No Shame November: Why Every Woman Should Grow Out Her Body Hair, At Least Once

To every woman who says she chooses to shave because she prefers it, I have one question: Do you even know what your body hair looks like?
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October 28, 2014
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shaving, movember, body hair, no shave november

It’s that time of year again, when men and boys across the nation will be incessantly talking about -- and documenting -- their facial hair. No Shave November is nearly upon us. It’s a tradition that has always left us ladies by the wayside, occasionally wondering, should we, or can we participate? Now No Shave November was actually started as an awareness stunt and fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. It now formally welcomes participants of any gender, although the popular focus has always been men’s facial hair, and in the past five years none of the men that I’ve personally known actually talked about sporting their awkward staches for cancer awareness. (“Movember” is a similar fundraiser that specifically focuses on men’s health issues such as testicular and prostate cancers.)

In practice when a woman suggests, even jokingly, she may hang up her razor for the month, man babies everywhere go nuts simply because a woman’s body in its natural state is so terrifyingly icky to them. Two years ago, the popular “No D December” joke swept the internet. (Like anyone wants the D from immature fuckboys with unrealistic demands about women’s bodies anyway.)

The message is as clear as ever: for men, natural hair is a signifier of manliness, while for women, hair in the all same places is ugly and shameful. I don’t have to explain why this is hypocritical.

Meet No Shame November: a month to go au natural and get to know your body as nature intended. Let me tell you why you should all lay down your razors and join me.

The majority of you have probably been shaving your legs and armpits since puberty first set in -- maybe even before then, if you’re like me and your gym class companions made fun of your still-soft-and-blonde leg hair starting in the sixth grade. Chances are you’ve been diligently keeping it at bay ever since. Now a lot has been said about body hair in feminist conversations; I don’t think I need to rehash the whole discussion. But ultimately feminism is about the freedom to choose for yourself, and thus there is no “right” way to groom yourself.

But to every woman who says she chooses to shave because she prefers it, I have one question: Do you even know what your body hair looks like? As women, we are raised in a culture that fears and shames our natural state. I encourage anyone who asks me (which is surprisingly not many people, what’s up with that?) to take the chance and get to know the enemy. After all, it’s a part of you.

Personally, my own adventures with hair began with this realization: I don’t even know what I really look like. OK, it sort of began when I lived in a freezing cold apartment with no heat in the bathroom. Showering was a chore -- forget shaving when there was a chance my bare skin would have to press against the icy glass doors. I had never been a really obsessive shaver, but even I became grossly fascinated with my leg hair as it reached and surpassed my usual threshold of acceptable stubble.

I began to wonder, How bad can it get? And by How bad can it get, what I meant was How much hair do I have? Because although on a conscious level I wasn’t too fussed about stubble, I had internalized the message. Hair = bad. More hair = worse.

After a few months, it turns out, it wasn’t all that much after all. It grew long and dark, but sparse. My hair and I cohabited for several months and gross fascination quickly faded to ambivalence.

Ultimately, although I didn’t hate my leg hair, I didn’t love it either. It got itchy, especially when I wore skinny jeans. Putting lotion on my legs felt weird instead of heavenly. I resumed shaving regularly, though infrequently. I still love the feeling of fresh shaved legs -- a feeling I once heard described as “dolphin-smooth” -- but I feel no shame or self-consciousness in letting it go, because sometimes I just don’t have time for shower yoga.

My armpits are a bit different. In many ways I love my pit hair. It’s soft, fine, and jet-black. I think it looks down right cute with my arms raised a la Patti, but it annoys me how a little bit tufts out when my arms are down. I’ve never felt like I sweat or smell any more than without hair, although I dislike the way deodorant leaves residue and makes it look weird. I’ve grown out my armpit hair several times and when I shave again it’s always on impulse, and sometimes I regret it.

So far, I have loved my pit hair privately. I worked in a professional setting the first time I cultivated my little secret. I never explicitly hid it, but my work clothes rarely exposed my armpits anyway. (I can’t say how many people noticed, but for what it’s worth, no one ever commented.)

We live in a culture where any choice a woman makes about her body is inherently political, so I haven’t felt ready to fully publicize my choice, to explain or defend my hair against potentially hostile critics. In a way this piece is my next step in this No Shame challenge.

Whether or not you ever want to or are able to publicly flaunt your body hair is not important to me. But I encourage each of you to experience how freeing it feels too look at your body hair and realize that it is not as monstrous as immature sexist jokes, or Venus commercials too terrified to show the very hair their product is sold for, would have you believe.

Maybe right now some of you thinking, what’s the big deal, I’m already chill with hair. Or possibly saying, nah ladybro, you don’t understand the level of self-conscious I am about body hair. If no-shaving November is not your thing, I still challenge you to confront some part of yourself that you’ve been taught to consider shameful. (If you do No Shave it up, please consider actually donating to the American Cancer Society.)

Grab a hand mirror and get to know your vagina (Sophia Burset can give you pointers). Spend more time hanging out naked with your stretch marks and cellulite. Try forgoing deodorant for a few days; learn what your body smells like (it can be on the weekend you just stay home and watch Netflix alone). Try forgoing makeup for a few days. Make it as private or public as you want (well, maybe keep the nudity and masturbation more on the private side). Face something that society has taught you to fear and realize it is harmless, maybe even lovely. No shame. Not ever.