October 2, 2008
Representations of Feminism–Hairy Legged Feminist Icon
Here is the blog icon I promised in Act 25
In Act 25 I said “Most of the time my legs and pits are hairy, sometimes not depending on my mood, but really who the fuck cares?” and while I still hold by that I have been thinking more on it and decided it requires a little more clarification. Because *I* care.
I generally don’t shave my armpits or legs, though sometimes I do when the mood strikes me–I try and treat it like a hairstyle–natural is good, but it is okay to change for fun when it suits *my* mood. But this has not always been the case. My reason for keeping my natural hair is not really based in neutral aesthetic choice, I don’t just have hairy legs because ‘I like it’ (kudos to those who do, that is perfectly fine with me) but rather for me the act of not shaving is a deliberate political decision.
I grew up in a culture where modifying yourself to look ‘attractive’ (with the invisible subtext being ‘to men’–funny how this subtext is almost always exnominated) was and is the expected norm and I fully embraced it. I started dying my hair regularly when I was 13 (though I have to admit I have always been fairly experimental with it) and started shaving, shaping and making-up pretty much every part of my body not long after that.
In my early 20s I read Naomi Woolfe’s book The Beauty Myth and had several ‘aha!’ and ‘hey… wait a minute…’ moments as I realised what the practices I took for granted really signified–for example keeping me busy being concerned with my personal appearance and keeping me away from more important political goings on in the world, and also sculpting my body to try and represent some (arguably unattainable) version of female attractiveness that is on reflection scarily prepubescent.
And so I began to think about my ‘beauty’ choices. It was not an immediate turn around, but a slow questioning of many of the things I took for granted. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. In fact it took me years to stop shaving, and quite a while after that to actually *feel comfortable* physically with the change. While I was immediately comfortable with the political and intellectual aspects of accepting my body hair in its natural state it took a lot of work emotionally to get comfortable. I tend to wear a lot of sleeveless tops and I remember feeling extremely self-conscious about raising my arms for the first several months. I am pretty comfotable now, but it has taken a lot of work to overcome my programing and what genuinely feels like a personal choice–but I continue to fight it because I know it is not a genuine personal choice, and I know that any cultural value which teaches me to fight my healthy natural state and incites hatred of my regular adult female body is a value worth resisting.