Thursday, 16 June 2011

Other things I think about while strenuously depilating

Okay. So as I mentioned before, in quite a dickishly flip way, is still true: what this world really does not need is another skinny white cis lady talking about Body Image.

...and yet. I don't know: I don't think good allyness is necessarily not talking about the stuff that bothers you, even if it's an issue that only affects super-privileged-in-every-way-except-being-a-girl people. I don't know if acknowledging my own limitations is enough to prevent my writing becoming part of the problem. Our Sady of the Immaculate Capitalisation put it best when she talked about the worst kind of feminist, the kind of feminist I am terrifying of becoming, when she said:
and oh, does she ever do body image, without taking much note of the fact that as a white, abled, cis person she conforms to the “beauty standard,” and benefits from conforming to it, in more ways than she will ever let on

So take leg hair. It - and its mandated removal - is a big deal to me. However, it is both a bigger and smaller deal for, say, women of colour and trans women. Bigger in that, however much I am socially punished for stubble, for women who are way too often compared to animals, or told that they are In Fact men, an aspect of appearance that is coded both animalistic and masculine could very easily have incredibly dangerous consequences. And smaller in that for god's sake people are getting killed and you're banging on about your leg hair.

And so the responsible path may well be to shut the fuck up. Or it might be to try to use my merry bushels of privilege to talk about something that all women are frowned upon for bringing up - because the frowns won't hit me as hard. Sense? Am I making any? No one knows! However, I live for your comments, especially when they make me smarter, so if I am wrong, wrong and thrice wrong, you are immensely welcome (though not, of course, obliged) to tell me so.

SO. With that in mind: I've realised that what pisses me off about the demands on ladies to remove every last hair on their bodies is not just the demand itself, but its corollary that you never ever talk about it. Because talking about it destroys the illusion: we're not just expected to look "perfect" at all times, but to pretend that we always look like this. That we waft through the world, silky-skinned and follicle-free; no effort, no expense, and no time required.

The first rule of razor club is that you don't talk about razor club.

Razor club sucks.

So my way of coming to terms with this is to conform to the demands - because it makes life easier, because this is a battle I can't win on my own and don't want to fight every single day, and, yes, because I think the hair is ugly - but refusing to shut up about it. Hey, world, you insist I have super-smooth legs at all times? Prepare to hear a detailed description of the waxing process, then! You demand I shave my armpits? You'll have to accept the resulting ingrowing hairs. If you're stipulating how I should look, you can damn well deal with the realities of how I manage to look that way.

Which is probably not enormously productive, and is definitely frightfully teenaged, but there we are: it works for me. Or it makes it less soul-destroyingly bad, anyway.

The thing is, I have no idea how to fix it, on a widespread scale: how to make physical appearance a genuine choice ("conform to the diktats of patriarchal beauty standards" vs "be gawped at, ostracised, mocked and frequently not romanced" not really being an equally attractive set of options). One little me ranting about it is hardly going to unilaterally dismantle the beauty myth. But I am certain that we're not going to get anywhere without talking about it. And not just 'us' the ladies, either; us the ladies, us the dudes, us the everyone who has sex with ladies too: I'm not holding my breath waiting for Cosmo to hail the hirsute-shin as this season's new little black dress, because "you look fine as you are" isn't going to sell any razors. But - speaking for myself, at least - it's not the media onslaught that makes the crucial difference in making body hair absolutely unacceptable: it's other people. Not far-away people on catwalks or billboards, but people you know, people right here, grimacing or staring or shuddering as they pull their hand away.

So given that to-depilate-or-not-to-depilate is so tied up with sex, to make any change at all the conversation needs to include desire.

I don't know how we get to the promised land of body hair freedom of choice. I don't even know what the damn promised land looks like: everyone flying the fuzzy flag? Or just everyone doing what they please, with no judgement resulting from either option? Which means that changing how we look isn't even half the battle - it's about changing what we want. Where 'we' includes the ones wielding the razors, and the ones who, however subtly, demand that the razors be wielded.


  1. two quick things (because I'm always butting in here):

    1) yesterday on the tube i was looking at a woman's armpit for a good long moment, wondering why it looked weird, before realising it was because it was hairless. stranger still, my partner tends to shave hers (occasionally), so it must just be that my frame of reference includes more hairy armpits than is usual?

    2) (apart from the fact it would now be a rather serious undertaking) I kinda wish it were more socially acceptable for me to remove (for example my leg) hair. it's an incredibly effective extra layer of insulation!

  2. Woah, I love it when you butt in! More butting! Keep on buttin'.

    1) Sometimes my brain does sort of loop out (like when you repeat a word over and over until it becomes meaningless) and I can gaze at, say, a shaven leg, and think: that looks weird. Plucked chicken weird. But, again, one person having a 'hairy: not ugly' epiphany doesn't change much. I just don't know what would. Haaaaarri, changing the world is haaaaard.

    2. OPTIONS, MORE OPTIONS FOR ALL, I can haz them please.

  3. Fuck those beauty standards. I make enough money as a sex worker shaving my legs on my terms when I feel like it, and never shaving my armpits or most of my cunt. Sometimes I wish my clients didn't feel the need to marvel at my body hair, but then, they see it so rarely. I prefer hair on my lovers, though I prefer my lovers doing what makes them feel sexy.

    Also, if you want to avoid ingrown hairs, try using a really good, unscented lotion after and reapply after showers- it softens the hairs, making ingrowns less likely. :)

  4. Good for you! That's awesome. It's strange, isn't it, how the level of body hair people find attractive varies across a massively wide spectrum - but only one extreme of that spectrum is promoted as Officially Sexy?

    AND, I keep meaning to say, thank you so much for linking to me - it's really kind of you. And I love your blog. x

  5. Are those my legs (not all six of them)?

  6. The question of body image, and particularly body hair, is the one question where I always feel like I'm "selling out" on feminist credentials ;)... Still looking for my own way... Thanks for this post :)!

  7. El - yep. The massive knees are mine, the massive feet are Rob's. All six legs are opposing fascism.

    accalmie - Thanks for stopping by, so glad you enjoyed the post!