If there are two things I know about body hair, they're that 1) it's hair and it grows out of your body; and 2) no matter what you're doing with it, you're a terrible person. That's pretty much where my knowledge ends. Our culture's messaging on body hair is so convoluted and politicized and contradictory at this point that it's hard to know whether I should be shaving or waxing or growing my shit out or saving up all my strays so I can weave them into a merkin in the name of feminism (double-pubes!!!).
To attempt to untangle this short 'n' curly web, I took to the internet in search of some definitive body hair dos and don'ts. AND BOY DID I FIND SOME.
DON'T shave your armpits if you're a guy. Because hair is natural and serves a purpose!
Armpit hair serves a purpose, similar to the hair between male buttocks — and that is to reduce friction and thus chafing. So you might find yourself uncomfortable if you do it — especially in warm weather. Just for the heck of it one time, I shaved my buttocks. I wound up with a heat rash right up the crack. It was terribly uncomfortable and I never did it again.
Except also DO shave your armpits if you're a guy. Because otherwise, DOOOOOOOM:
In a new study, they had male participants shave one armpit and let the other grow wild; they then collected odor samples from each of the men's pits and passed them under the noses of a group of females, who then rated how attractive they found each odor. As it turned out, the women preferred the smell of the shaved pits, but just barely.
DO shave your armpits if you're a woman, because hair isn't natural and serves no purpose except to repel distinguished casanovas:
I wouldn't date a woman who didn't shave armpits and/or legs.
Also, DO shave your armpits unless you want to be judged by Miss Teen Internalized Patriarchy 2005:
Coming from a girl, I think it's just wrong to have hairy pits.
If you get a rash from shaving, try waxing. There are ways around it.
The last time I went to Italy, in '92, I was in Milan. I was driving around with my cousins, and there were a group of teenagers hanging out on the side of the road. I noticed this one girl...a very attractive girlwith long blonde hair, wearing a pretty little sundress. Apparently, someone she knew drove by, and she waved.
I got scared, her pits were so hairy. I asked if she was a transvestite.
On the other hand, DON'T ever, ever, ever shave your armpits unless you want to be haunted by the ghost of Judith Butler, you turncoat:
Remember that you are doing the necessary and important work of challenging stupid, arbitrary, gendered bullshit. And when you get to feminist heaven, Judith Butler and Simone de Beauvoir will be waiting with bubbly wine, a corn-fed organic roast chicken, Bikini Kill and the entire cast of Monty Python. Do you want to miss that party?
Also DON'T shave your armpits unless you luuuuuuuuv disgusting itchiness:
It wasn't just the time that it took, I was tired of the razor burn, ingrown hairs, and prickly quills that poked my skin only hours after I shaved (let's be real razors were not made for the weird shape of an armpit).
Except DO shave whatever you want, feminists, because Cosmo says it's okay, and anyway, nobody's "personal decisions" could possibly be influenced by internalized patriarchal beauty norms:
She said shaving forces women to conform to ‘artificial gender norms.’ But surely judging women for their beauty regimes is pretty anti-feminist in itself? I don’t shave, wax and pluck because I want to please a man. I do it because it makes me feels nice and it’s something I personally want to do.
And DO shave your entire body unless you want the Daily Mail to be a complete fucking bitch-dick to you for literally no reason:
Yet the incredibly pretty Emer proudly raised her slim arms on This Morning last week to reveal that she doesn’t shave, or wax, or pluck. And we’re not talking a bit of fluff here — she revealed underarm beards that would have made Osama bin Laden proud.
Yikes, it was horrible. As were her hairy legs to match. Watching her I nearly parted company with my breakfast.
But really, you should always just DO or DON'T depending on your own personal boundaries:
This is not about condemning other women. We must be kind to each other and easy on ourselves as we draw our battle lines. When I say I’m having a bad hair day, I’m usually referring to my moustache and on the way to remove it, with some sort of cream that burns and smells like eggs or threading, that pulls it out in little clumps. That’s my personal limit and that’s OK.
Except definitely DON'T shave your legs, unless you're a huge fan of wasting your life:
A new poll shows that women spend an average of 72 days over the course of our lifetimes simply shaving our freakin' legs. That’s 1,728 hours of bending over, balancing our heels on the slick side of the tub to sever unsightly hair from our bodies.
But also, no matter how much lip service the media pays to the "importance" of ladies' bodily autonomy, they DO want you to know that you should probably just be smoother:
Whether you're looking to grow less hair or choose a great shaving cream, these expert tips will give you the smooth skin you crave.
Ladies, DO shave your pubes off if you want to boi-oi-oingggg your gentleman's johnson:
Shaving your pubic hair is as safe as shaving any other body part. Plus, going bare down there has certain pluses: You're more sensitive to stimulation, and the feel — not to mention the sight — of a manicured mane can send a guy's libido skyrocketing. Whether you do the shaving solo or make it part of foreplay and have your man help you defuzz, take it slow so you don't nick the sensitive skin.
But DON'T ever shave the whole thing, because apparently grown men have trouble distinguishing between young children and fully developed women who are missing one small patch of hair:
“I once conformed to pressure and shaved down there, but honestly I don’t understand what is attractive about making it look like a ten-year-old’s. I find it pedophilic,” said a female ’15.
Also, you should probably just let this guy come over and DO it for you, to his irritatingly ambiguous yet exacting standards:
Trimmed, nothing fancy, and please don't shave it. Prepubescence shouldn't ever give dudes a boner, and really, if your partner demands a bald downstairs, know there are a billion other guys who want to see something there, and will love you for it. Seeing you've left something, but have taken the care to not let it go nuts, tells me you have a degree of self-respect, both in keeping yourself tidy and in your own beautiful, amazing pubic world. But if you're into going hairless, that's your call. I'm also not looking to run my hands through anything unless it's atop your head.
Men, DO shave your penis and ball hair, because otherwise your hair will pulled when penis move:
personally,i have a lot of pubic hair,and it was very long.whenever i wear my underwear,usually paced my penis upward,so whenever my penis move,then my pubic hair will get pulled,n some hair will fall and it was really painful.
On the other hand, DON'T shave your dong-thatch off ever, because of this part:
DO NOT SHAVE PLEASE DO NOT DO IT, It does look more clean and sexy but trust me on this, i did this then i couldn't wait for it to grow back because it itches like a porky pine sitting on your dick.
But DO wax your chest, because then you can coerce your beloved girlfriend into waxing her genitals against her express wishes ("porky pine" crotch is a womanly duty, obv):
Wax it. That way, you can ask your GF to wax her hair without her telling you you don't know what it feels like.
This method will be excruciatingly painful, and will counter-balance the pussiness of shaving ones chest with the manliness of bearing said pain.
Phew! That was quite a journey.
After reviewing all of the available information, I've chosen this middle path: WHO THE FUCK CARES ABOUT STRANGERS' BODY HAIR UGH GET A HOBBY BUFFALO BILL.
It grows out of my body. Relax. I got this.
Now, it's obvious that any aesthetic imperative that tells us "you must alter this part of your natural human body in order to be socially acceptable" is just part of our culture's obsessive network of fucked-up, arbitrary beauty standards. But—and this is how the argument always goes, round and round—what if I like a particular beauty standard? What if I love the feeling of freshly waxed nads? What if I love lipstick because it's pretty? Is shaving my legs inherently more fucked-up than dyeing my hair? Does my boyfriend get a say? If I give him a say am I a bad feminist? What if I don't shave because I'm just lazy? Does that make my laziness political? How is babby feminist formed?
In principle, I cannot disagree with the logic of the always astute Hadley Freeman:
Why kowtow to a weird social message that abhors female body hair, which is essentially a message that is expressing disgust about adult women? I've tried to justify it to myself by saying that while I applaud any woman who doesn't succumb to the underarm razor, I don't like the look of it on myself (nonsense: this is just social conditioning), or that I do it for the sake of hygiene (again, nonsense, and this seems something of a slur on unshaven men). The truth is, there is no real justification beyond peer pressure that stems from a sexist source.
But I don't know. In practice, I still don't really give a fuck.
I stopped shaving my legs like a year ago, but not as some noble fuck-you to beauty standards—it's because that shit cuts into my SVU time. And do you know what happened? Literally nothing. I mean, more hair came out, and now it just lives on my legs. Leg hair! No big. Not one person has ever said a single thing about it. However, being a borderline-albino Norwegian day-wraith, I am blessed with invisible-hair privilege, so I can't speak to the way other women choose to handle their leg hair. If mine were dark and coarse—making my laziness more visible and, thus, inherently more political—it's possible that I'd feel differently. Not because I hate visible leg hair, but because I know how constant scrutiny can wear a person down. I couldn't, in good conscience, impose that scrutiny on a woman who wasn't ready for it.
No matter how aware we are of sexist beauty standards, and how much we abhor them, we still have to live within them every day. So I don't congratulate myself for not shaving any more than I'd judge another woman for choosing to shave. When it comes to you, you do you.
Image by Jim Cooke.