It didn’t start out as a statement. It just kinda happened. I haven’t been out of the house for three months while recovering from back surgery. I feel like I should hang my head in shame as I admit that shaving my armpits was absolutely not high on my list of priorities. In fact, it has not happened at all.
This week I started physiotherapy. Taking off my coat I realised with a shot of adrenalin that this would be the first time in my whole life that anyone would see my fullgrown underarm hair. Heck, it was the first time I had even seen it! The hour that followed was an emotional rollercoaster. I went from feeling bold and daring, to embarrassed and ashamed.
I considered explaining that I had been stuck in bed for months, but making excuses would reinforce the perception that body hair is wrong. I tried to avoid lifting my arms and then scolded myself for being so hateful towards my own body. They say ‘Fake it till you make it’ and that is exactly what I am going to do. I am going to ignore the ugly voices in my head. After all, I’m sure Mister Physio Guy has more pit-hair than I do and I bet he doesn’t feel bad about that. During my second appointment, the following thought floated into my mind and landed somewhere between my heart and my smile. Maybe Mister Physio considers it unfortunate that women feel pressured into changing their bodies? Imagine, maybe he thinks I’m strong for standing up to body image expectations and just being. Could it be possible that it is not as terrifying as I first imagined? Could it be possible that he respects me for fighting against the current beauty standards? Not that I’m actively fighting, I’m just no longer taking part.
I don’t know what Mister Physio thinks and I don’t really need to. Maybe he didn’t think my armpits were worth a second thought. Perhaps you agree.
There are certainly more important women’s issues that deserve our attention. The gender wage gap, female genital modification, domestic violence and reproductive rights, to name but a few. Even so, I’m enjoying the exercise in my mind. I want to shave only when I decide to. I want to call out those negative preconceptions, those internalised insults. Why is it so difficult? Why am I wearing long-sleeved t-shirts everyday? How can we find peace in ourselves if we believe we cannot go out in public without undergoing certain ‘beauty’ rituals? Where do we learn this sense of shame in our youth?
My son is three years old and the topic of underarm hair had never come up before now. He was trying to hide his arm inside my sleeve when he discovered my armpit hair. His reaction, with a short thought pause between each sentence:
‘Hey, that tickles!’
‘Girls who have that are my friends.’
‘Only papas have that.’
‘If girls have that, they are papas.’
‘Do girls have that too?’
‘Can I pull it?” ’
I hope he continues to find underarm hair cute and funny for a long, long time. I hope I can learn from his unconditional body acceptance.
I hope you will join me in challenging the negative ideas around female body hair. Maybe this summer we can celebrate, sleeveless, furry and fabulous together. Being aware of the subtle forces at play in our society, and in our own minds, is important in the fight for bigger issues.
As I once read on an Amanda Palmer t-shirt: ‘All that time I save in hair removal, I devote to revolution.’ (Jane Fraser).
If my pit-hair hurts your eyes: #sorrynotsorry I’m just trying to change the world, that’s all.
My article was finished. Then I talked about it. With men and women. Many seemed to realise, for the first time, the strange and extreme contrast in opinions about female and male body hair. A scale that swings from utter disgust to complete acceptance. A man suggested that by publicly admitting I didn’t shave, I was bringing shame to my family. Even so, I was glad that this article gave me a reason to bring up the topic and challenge people to think about it. Yet when I had to pose for a photograph for this article, I was shocked how embarrassed I was. I felt so unbearably uncomfortable that halfway through the photoshoot, I shaved my armpits. Think about what that means. I made a choice about my body that does not harm anyone, but the social pressure was so strong that I didn’t dare to be photographed. I feel like I have failed, like I should have fought harder, but I take comfort in the words of – again – Amanda Palmer. Commenting on shaving, she says: ‘I came to the same conclusion over years of experimenting, basically: DO WHAT YOU WANT, CHANGE YOUR MIND SPONTANEOUSLY, SHAVE ARTFULLY, AND TAKE NO SHIT.’
Photos: NANA RAMAEL
Nana is freelance fotograaf, poëet, communicatieconsultant en mama, met een bijzonder talent voor multitasken en cassandravoorspellingen. Geluk vindt ze in kleine dingen, zoals daar zijn: de geur van koffie, theater, Mozartkugeln, blauwschakeringen, retrotegeltjes en een Goed Gesprek.
MUA: ESTER EYCKERMAN
Ester schildert graag, op gezichten. Daarnaast geeft ze les, zou ze een schoenenmuseum kunnen openen, houdt ze van cinema, drinkt ze geen koffie en droomt ze minstens één keer per maand dat velociraptors de wereld overnemen
Article first published in Charlie magazine April 2016