In 1985 Nair Hair Removal Cream premiered a television ad in which seemingly fun-loving and care-free women, showing off airbrushed legs—much to the excitement of a nearby teenage boy—asked viewers, “Who wears short shorts?” The answer was of course, that they, in fact, wore short shorts. And if you wanted to do the same…well you better have gotten yourself some Nair (or at least a razor).
The hairless woman is far from a modern ideal. The women of Ancient Egypt removed nearly all of their body hair, using beeswax and tweezers made from seashells. Talk about having a #roughlife.
It is now 2018 and things have changed. Unicorns are cool again, cigarettes are OUT, and body hair is up for debate. However, let us not pretend that the struggle hasn’t been and isn’t still real.
Abercrombie shirt, denim mini skirt, curly locks flat-ironed within an inch of their life. You know the look. All I was missing was a Starbucks Frappuccino and whatever other accessories were popular in the 7th grade.
When I arrived at school, I sashayed into my first class and grabbed a seat next to my crush of the month. We awkwardly flirted as middle-schoolers do, and I was feeling “flirty, thirty, and thriving”—a la Jennifer Garner in 13 Going on 30…until he ever so kindly exclaimed, “DAMN GIRL! You gotta shave your legs!”
Ah, the male gaze…working its magic on a 13-year-old, newly bat-mitzvah-ed little lady.
Woah—anxiety triggered. Was there something wrong with my legs? Why did anyone not tell me? I nervously laughed it off, inwardly consumed with embarrassment, while my brain’s serotonin levels dropped like a deflating party balloon. Something had to be done. I went home that night, hopped in the shower, and took my first razor into uncharted territory. I emerged a smooth (slightly nicked and bloody) goddess.
That day marked the start to a journey that I have been on ever since: the journey through the wilderness, the journey through…wild, wild body hair.
When I was 17 and got my first boyfriend, I could have sworn I was a part-time professional esthetician—a razor in one hand, tweezers in the other, and a wax strip on my lip. Beauty was pain, but hey, that was just part of being a woman, right?
Throughout most of my young adult life, I exhausted a lot of energy trying to transform myself into some kind of land-dolphin—hairless and smooth. It was draining. Thankfully that lifestyle is a cyclical one and allows for breaks.
So, naturally, this past winter I, as many women do, with great reverence to those that created long pants and sweaters, settled into my seasonal hair-removal hibernation. Just like a woodland creature, I let my body hair grow long and luxurious from December to March. I think many women will agree when I mention that this break from our razors begins in laziness, and then often becomes motivated by just how impressively long our hair can grow. It is almost like tending to a small houseplant. You are amazed by every new leaf it sprouts.
But eventually, the sun comes out, the soil becomes warm, we fish our dresses out of the closet, and we pick up our razors to ready ourselves for short sleeves, bare legs, and society’s eyes.
A few weeks ago I was ready to re-enter that “no body hair because I care” life. I shaved my legs and was happy to see the bright, smooth skin that had been revealed. However, when I reached to remove the hair under my arms, I found that I was struck with hesitation. I raised my arms above my head, looked in the mirror, and realized…that I had come to like the way I looked with armpit hair.
This was a revelation. I had spent so much time in the past focused on others’ thoughts and expectations (even those of my scrawny 7th-grade crush) that I had never really given my body hair a chance.
It took some growth to figure out (pun totally intended) but I like the way the dark hair under my arms matches the curls that cascade from the top of my head to the middle of my back. I like the way my armpit hair matches my thick eyebrows that make my blue-green eyes stand out. I feel beautiful with my hair. I feel like a woman with my hair…and I did not know that that was possible.
I like to think of my hair as a connection to all of the wild, untamed women that came before me in my family—women with thick, dark hair in Ireland, the Caribbean, the Philippines, and all the way back to the ancient Israelites, whose stories gave me my Hebrew name.
So if I am diggin’ it, why not rock it?! I feel comfortable with my underarm hair, I am drawing personal meaning from it, and I like the way my body looks when I have it. I feel like that is all that should really matter.
In conclusion, today I have hairy armpits and I’m happy about it. But next week…if I decided to shave it all off and feel the breeze under my arms while riding the Batman roller coaster at Six Flags, that is okay too, because I am a woman experimenting and learning that my body, and the way it looks, are for me and me alone.
Tori Luecking is physically 24 years old but has the soul of an old woman. She is a life-long student of the Humanities, sometimes dreams in Hebrew, and loves her menstrual cycle. She is the Director of Communications for a St. Louis based synagogue, a freelance content writer, and an amateur bread connoisseur. You can catch her journaling, singing in the car, or watching the movie Cast Away for the 100th time.