Spoiler Alert: The world didn’t end. And believe it or not, I actually felt better about myself.

If you know me at all, you probably know I’m a big fan of Amanda Palmer. That right there can be a pretty controversial statement. Most people either love AFP or they hate her. She takes a strong stance on art (and who can do it… she thinks anyone can), and her music is both revered and reviled, depending on, usually, what people think of her as a person. Me, I love her. We can argue all the details of what that means later. But for the sake of this post, what you should know that I admire about her most is that she lives wide open, that she is who she is with no apologies, and that in the process of being who she is and refusing to be pinned down by norms, standards, and expectations she changes what it means to be beautiful.

If you know me … at all … you probably also know I’m a feminist. I want to openly acknowledge here that I am not a perfect feminist (if that even exists). I often surprise myself when I recognize the filters of privilege and gender-normative behaviors that I make assumptions about in my every day life. If I’ve learned anything in the process of becoming a better feminist, it’s to question everything, especially if it’s put to me as something that always is, always was, or always should be. And I use that philosophy on myself… a LOT. My mental process upon discovering some of the basic expectations and assumptions I carry about myself and other women, even now, that are social construction and not laws of nature: How did those get there? and then, Oh, my gods, what was I thinking? 

It was only a matter of time before my love of AFP and my feminism created a perfect storm in the form of a crisis of character for me. How can I break free of even a little part of the mindsets and the social constructions that hold me into the mold of who I am expected to be and allow myself to be who I want to be, or even better, who I naturally am? My solution, and the first step I took: Stop shaving.

If you think about it–and the point of a social construction is that you absolutely not think about it–shaving is not something natural to humanity. Having hair is natural. Having hair in certain places (facial, pubic, armpit, leg) is a physical sign of maturity which used to be a sign of desirability. Though even this scene from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing proves how problematic body hair has been throughout the centuries (for the appropriate line, skip to 0:00:58).

But over time, our society has come to equate beauty and youth, and therefore beauty and hairlessness. It wasn’t that big a push for razor companies to start selling that idea, preying on the fears of women that they will be less desirable to their partners if they don’t remove the hair from “inappropriate” areas of their bodies.

I had a shaming experience because of hair on my legs when I was 12 years old. Yep. That’s how young I was, and how young the boy who shamed me was as well. If you think about it, he’s just as much a victim of the social construct as I am, brainwashed from that young to believe that hair on a woman’s legs is unnatural instead of natural, and that it makes her less desirable. So even though he made me cry that day and I’d like for 12-year-old me to beat him to a pulp for it, I feel pity for him.

From that very young age, I began to submit to the idea that hair on my body must be sculpted to fit an ideal that was upheld somewhere outside myself. I couldn’t know what was beautiful (or what was comfortable, or what was natural) without the help of society. Really, what I was doing in those early days, though, was trying to conform so that I could keep from being ridiculed. But over time, the purpose of conformity moved from avoiding ridicule to becoming desirable. The emotional triggers that my early experiences had created were easily transferred to my understanding of beauty, making the leap to equate hairlessness with beauty, beauty with desirability without even having to think about it. Hairiness in inappropriate areas meant rejection and pain.

Fast forward 25 years. I’ve been an Amanda Palmer fan since 2003, and she just does. not. care what people say she should do to conform. She has hairy armpits and hairy legs, and she is not ashamed to be naked on film, in front of a crowd, or in private with an intimate partner. And one day it just clicked for me. If I want to break free of the need to conform and to reclaim the beauty of my own body for myself, the first thing I could do was stop shaving.

Why had I been shaving all those long years? Because I was worried about what other people would think. I was worried that my body would be offensive to someone else, to someone who has no right to my body, and no authority over what I do with it (that includes everyone, all of you, sorry, except my partner… and even, largely, him… and by the way, he fully supports my decision). 

It took me six months to stop constantly wondering what other people thought when I wore shorts and my hairy legs showed, or wore a tank top in public and raised my arms. It’s been over a year, and I still wonder sometimes. But I’m moving past the hang-up of “I will be undesirable if I am not hairless.” I am becoming more comfortable in my own skin. And if I make someone else uncomfortable because I have body hair, I hope they’ll talk to me about it… because I’m happy to challenge their perceptions of beauty and what right it is they think they have over my choices about my body and how I present myself.

I shave occasionally now. But because I want to. Because I like how my skin feels when it’s smooth. And that’s the point of the exercise. I do what I want with my body because it’s right for me, not because someone else has picked an arbitrary ideal and forced me to uphold it. So DON’T SHAVE! if you want to. Or DO! It’s completely your choice, male or female. Having hair on your legs, face, pubic areas, under your arms, on top of your head… it doesn’t make you more or less desirable. If you do what you want, present yourself as you want because YOU want to, and not because of what someone else thinks or expects, it makes you MORE beautiful, in my opinion. It’s a work in progress. I am a work in progress. We are a work in progress. And we are beautiful.

28 thoughts on “What happened when I didn’t shave… for a year

  1. Christine Beavers says:

    I have been wrestling with this conflict as well. I have long suffered from ingrown hairs, and recently I have questioned why I continue to do this to myself. I let my hairs grow all winter, and nobody has died of shock or pointed and laughed. Glad I’m not the only one!

  2. Hoorah!
    Let’s start a cult of unshaven women and realise that the world will not end.
    I don’t shave my armpits as the sensation makes me feel physically ill ( I know! Weird). I randomly shave my legs because I love the feel of it when they are all fresh and silky. But it only happens occasionally.I only shaved my vulva once when I was in my 20’s and vowed "Never again" I hated the look, the feel and the itching.
    It does help that I am not overly hairy to begin with but I truly feel for young women these days. My 10 year old granddaughter was in tears recently worried she would be picked on for her "hairy" legs. She’s TEN and shouldn’t have to be worrying about that shit.

    • Elisabeth Kauffman says:

      I absolutely agree. It’s horrifying that young children should be worrying about their body hair, but we’re so trained… I hope your granddaughter feels safe and supported with you to be who she is and love how she is, with hair or without.

  3. Charlotte Robinson says:

    I don’t remember when I decided to stop, but I’ve not regretted it once. First time I got naked with someone after that I felt a bit weird (though not as weird when he then tried SO HARD to make sure I knew how sexy he thought it was, and made it a much bigger deal than it needed to be – bless 😉 ) but since then, it’s not bothered me or them. Sometimes I’d like to go back for the coolness on my legs I get in summer from it, but I’m not sacrificing the extra warmth in winter for anything 😛 And the money saved…

  4. Amanda Kaye Stein says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. It’s remarkable how thoroughly we are trained to not feel like our bodies are solely for other people’s pleasure.

    I was nervous to not shave, and my boyfriend reassured me he’d be fine with me experimenting (love dating a feminist who respects my body and encourages me to find myself!). That was enough to push me over the edge and get a little braver, so I went for it. I had gone about a month or two with no shaving, and felt pretty good. Then we had plans to hang out with some male "friends" – I had seen where they were texting each other, talking about how they couldn’t have fun with me since I was a feminist.

    I ended up shaving that day before I saw them, out of fear of what they would say. I tried to act like it was no big deal, but as I was shaving, I starting sobbing because I felt so hated and out of control of my body.

    I haven’t shaved since, except when I had an allergic reaction to some deodorant and wanted to make sure nothing was trapped in there. Trying to get to an emotional place where if I shave, it’ll be because I WANT to, not because I think I HAVE to.

    Body-shaming sucks. People like you are awesome. Thank you for existing, and for sharing. <3

    • Elisabeth Kauffman says:

      Body shaming does suck. I’m sorry that you had to feel so unsafe around your other male friends. People who would marginalize you because of your gender, body hair choices, or social politics are not really your friends. You deserve people around you who love you and support you being naturally you. Thank you so much for reading!!

  5. Handmade By BBL says:

    I haven’t shaved my legs in over 2 years. My husband couldn’t care less. If I didn’t tell you I was unshaven, you probably wouldn’t even notice. The hair on my legs is rather sparse, but long! I do still shave under my arms but that’s personal preference, not because I think I have to.

  6. Allison Trevor says:

    I stopped shaving when I was dangerously depressed about 15 years ago and having thoughts of self-harm (threw my razors out the window. Kinda melodramatic, but better than the alternative) I felt extremely self-conscious about it, and it sucked. Now I refuse to shave because I want to change those social norms, so that if some other woman can’t shave for the same reason, or because of sensory reasons, or just personal preference, she won’t be the only woman she knows who doesn’t shave.

    • Elisabeth Kauffman says:

      That’s a reason I hadn’t even considered yet. See, challenging my perceptions even now. Thank you for sharing…

  7. Morgan Harmony says:

    I’m not a consistent shaver either. Sometimes I’m a hairy woman and sometimes I’m not. I don’t feel embarrassed when other people notice my armpit or leg hair and having a full bush reinforces my identity as a sexually mature woman. Ive really enjoyed experimenting with natural beauty and then choosing to conform to socialized beauty standards. I’ve attracted very interesting people regardless of my body hair status or use/non-use of makeup and I’m happy to see other women feeling confident and experimenting for themselves. Thank you for sharing your experience. I hope more women feel empowered to express themselves for who they are and want to be.

    • Elisabeth Kauffman says:

      I hope so too. I think being open and honest and affirming of others and their choices is the way to get there, too.

  8. Raquel Gramiscelli says:

    Hi! I shave because i really like how my skin feels when it’s hairless, but when i was younger, i just did it cuz i felt obligated. Now a days if I’m not shaved and it’s hot(I’m brazilian so it’s pretty much hot everyday) , i just don’t give a shit and go out hairy. It’s liberating! I used to wear long pants and feel really hot and uncomfortable, fuck everyone’s opinion! I should be comfortable with my self, not for the others

  9. Courtney Remby says:

    I shave my armpits, because I like the way it feels, and I don’t like the way my armpit hair rubs against the inside of my shirt. My legs… whole other story! I only shave them if it’s either really hot out and I want to lose a layer, or if I’m really bored and killing time in the shower. It happens maybe 4 or 5 times a year lol. My husband is cool with it… but he also knows I wouldn’t give two shits if he wasn’t lol! (But being pregnant, and due in July, I don’t see shaved legs in my future anytime soon.)

    Anywhoo… does anyone actually scrutinize other people’s legs and/or armpits for hair? Is that a thing? And what does that say about the person staring and judging? I’m certain is says more about them than the one who doesn’t shave.

    • Elisabeth Kauffman says:

      I applaud your willingness to just be you.

      I think that you’re right, the people who are scrutinizing are the ones with the problem. It’s unfortunate that so many people feel the ridicule of sometimes complete strangers so deeply.

      Our need for acceptance is deep. But self-love can combat the ridicule!

  10. Man, reading this brought back some interesting memories of youth… Namely, the day my mother informed me that she was going to teach me to shave and my response was to have a full scale anxiety attack on the bathroom floor because I was terrified of razors, and how I always wore sweatpants and t-shirts that covered my armpits to gym class because the one day I dared to wear shorts, the most popular girl in the class pushed me against the wall and told me that either I shaved or wore pants because my legs were disgusting and nobody needs to see that.

    I eventually got over the fear of razors, but I never turned into a regular shaver… I definitely have held onto the "cover up because nobody wants to see that" sentiment when I’ve got hair.

    • Elisabeth Kauffman says:

      Aye! I hereby grant you permission (which you don’t need because you can do whatever you want… And feel beautiful no matter what) to wear your body hair proudly in public. Be free.

  11. Oh, this. I started shaving armpits and legs at the tender age of twelve, and looking back now, it sort of horrifies me. The paramount reason was that I danced, and most ballet-girls seem to go into anafylactic shock at the earliest sign of armpit hair. After I quit, at age 18, I stopped shaving my legs. I’m a blonde, and at 26, I can’t honestly say why on earth I started in the first place. The armpits are a wholly different story. I shaved religiously until four years ago, when I met My Man. He Did Not Give Two Fucks and since then, neither do I. So now I shave my armpits when the mood strikes me (every other week or so) and my legs…well. Extra fuzz! Nobody -every- notices.

    I guess the typical ballet girls aren’t my type of crowd anyway. No hard feelings though, they were only copying too. That they may shave happily ever after.

    Kudos on the post, Elizabeth.

    • Elisabeth Kauffman says:

      Thanks for reading. And right on being happy being you. Ballerinas take the beauty standard to a whole different level, I bet.

  12. My embarrassment that hairy legs can cause grown-ups to stand bog-eyed in the swimming pool stands true in most pools. This, despite the fact that in most public pools we see the human form in it’s most wobbly, awkward, honest-like state. The public swimming pool showers are one of the only places where you see fellow podgy-arsed, naked folk pottering about unashamedly. Nobody cares what you look like. We’re all just there to swim. However, not shaving seems to cross some boundary, and justifies stares. It’s weird.

    Health, however, has designs on on all this hair removal. Over the last decade, the increase of straph boils and abscesses has effected lots of people in very embarrassing ways. Awkwardly placed pilonidal sinuses need to be packed on a regular basis. Wet, hairless and inflamed genitalia help to share herpes more efficiently. Itchy re-growth can ruin a perfectly OK day. I’m not saying that hair removal is bad; on occasion, it makes me feel more confident and sexy. It’s just, I feel weak minded when I worry about showing hairy legs in the swimming pool. It’s no less hygienic then the infections and complications listed above. And, anyway, people can’t even see the hair on my legs when I’m underwater.

    …I don’t know why I felt compelled to write here.

    I guess, all I’m saying is: If only there was a place where fellow hairy people could go and swim guilt free.

    • Elisabeth Kauffman says:

      I think the more people are confident just being themselves, and the more willing we are to have conversations with others that give them the freedom to be themselves too, the more swimming pools will become guilt-free shame-free places for everyone. Keep rocking your beautiful body hair in public and don’t let others make you feel ashamed to be you.

  13. I am a bit horrfied that so many of you have had so negative social experiences from an early age, just because of your body hair! It never occured to me to shave because it was expected – I do shave, but it is just because I like the look and feel of it. I wonder if body-shaming to that degree is an american thing? I’m in Europe and while shaving is more or less the norm, derogatory comments are not that common. It is not expected to shave if you don’t want to. Of course, social stereotypes have influenced the picture of beauty here as well, but I cannot imagine a mother showing her young daugther how to shave, because that’s what you do (as mentioned in one of the comments). True, some people will still look and might even find it disgusting if someone sports armpit hair, but it is the general norm not to confront the person as it is just a personal thing. I really hope that all of you will make a difference!

    • Elisabeth Kauffman says:

      I know there’s a running gag around the US about body hair and Europeans… and while it did its job of shaming me into shaving, honestly, it’s always made me wish I was European… and be able to wear my body hair without giving it a second thought. Ha!

  14. Abigail Cordell says:

    My aunt just shared this to my timeline. And I am great full for it, too.
    I am curruntly 14, and have, sadly, had to deal with body shaming incidents, since starting highschool, my most recent being just two days ago.
    But this, you, are insprational. I posted a rant on Facebook over my outrage towards body shaming, and how it makes us feel.
    So thank you.

    • Elisabeth Kauffman says:

      I am so glad that you posted here, and I want you to know you’re not alone. High school is kind of the worst sometimes. Hang in there. Be beautiful and strong on your own terms. You already are!!

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