Learning how to shave was, not too long ago, a rite of passage for young girls approaching puberty: mothers would, almost eagerly, usher daughters into a secluded corner of the bathroom, teaching them to rid their legs to continue the time-honored tradition of striving for the sexy smoothness of a Sports Illustrated model. The universal shame produced by body hair has only further fuelled the billion dollar beauty — from razors to balms, wax treatments to laser removal.
But things might be changing. Fourth-wave feminism brought bright pink “pussy” hats, sex positivity and the fight for entitlement to what we want when we want it….so had that changed our approach to natural hair growth?Though the KarJenners seem to consistently stay on the stubble-free side of the fence, more and more women are embracing the idea that a woman does not have to shave to fit the patriarchy’s idea of “sexy.” Just one Google search, and a wave of A-List names can be found with overgrown pits: Madonna (and her daughter, Lourdes Leon), Miley Cyrus, Julia Roberts, even Sophia Loren. But, is growing out your body’s natural hair truly a move in the feminist agenda, or a trend ushered in by white women who, well, don’t have that much body hair to begin with?
The most recent contribution in the pro-body hair movement: Emily Ratajkowski’s Harper’s Bazaar essay, coupled with a images of EmRata clad in lingerie with a furry arm pit on display. After divulging her experimentation with what it means to be “sexy,” disdain for being labeled “hyper-femme” and her 2018 arrest at a Brett Kavanaugh protest, she then turns to the elephant in the room: her arm pits.
“If I decide to shave my armpits or grow them out, that’s up to me,” Ratajkowski wrote. “For me, body hair is another opportunity for women to exercise their ability to choose—a choice based on how they want to feel and their associations with having or not having body hair. On any given day, I tend to like to shave, but sometimes letting my body hair grow out is what makes me feel sexy.”
Though the model-designer does have a point — a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body, whether in regards to something as drastic as an abortion or as menial as putting down the razor, has been an uphill battle for quite some time, to say the least — but she’s leaving out an important point, for some women, it’s just not that easy.
For starters, the majority of white women tend to grow thin, rather dainty renditions of body hair, which is considered “sexy” in its own right. Just a quick look at the names of hair-donning women stated above, and they all have one thing in common: they’re white.
But, women of color (such as myself), tend to grow coarse, thick strands of hairs that we have been shamed for throughout a countless number of years. I would more than love to toss away my razors and waxing kits for good, but since my body hair grows a mile a minute, I’ve been too mentally programmed to dare walk out of the house without making sure every inch of bare skin is, well, only skin. It’s overwhelming, sometimes mentally excruciating, and is one of the many examples that has left me and a number of women to question at least one point in our lives, Why can’t I be like the white girl in the magazines? Though that was definitely not Ratajkowski’s agenda, it goes to show that even with body hair, POC will always be an afterthought in the white-washed world of modern feminism.
There’s no way to simply put it. Neither the choice to be as smooth as a baby dolphin or unapologetically grow out your body hair will classify as a major breakthrough in feminism (in fact, it didn’t when it was first introduced in the second, burning bra era of feminism), but it does send out a message to mainstream media and its unattainable portrayal of the female body. To put it simply: it’s a very small battle in the bigger war we women face daily to reclaim our bodies, but that doesn’t make the fight any less worthy.
So, ladies, either follow in the footsteps of our pit-bearing feminists and let it grow, or don’t. That’s your choice to make.