To Shave or Not to Shave: That is Not the Question

To Shave or Not to Shave

I feel the weight of a false sense of agency every time I’m forwarded an article proclaiming that pubic hair is a feminist issue or asking the ever present question: “to shave or not to shave.”

I feel the weight of a false sense of agency when I see the continued sexualization of women’s bodies in spite of their shaving choices.

I feel the weight of a false sense of agency

I’m not interested in drawing conclusions. This isn’t a statement on what should or shouldn’t be. This is a “get over it” to both sides. My hair does not make me more or less, better or worse, wrong or right, one thing or the other. The voices in this show that the reasons are sprawling and complex, but most importantly the reasons are our own. Body hair is not a monolith.

Thank you to all of the womyn and femmes who contributed to this conversation.

-Emeran Irby

Do you have body hair? Why or why not?

There are a number of reasons why I choose not to remove my hair. First and foremost is laziness. It takes a lot of time and effort. And money.

Amelia: Yes, I have quite a bit. Leg hair, armpit hair, happy trail, full bush, mini mustache, dark chin hairs, one little hair that protrudes from that concave area between your collarbones, hair on my head that thinning and getting darker with age.

There are a number of reasons why I choose not to remove my hair. First and foremost is laziness. It takes a lot of time and effort. And money. You have to buy a nice razor and then shaving cream (honestly when I do shave I usually just use hair conditioner) or you have to pay someone to take it off for you. It's an expensive endeavor with short lived benefits and usually a handful on ingrown hairs. When I originally stopped shaving it was more to do with my own feminist awakening than feeling lazy about it, and it definitely still has a lot to do with my values. I don’t want to pay into a beauty industry that perpetuates a singular idea of "female beauty."

Emily: I have varying degrees of pubic hair, but I keep the rest of me (underarms and legs) shaved. I really enjoy getting to play around with my pubic hair. Sometimes I'll shave it into a shape, sometimes I'll be natural. I keep it because it's comfortable and sexy. I shave my legs because I adore how it feels to have buttery legs, and I shave my armpits because I'm a hairdresser and am in people's faces all the time, and the hair/smell that comes with not shaving is undesirable to the general public.

How has your body hair contributed to your feelings on femininity or sexuality?

Amelia: I find most of my body hair to be quite sensual. Making the choice to leave it as is is empowering and makes me feel like I’m only going to attract people who, at least on some level, have similar values. Bush, armpit, happy trail... I love them. This past summer was the first summer that I didn’t shave my bikini line and just let the bush run down my thighs. That choice was a bit... difficult to stick to.. different hair has different levels of social acceptability and for whatever reason the bush that overfloweth pushes that line. It's rare to see a bush that isn't neat and within the lines in popular media.

As I get older I develop more and more chin hairs and my upper lip hair grows darker and longer. This hair doesn't feel as sexy. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) which means I have small cysts on my ovaries. These cysts throw my hormones all out of whack and they cause my ovaries to produce more testosterone than what's "normal." Thus the extra facial hair. And thinning head hair. I usually pluck the chin hairs and occasionally I'll cave to my mother's insistence on waxing the mustache.

Hair has always been something that makes me feel feminine, sexy, and in control of my body. As I develop more hair in less desirable places I struggle with that confidence a bit.

Emily: I admit, I do feel sexiest when my legs and underarms are shaved. I feel extremely feminine when my legs are shaved. On the other hand, I also feel super feminine when my pubes and armpits have grown out because I feel like a woman in a painting during the turn-of-the-century. There's something so sexy about the contrast between smooth skin next to a full patch of hair.

I also feel super feminine when my pubes and armpits have grown out because I feel like a woman in a painting during the turn-of-the-century.

What motivated your choice to grow your hair?

Amelia: I wanted to be subversive. It felt really subversive at the time. Whenever that was... I don't remember when I first stopped shaving... or should I say started letting my hair grow?

Emily: My motivation stemmed from the new-found acceptance of hair. For what seemed like ages, I shaved my pubic hair. It was extremely uncomfortable when it started to grow back (within 12 hours), and constantly worrying about if someone would "kick me out of bed" because I had hair was shitty. (No one ever kicked me out of bed <3) But women around me began talking about growing their hair and embracing it, and also being in a long-term relationship where my partner accepted every part of me was what turned it all around. I was finally able to let any and everything grow however much I desired, and it was totally cool!

How have you dealt with criticism? How have you dealt with praise?

Amelia: I honestly haven’t faced much criticism for most of my body hair: bush, armpit, and leg. The main criticism I deal with is from my mother in regards to my mustachio and other facial hair. Sometimes it gets to me. If other people have feelings about it they don't say anything. But that's a mom for ya. Her concern is rooted in my own health (re: the PCOS) but also stems from a belief that if I'm not fitting into this narrow idea of feminine beauty there will be consequences. Like maybe job interviewers will think I'm unkempt. Or maybe I won't get a boyfriend. Or something like that. Different hair has different levels of acceptability. People see my armpits/legs and think oh she’s a feminist. If people see my facial hair... I'm not really sure what they would think but they might be a little more judgemental? I honestly don't think it's that noticeable, I'm just hyper-aware of it. In terms of praise... other women have told me that seeing my hair makes them more confident about growing their own hair which is freaking amazing and makes me feel really good about my decision. Body hair on women is still not mainstream so I think it’s so important for women to see other women doing it. That's what originally helped me gain the confidence to stop shaving.

Emily: Fortunately, I really haven't dealt with much criticism. I have recently been with someone who prefers shorter to no pubic hair, but any time I've grown it, it hasn't been met with criticism. And honestly, I'm the type that will compromise (especially if it is comfortable for me) for the sake of being attractive to my partner. (*In no way am I saying that I will sacrifice my comfort and overall happiness for them. There is a real difference between compromise and sacrifice. I love change in every area of my life, so changing my hair keeps things interesting.) On the other hand, dealing with praise is only reassuring what I've been doing. Most of my partners have had no preference of body hair, so I've been very fortunate in that regard, so I mostly just do what makes me feel sexy. And they seem to respond wonderfully. (Remarking on Q3 on sexuality--) Sexuality to me is equally about turning yourself and your partner on. If you can do both at once, you've won the lottery. If not, then compromise is usually needed. If someone hated that I shaved my legs, but I loved it, I would probably just go longer between shaves in order to accommodate both preferences.

What do you think is important about women having body hair?

Body hair asserts a different narrative and it’s so important to have other narratives so that “women’s beauty” is not a monolith.

Amelia: I want women to feel sexy and confident in their bodies! I think women having body hair is important because it offers other options. It's one crack in this mold shaped by the patriarchy + a heteronormative, Eurocentric beauty industry that perpetuates dangerous and kind of gross ideas about female beauty that fetishizes young girls. The more women that choose to let their body hair grow, the more women will realize that it’s an option. Body hair asserts a different narrative and it’s so important to have other narratives so that “women’s beauty” is not a monolith.

Emily: With this wave of feminism (and in general), I think being able to do literally whatever your heart desires is important in regards to body hair. If you feel sexy in it one day, and frumpy in it the next, that's cool! If you let all of it grow, awesome! If you shave every inch of your skin, great! The most important thing to me is self-esteem. If you feel strong, empowered, and beautiful in whatever hair you wear, then do it. Understanding that some people will not accept your hair is also important, and they don't have to. All of this is about personal preferences, and if they don't prefer you in the hair-state you like to live in, then they don't have to have a place in your life. (Isn't it crazy how hair can narrow down who's in your life and who's not?! Hopefully it never comes to this.) Hair is beautiful, it's fun, it's different for everyone, and it should make you feel amazing however you wear it!

I didn't remark on facial hair. Facial hair is tricky, for me. I have very light hair on my face, but I still occasionally wax my brows, and I regularly wax my upper lip. Again, I'm in the beauty industry, so this is a very prominent "issue" (for lack of a better word) in the industry. As a professional, unfortunately, if I let my facial hair and head hair get out of control or be natural in a way that looked unkempt, then I would not be taken seriously as a beauty professional. I must take that into consideration. The arty side of me totally loves full, unkempt brows, but the professional in me knows that it isn't acceptable. I think beauty is all about doing what works for you and playing into the natural features you have. While also being mindful of how this look is perceived and making sure all looks are intentional. Pushing social norms is amazing as long as it does hinder your personal or professional life.

Like this interview? Thank Emeran, Amelia & Emily.