Two Roommates Divulge Their Differing Thoughts on Body Hair
The people I’ve lived with have always been the closest to me,
Both physically and emotionally.
We cook for each other,
Drink with each other,
And hold each other up in moments of need.
Today I give you the voices of my two roommates.
Women who push me to be better every day.
Do you have body hair? Why or why not?
Gianna: I chose to have some body hair, but also remove some. I decide to shave my legs and certain areas of my pubic hair. I also wax my eyebrows and lip. I go on and off with shaving my armpits, but mostly off. And I have never removed my arm hair. My choices have really fluctuated greatly throughout my twenties. I remember my very progressive and self-proclaimed feminist college friend distinctly asking me, “How do you get away with not shaving your legs when you are hooking up with people?” And I have always just kind of laughed about that to myself. I think it is just part of who I am as a package. I think part of the back and forth in my mind about removing body hair has been that I am more confident with my body and the way I move through the world.
I tried growing my leg hair out for awhile because I don’t like shaving my legs. It irritates my skin and I get ingrown hairs often because of how my hair grows back. It worked out well for awhile but then my hair was so coarse that it rubbed on my pants and was more itchy and uncomfortable. And there are times when shaving my legs makes me feel cleaner or sexier.
Kate: I choose to shave my legs and armpits; I've never minded taking an extra minute or two in the shower, and I think I genuinely prefer not having body hair (though I often second-guess whether that's just been ingrained in me).
How has your body hair contribute to your feelings on femininity or sexuality?
Gianna: I honestly think mostly about removing or keeping tidy my pubic hair in order to logistically make it comfortable for my partner. I have definitely had moments where I have thought about how it may come off as less feminine or sexually appealing to have longer pubic hair, but I have never let these thoughts control the way I view myself as a sexual being. That being said, I don't necessarily see my pubic hair as a characteristic of my sexuality. There have been times when I have waxed or shaved my pubic hair that have made me feel more “prepared.” I do however feel like removing my lip and eyebrow contributes more to my sense of femininity. And I think that has a lot to do with my hair being dark and coarse. I think about my lip hair often and try to remove it as much as possible.
Kate: I rarely notice whether another person has body hair, but I do notice the second mine gets longer than I like. I guess I would say that I feel more attractive after I've shaved, but I tend to do so even when I know that no one else is going to see my legs; I think for me it feels similar to doing a face mask or painting my nails-it feels like self-care. I will say that I am sometimes self-conscious about how hairy my arms are though.
What motivated your choice to grow your hair?
Gianna: Overall I think I have been motivated by the, “why do this if I don’t like how it feels” concept. If it doesn’t feel good and it isn’t affecting my professional or personal life, I don’t see a reason to do it.
Kate: I've experimented with not shaving, but never last very long (so itchy!!). I prefer to not have hair on my legs, bikini line, and armpits for a variety of reasons. I find that sex is way better for me if I don't have hair in the way, so I do spend some extra time shaving that area.
How have you dealt with criticism? How have you dealt with praise?
Gianna: I remember having feeling a lot of criticism about my arm hair as a child and being calling things like, “monkey” for having hairy arms. It definitely stuck with me for a long time so it was funny when a man came up to me at a festival where I was working a booth and tell me, “I think it is really cool that you don’t shave your arms.” I felt strangely objectified and it honestly didn’t occur to me that I would consider shaving my arms. Looking at my arms sort of reminds me of my father and my grandfather and I like that feeling so in a way I have learned to embrace that my arm hair is abundant and long and that it may be a more masculine feature of mine.
My mother’s criticism about my armpit or leg hair has been quite interesting because it is a scaffolding of rejections that she has expressed to me about my style, which in her opinion I hadn’t really “found” until about 4 years ago. She really instilled in me that it is a matter of hygiene and just what women do. I remember her scolding my 86-year old grandmother for shaving her straggling chin hairs when she found out. To my mom, there is a way you do body care. And what is interesting is that even from a distance, she has learned that I am very different from her and she can guess that I am not shaving. She sees this action as me trying to fit into a mountain woman image but in reality it is out of my mindset that it isn’t less hygienic and it is a task I don’t love to do so why do it?
Lastly, I have had partners say to me things like oh I didn’t expect you would have shaved X body hair and that has been an interesting thing to hear. It is as though they perceive me as someone who doesn’t care about removing body hair or isn’t super high maintenance.
Kate: I feel kind of guilty about shaving so often, like I'm giving into societal pressure or the male gaze. But it's just hair, and I don't always want it on my body.
What do you think is important about women having body hair?
Gianna: The one thing I think is really important is that women having body hair should be an individual choice that is respected by other men and women. It really bothered me when I asked a friend’s thoughts about my wearing a tank top with my newly grown out armpit hair and her response was, “Well, since Trump got elected, I think that has become much more common and accepted.” As if my decision to grow out my armpits has anything to do with a man like him! Although I respect other women’ actions in a time of resistance, I felt pigeon-holed and misunderstood. The reason I did it was because I felt like it and honestly my DIY deodorant works better when I have hair. Also, it just sort of felt more comfortable and comforting. Therefore, even though I believe we are all socialized and impacted by social influences, I think that respecting and not presuming anything about someone’s body care is really important.
Kate: Women are humans, and humans have body hair! I think it's just important to recognize that a woman can do whatever she wants to with her body
Like this interview? Thank Emeran.
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.