I have all my natural body hair. The last time I shaved any part of my body was over three years ago.
The pressure to be hairless begins early.
I first shaved my legs at the age of 11, because a girl at a sleepover told me that no boy would want me if I had hairy legs. I didn’t even like boys at the time! But somehow, even to an 11 year old who had privately decided she was either gay or asexual (not that I had the actual language for either concept then,) the notion of boys thinking I was ugly was impossible to shrug off. Less than a year later, my mum gave me an electric shaver and told me to keep my armpits free from hair at all times. She wasn’t trying to body-shame me – she is, after all, surrounded by the exact same toxic culture that I am. I think she just didn’t want me to get bullied any more than I already did.
I held out on shaving my pubic hair until I was 19. My boyfriend had been increasing the pressure for several years. After we went to an event where he saw naked women apart from me in the flesh for the first time, it became apparent it wasn’t an option to keep my hair any more. So I dutifully got rid of it and for the next five years, I pretty much kept my entire body smooth and hair-free. Whether I actually liked it that way didn’t really enter into the picture. It was just part of the package of having been assigned female, like periods and casual sexism.
Realising I had a choice
It was Mr CK who woke me up to the idea that I actually had a choice about my body hair. He has made it clear from the beginning of our relationship that he finds body hair beautiful and erotic (spot the boy who came of age in the era of 7os porn!) But he also emphasised that I had to do what felt right for ME, and that he had no more say over my personal grooming than the people who had pushed me into shaving in the first place.
So I tried going au naturel for a while. Just as an experiment, to see if I liked it. That was three years ago and I have not picked up a razor since. I credit my beloved for reminding me I did have a choice, but the choice I actually made was all mine.
Learning to love my hair
I love keeping my body hair for a number of reasons. The time and money it saves me is not insignificant. My skin is much happier since being free of razors and shaving balms and post-shave rash and ingrowing hairs. And I just fucking love how it looks. When I look at my naked body in the mirror, I love the look of my little patch of pubic hair over my cunt. When I wear my favourite sexy knickers, I like seeing the little wisps poking out. I love lifting my arms and seeing the shadow of my reddish-brown underarm hair. I love how soft and fuzzy my legs are.
If I’m honest, I also enjoy the implicit things it tells people about me. For better or worse, body hair on women is heavily coded “feminist” – because making a choice about how to groom our bodies cannot just be a choice, it has to be a political statement. Thwarting societal beauty norms feels like a simple way to wear my politics on my body.
I have to acknowledge I have a level of privilege here in that my leg hair, at least, is very fine and blonde (my pubic and underarm hair is much coarser, darker and more obvious). Would I feel different if my leg hair was thicker and darker? If I grew hair on other parts of my body? I don’t know. I suspect I might struggle if it was growing on my face, for example, but I cannot say with any certainty as this is not my experience.
The impact on my sex life
Having body hair has definitely impacted my sex life. Mr CK and I swing together, and a large number of swingers will not have anything to do with people who do not shave every inch of their bodies. Pubic hair, in particular, gets us rejected a lot. (Insert hi-fucking-larious joke about flossing during oral sex here).
It’s been less of an issue in my one-on-one sex life, surprisingly. I don’t actually play with new people by myself that often, to be honest, and when I do the barrier to entry is pretty fucking high. I remember when The Artist and I had first established that we wanted to date, asking them nervously how they felt about women with body hair. The giant smiley face emoji they replied with… well, that was the moment I let out a huge breath I hadn’t realised I had been holding. Until I asked, there was a sense of I really like this person… and I think they really like me too… but are they going to be disgusted by my body when I take my clothes off?
For this reason, I tend to disclose it to potential lovers before the clothes come off. I feel more relaxed if I know they’re cool with it rather than waiting for the reaction. I hate that I have to do this. I’d much rather it not be a big deal. I wish I didn’t have to feel like it was something I needed to disclose. But mentioning it to sex partners before we get to the sex feels preferable to how devastated I’d be if a lover said something disparaging about my body when we were already in a sexual situation.
And it’s a surprisingly good screening device, actually. Misogynists tend to self-select out of my dating pool pretty fast when they realise I’m hairy. To be honest, pissing off sexist men is one of life’s simple pleasures for me. Having hair is an easy way to do that.
The thing I’ve actually found most helpful is sleeping with lovers who actively like body hair. I currently have four lovers who I know are extremely into it. The way they look at me when I take my clothes off,the way they run their fingers through my fur or bury their faces in it, reminds me that I can be beautiful and desirable like this. They’re not settling or putting up with it. They actually like it, and me!
Fear of judgement… and sometimes actual judgement
Sure, I’ve been judged for being hairy. I’ve had gaggles of girl whisper and point and take pictures on the Tube because I had the nerve to get my legs out in public in 30 degree heat. I’ve had disgusted, sidelong glances thrown at me in the gym locker room.
I’ve had couples cancel dates with me and Mr CK at the eleventh hour because they had assumed that of course I was going to shave, and then realised I actually wasn’t. I’ve had guys comment on my pictures on Fetlife, saying “if you were mine you’d shave!” (Good job I’m never going to be yours then, isn’t it, dickbag?) The implication is there that Mr CK is somehow less of a Dom for allowing his sub to go unshaven.
The fear of judgement used to go with me everywhere. Sometimes it still does. When we start messaging a new person or a new couple on the swinger dating sites we use, I worry they’re going to pull out the “ew, pubes are gross” schtick. When we go to new clubs and I run around naked or in lingerie, I’m bracing myself for the “you’d be so pretty if you’d shave!”
Every summer, I weigh up the choice between being unbearably overheated in my oven of an office, or the daily fear of being pulled into a manager’s office and told that my natural leg hair is unprofessional. I sit there quietly while a female colleague bemoans being a woman and having to shave your legs every day in summer. I do not shout “YOU HAVE A CHOICE YOU KNOW!” even though I want to. It’s a constant fucking balancing act between asserting my right to exist in the world with my natural body, and just being tired of it all.
I don’t think I’m good at responding to the judgement yet, when it happens. I usually just want to cry or shrivel up in shame. I’m trying to be better about not letting it get to me, but as someone who grew up bullied, brushing it off is really hard.
Amazingly, no-one has ever actually shamed me – to my face, anyway – in a sex club or kink event. But I’m waiting for it. I’m always waiting for it. Because at most events, I’m the only one – and I see the looks I sometimes get. I see the “ooh, hot girl, nice boobs… oh, never mind” eye-swoop over my body.
I know what you’re probably thinking. “If the judgement bothers you, just shave!” But if you’re thinking that you’ve missed the whole point of what I’m trying to say. The problem doesn’t lie with me. I’m not doing something hugely out there and subversive and wild just by having my body on display in its natural state. I should not have to change it. Nor should I have to constantly defend my choice not to change it.
I like my body like this. The world does not get a say.
Femme identity and body hair
My relationship to femininity has been fraught and complex over the years, but I now sit fairly happily with my femme identity. It’s been a healing way for me to play with my aesthetic and my presentation. To find ways that reflect who I am as both a woman and a queer person. However, for a while I wrestled with the question: can I be femme if I don’t remove my body hair?
Ultimately, I approached this from the same angle as the question about whether you can be femme without wearing, say, lipstick or high heels. There are many trappings that are culturally coded feminine, and femme is about reclaiming these things (which society has often deemed frivolous) and playing with them, making them our own. For me, femme is a way to pick and choose the pieces of feminine presentation I want to embody. A way to escape the rigid codes society enforces about “what a woman should do/be”. To say “in order to be femme you must do X, Y and Z” is just trading one kind of oppressively strict standard for another. Femme is about fun and happiness within your own skin, not following the rules.
For a while, I jokingly referred to myself as “#lazyfemme” for not shaving and for sometimes going out without makeup on. I stopped this, though, because I realised it’s actually playing into the patriarchy to continue coding myself (and by implication other women) who choose not to do these things as “lazy”. As I once furiously ranted online “I have worked sixty fucking hours this week, but sure, I’m LAZY because I’m not wearing lipstick.”
So yes. I am a happy #sparklefemme who chooses the aspects of feminine presentation that work for her, and has decided that shaving is not her thing.
So do I think women who shave are just pawns of the patriarchy?
No! I believe in the absolute right to bodily autonomy for everybody. That includes the choice to shave/wax/tattoo/pierce/adorn/decorate your body in whatever ways you like, or not.
What I wish is that it was a more free choice. I wish there wasn’t such immense societal pressure on women and AFAB people to present themselves in a certain way. That razor companies weren’t constantly trying to sell us the solution to a problem they’ve convinced us we have. That wider representations of beauty were common in our media. I wish, to be honest, that shaving or not shaving wasn’t such a politically loaded and socially fraught choice.
And I wish we were not teaching little girls at 11 that the most important thing in the world is whether or not boys find their bodies aesthetically acceptable.
Oof – that was a long one with a lot of emotional energy behind it! If you enjoyed it, please consider buying me a virtual coffee!