffee fiend based in Bombay, India. She also tweets sporadically and ‘grams incessantly.