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The hair-raising tale of a razor-averse Hoya woman
During recent years, I’ve been called many things. I’ve been called a boy, a dirty hippie, a hairy mountain woman, a bearded lady, and, most affectionately by my parents, a woolly mammoth. I’ve been compared to hobbits and dwarves, which I believe is also a comment on my height. All of these comments revolve around one of my most noticeable features: my hair. For the past several years, I’ve stopped shaving my legs, and this past summer I decided to stop shaving my armpits as well. I have effectively become one of Georgetown’s hairiest female students.
I first stopped shaving a few years ago, when my older sister did. I’ve come across people who tease me or ask questions. My freshman roommate threatened to wax my legs while I was sleeping. During my most recent trip home, my father said that I was “going to need the hedge clippers for those legs.” And even though my sister also doesn’t shave, I get most of the grief from the parents. As opposed to her red and blonde locks that manage to vanish, my leg hair is likened to a bear’s. When I saw all of my Georgetown friends after the summer of not shaving my armpits, they all emitted a universal sound of disgust at the sight of the several-month-old growth sticking out from between my arm and torso.
But mostly, people just ask me why. Several times, I’ve gone to parties and had people say, “I don’t mean to offend you, but why don’t you shave?” And then the truly irksome question: “What are you trying to say by not shaving?”
So why don’t I shave? Lots of women say that the reason they do not shave is because it’s not natural. Shaving is just a product of an oppressive social construct. It’s playing into the unrealistic body images that dominate popular culture. And so the idea of women not shaving has been pigeonholed into the formulaic image of a feminist. Many make the argument that removing your body hair is supporting anti-feminist gender roles. But that’s not why I abstain from shearing off my wool–and at this point, I’m convinced I could make at least a nice scarf out of the combined leg and armpit hair.
So it all boils down to how we want to be seen. After all, that’s why we buy the clothes we do and cut our hair into identical, “professional”-looking haircuts. For the same reason that one person thinks he or she looks attractive with short hair or long hair or with a beard versus a clean-shaven face, I think I’m more myself with the added layer of hair. I want people to see me, and that includes looking at hairy legs. And so that’s why I do not shave. It’s not because I think shaving goes against my feminist values. It’s not a quest for androgyny. And I definitely do not want to be cast as a male hobbit in Peter Jackson’s next film. Instead, I feel this is more akin to who I am than all of the sheared and trimmed girls filing by as I swipe them into Yates.
And so when people ask me what my statement is by not shaving, I am usually more offended by the assumption that I actually have a statement. I always have a strong desire to reply back, “What’s your statement by wearing that shirt?” or “What are you trying to say by wearing your hair that way?” I think that the point of feminism is that women can choose to shave or not shave and have it not be a statement. It’s not a reflection of their commitment to transcending the oppressive gender norms that our society has created. It’s simply a personal choice. And it’s offensive when someone typecasts as either a feminist or anti-feminist based solely on something as insignificant as leg and armpit hair. So I’m making my own declaration of rights of hairy women (or men, we won’t be exclusive here). I believe that it’s a right of all people to choose to shave or not to, and not have their actions questioned.
In returning to Georgetown, walking through the crowds of freshmen at NSO and seeing old friends, I’m still struck by the feeling that I’m a fish out of water. Or, in this case, I’m a woolly mammoth that survived the Ice Age. Eventually, the comments and stares will subside, and everyone will get used to the extinct mammal walking around campus and going to classes. In the meantime, I’m going to see if I can braid my leg hair, and hope that people won’t assume that each braid stands for some aspect of feminist agenda.