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I’m in the middle of side plank when I realize the girl next to me in yoga class, a pretty blonde in purple Spandex, is sporting full-on pit bush.
For a second, I’m thrown, in the same lame way my mom is thrown when she sees aggressive side boob or men with long beards.
This isn't the correct venue for my shock: a sweaty room crowded with a bunch of granola-munching Brooklyn Bikram freaks covered in cupcake tattoos. This yoga studio is as immediately accepting of underarm hair as a Manhattan studio would be of Botox.
There’s a part of me that, seeing the fuzz, wants to raise my hand in solidarity, shouting things like “Girl power!” and “Down with the patriarchy!”
But then there’s another, admittedly more instinctual side that wonders: “Is armpit hair really that emblematic of systemic female oppression?”
By the time we roll onto the other side of our plank pose, I have decided that my own desire for hairlessness is something I’ve adopted on my own accord, simply because I prefer it. Nothing has been forced upon me.
By the time I get home, however, I’ve had time to revisit my own suppressed history of being hair shamed — one that I’ve distanced myself from over the last two decades with the aid of tweezers, razors and wax. Oh, and Nair. I’ve definitely used Nair.
Early in my girlhood, hair was not so much a source of paralyzing self-consciousness as it was simply an inconvenience.
I played softball and was terrible at sliding into bases, which meant my knees were constantly covered with open wounds that required Band-Aids. Changing the dressings meant ripping adhesive away from the blond peach fuzz surrounding my super-sensitive raw skin. Tears were shed. It sucked.
But nothing sucked worse than becoming painfully aware that I had, in my own estimation, a wretched amount of bright blond hair compared to my fellow fourth-graders.
I can’t remember what set it off, but one day I came home and begged my mom to let me shave my legs. After much persistence on my part and likely an internal parental crisis on hers, I was allowed to shave “only to my knees,” as though four more inches of hairless limb would sexualize me unacceptably.
That night, I sat on the counter over the sink with a pink Bic razor and a can of my dad’s Barbasol and followed my mom’s instructions, making sure to avoid the arteries she swore would cause me to bleed to death if I so much as nicked them.
When finished, I wasn’t totally sold on the results. Where my knee and my thigh connected, the shaved and the unshaved parts met, making each more obvious by their presence. Still, it was an improvement, if only by 50 percent.
The next day at school, proud of my denudement (ish), I walked past a group of boys sitting on the concrete.
“WHAT ARE THOSE?” David Mellman yelled, “HAIR SHORTS?!”
After school, I went straight to the bathroom sink to finish the job. I did not bother asking my mother.
From that point on, I beat all would-be hair-shamers to the punch, stripping myself of any potential joke material. The second I glimpsed a whisper of armpit hair, I shaved them bare.
In high school, I began to conquer new stretches of my body. Arms got Naired. Stomachs got Naired. Bikini lines, well, that’s my business.
As an adult, I’ve become far less militant about shaving. Without the motivation of biting teenage insecurities, the desire to be wholly bald has lost out to laziness. I have long left my arms alone. Same for my stomach.
But that’s far from a feminist battle cry.
There are some fuzzy spots that I stubbornly refuse to accept. I can’t, for instance, fall asleep at night with unshaved legs rubbing together. Pits get a once-over on the daily, too. I won’t be joining my liberated purple Spandex yoga friend anytime soon.
After all, I just got wind David Mellman has moved to my neighborhood, and I feel more confident in aiding feminist causes like closing the wage gap than I do running the risk of another hair shorts episode.
Still, I acknowledge that I have been culturally conditioned into preferring this bare state, and recognize that women who courageously embrace the whole long-hair-don’t-care thing bring up a deep sense of socially inflicted judgment that I’ve managed to shove down so deep I can’t even immediately recognize the source and be honest with myself.
And that sort of blindness is more dangerous than a nicked artery.