There’s a stereotype many people still associate with feminist: the hairy arm-pitted lesbian. Now, I am a lesbian and I do only have my armpits about four times a year. My general rule is when it gets so long that it sticks out of my armpit when my arms are closed its time to find where I dumped the razor after last time. I have no qualms about walking around in the summer in strappy tops and summer dresses with hairy pits and it doesn’t attract anywhere near as much attention as some women I know imagine it would. On the other hand, I never shave my legs.
I’d like to say this is a statement but frankly, I’m just lazy. I live in leggings so the only time anyone sees my legs is when I go swimming – and I mean swimming for exercise, with a hat and goggles and a kickboard and the lapping of incredulous gym bros – and I’m hardly out to impress anyone in the local council run cesspit pool. Other than that, my legs are seen by medical professionals, my parents and the neighbours when I’m sunbathing. I ain’t shaving for that. As for my bikini line? Well, seemed easier just to buy fuller briefs than to try and navigate a razor through that jungle.
I’d love to sit here and claim my feminist points for this hair freedom, but there are two things I must admit to. Firstly, the decision not to shave is partly because my skin is SENSITIVE. The one and only time I tried to shave my downstairs, back when I believed it was necessary pre-third date behaviour (and believed I was straight, what was I thinking?), I came up with such a rash that it was a very good job the guy turned out to be a massive dickhead. It was a mess in ways too grim to describe. During my teens when this kind of thing really bothered me I had allergic reactions to almost any kind of hair removal product or device you can imagine. My skin just likes having hair. No big deal.
Secondly, there are some hairs that I really, really, really care about. The hair on my face. The hair on my head I spend a lot of time changing the style and colour of because I got bored but I’m not precious about it. Every now and then I get bored of washing it and shave it off. Sometimes I’ll go a horrible colour just for a laugh. My motto is, there’s nothing you can do to hair that’s so bad it can’t be fixed with a razor and a bottle of black dye. But my face. Oh, my face. That is a different story.
I can spend ages in front of the mirror tweezing away stray eyebrow hairs, making sure my eyebrows are the same shape and thickness, plucking dark hairs from facial freckles, studying my neck for stray long hairs and, my most worrying areas, using a mini shaver on my moustache and a tiny tuft of dark hair that grows on my chinny chin chin. It’s borderline obsessive at this point. If I get to work and notice a stray hair it’s all I will think about all day. I’ll just sit at my desk poking it with a finger. I really, really, really care about facial hair.
So, does this make me a bad feminist?
Part of feminism is rejecting the patriarchal restrictions on what women should look like and my opinion of facial hair is undoubtedly formed by these in some way. I don’t really remember when it began or why, but I can’t imagine the patriarchy was far away, they rarely are. But then, feminism is also about choice. It doesn’t matter if I have no body hair at all or if I’m as hairy as Cousin It, as long as it’s my choice, right? Maybe, but I can’t shake the feeling that something is not quite right here. Your face is the thing people see first and see most. It’s more visible than my legs and armpits and you don’t need to buy me dinner and take me on a romantic stroll for access to it. So, while it is my choice to preen away my faces natural foliage, nobody is telling me to and as far as I remember nobody has ever commented on it, my decision was not made in a vacuum. Our exposure to the fashion industry, to Hollywood, to porn and to all the other visual representations of femininity that have largely been shaped by patriarchal values influences us every day. So yes, I think my facial hair obsession is not very feminist…but it’s not going to change any time soon!
All that being said, if I could grow a full beard I would grow it today. I would look way cool with a big beard.