Opinion: The perks of growing your body hair

I shaved my legs for so long that now, even though my leg hair has gotten pretty long, it’s still fairly spiky. Valentina Pucarelli

When the pandemic began, I decided to let the hair on my legs grow out and see how I felt about it.

Instantly, I felt relief from not spending hours in the bathroom bending over and looking down to make sure I got every little hair out.

The decision to continue growing my hair and stop shaving eventually led me to moments of self discovery—not only within myself, but also how I fit among family, men, women, gender and sexuality.

Breanne Fahs, associate professor of women and gender studies at Arizona State University, said most women feel like shaving is necessary.

“You have somewhere between 92% to 99% of women who are adhering to this norm of shaving,” Fahs said.

I used to be on my high school’s swimming team, and I would always look at other girl’s feet to see if anyone else had hair on them like me. I would shave them every night before a competition. Valentina Pucarelli
I’m pale and my hair is dark, so I would often feel weird about the hair on my chest and stomach, but I never shaved them because I figured ingrown or spiky hairs would look worse. Valentina Pucarelli

In the 19th century, shaving was not common practice for women, according to Fahs, but with the start of fashion photography including hairless women and aggressive marketing campaigns for the blade and shaving industry, removing hair eventually became the norm.

Personally, I’ve always hated shaving, waxing or using creams to remove my body hair. But, growing up as a woman in Argentina with a fairly conservative family that thinks body hair is “gross,” I never really questioned why I shaved.

“It’s often something that people don’t think consciously about,” Fahs said. “It’s just assumed that girls, when they’re going [through puberty], will start shaving.”

In elementary school I was picked on for my body hair by my classmates and family, and it quickly became one of my biggest insecurities. It was the reason I shaved and waxed my hair from my armpits, my face and from the waist down.

The only reason I didn’t wax my back when I was younger was because I knew that if I did, I would have had to wax my entire back so it didn’t look weird. Luckily, I was able to put a limit on the amount of hot wax I put on my body. Valentina Pucarelli

It took me nearly 10 years of literal blood, sweat and tears—as well as distancing myself from my family’s toxic mentality—to start accepting myself and my body as it is.

The reason why people shave may vary—some do it because it makes them feel more confident, others because they like the feeling of smooth legs, and many, like myself, because they were simply taught that it is what girls are supposed to do.

I have come to realize, there are also many reasons why people choose to stop shaving.

I used to wax my entire pubic area when I was dating someone. Now I just occasionally trim it down for my own comfort. Valentina Pucarelli

Maybe it’s as simple as not caring about what people think, finding a way to connect with their gender identity or being tired of insecurities surrounding something completely natural.

I’ve mostly stopped shaving, but I’m not cured from engrained social norms. I still tend to shave my armpits every so often since I get sweaty, and when I occasionally feel self conscious about my mustache, I bust it with wax strips.

For me, it’s all about baby steps.

Even though I also felt self-conscious about the hair on my arms when I was younger, I’ve noticed that it’s more normalized than leg or armpit hair. Valentina Pucarelli
I had not noticed I had this much hair on my neck until recently, and I even sent a picture to a friend. He automatically assumed I was going to pick at it with tweezers. Valentina Pucarelli

Fahs said in her classes she pushes female students to grow out their body hair and male students to shave from the neck down to challenge social norms for extra credit.

“It helps people to think about their bodies in relation to ideas about control, autonomy, freedom [and] how much freedom we really have with our bodies,” Fahs said.

I don’t see myself the way I used to when I was younger. I don’t see body hair as “gross,” and I don’t think anyone has to look a certain way.

I feel a lot more comfortable in my skin knowing that if I ran into anyone that is not okay with my body as it is, they’re simply not worth my time.

“If you get more comfortable with having body hair, you may also feel more comfortable with weight gain, or you may feel more comfortable changing your aesthetic choices,” Fahs said. “Even things like coming out … can feel a little easier. It’s almost like a gateway drug into thinking about power and bodies and inequality.”