Does My Body Hair Have to Be, In Some Way, a Proclamation?

Let me ask you a question. How often do you think about body hair?

Every few weeks when you’re in the shower and notice that you have the faintest of stubble crawling up your calf and thigh?

Every couple of days when you lift your arms and notice the prickly, pokey, five o-clock shadow that cups your inner armpit?

Every morning when you wash your face and notice the few hairs between your eyebrows or on your lip?

Let me ask you another question. What do you think about body hair?

For me, it started where most things start, with my mother. When she was in her twenties, close to the age I am now, she had wavy black hair that hung halfway down her back. It was the 70s, hair had just been “re-discovered”, as they say, and women were celebrating it. Armpits, bikini lines, eyebrows, lips-- all showing liberation from whatever had come before.

When I was in my prepubescent years, my mother grew out her hair again. She would joke about growing the hair under her arms long enough to braid it, maybe throw in a bead or two, adorn it like she would the lobes of her ears or the curve of her collarbone. I thought it was disgusting.

I was surrounded by womxn with hair. My mother, my teachers, my friends' mothers. Perhaps it is an unspoken rule of the Waldorf school moms. Perhaps it was my first introduction into “feminist femininity”. Perhaps it was just normal.

I think about hair a lot, maybe because 10 years ago my mother lost all of hers to chemo, maybe because as it grew back it seemed different. Hair for a new phase of life? A re-birth? I immediately started growing out my own.

Have you ever looked at the way your hair shapes to your body? Like really looked? I love the way the curve of my armpit moves with my hair, it makes me feel soft, but powerful, animalistic.

We’ve come along way from the suffocatingly strict beauty standards of the 50s and 60s, yet I still can’t help but wonder why shaving commercials never show hair on the womxn’s leg before she pulls the razor over it. Is leg hair really so alarming that it doesn’t belong in an ad that is teaching us how to remove it?

I was on the subway on a hot day in September, it was crowded and I reached up to steady myself on the bar above my head, exposing my unshaven armpits. I felt the eyes of an older couple fixed on my inner arm. Transfixed? Traumatized? Intrigued? It was as if this couple thought my hair was proclaiming something about me that they didn’t like. I won’t assume what these things might be, but they made me wonder. Does my body hair have to be, in some way, a proclamation?

*image by Kaye Blegvad

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Emeran Irby

Hailing from the mountains of Kentucky, Emeran Irby is a writer, storyteller, and oral historian whose work explores the power of community around the dinner table. She holds a Masters of Food Studies from Chatham University, where she focused on the intersection of labor and gender through practices of food preservation in Appalachia, from which she is working on a series of podcasts making space for these women to tell their own stories. Currently, Emeran is the Oral History Coordinator for the Center for Regional Agriculture and Transformation (CRAFT) at Chatham University where she is building at Western Pennsylvania Foodways Archive.