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Allison Berkowitz Headshot

Hairy, Hairy, Quite Contrary

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Christian Waldegger via Getty Images

Shaving has never been a fun activity, but outside of maybe five seconds in that scene from Home Alone where they discuss "French babes," I never really questioned it. That changed after my recent relocation from urban, sunny Florida (home of the sundress) to rural, arctic Alaska (home of the ski pants).

Do you shave yours legs? If so, why? I saw my mom do it when I was young. She was so beautiful. So, with a laundry list of other social norms, I equated smooth everything to beauty and couldn't wait until I was old enough to "get to" shave my legs. Then puberty hit and I started shaving under my arms because everyone else did. In my 20s, I even started shaving my arms themselves after a good girlfriend informed me how unfeminine my arm hair was, and don't even get me started on pubic or facial hair (tweezing, waxing, plucking, oh my!)

A week or so into our new lives, in -- pun intended -- Bush, Alaska, and with my fiancé's blessing, I decided I was going to begin a social experiment and relinquish my body hair removal for a while. It's been really interesting and informative. Practically speaking, my shower time is much shorter than it used to be and I really enjoy the lack of tedium every day. On the cleanliness front, I didn't have any changes in scent or health. There's also been a serious shift within myself about what I see as hair's role in beauty.

I should probably mention that the future hubs has not enjoyed this experiment nearly as much I have. He doesn't like the way it looks, and to be honest, it's not very clear-cut to me, either. To me, it's all about how it makes me feel! Aside from some playful teasing here and there, though (à la "my fuzzy honey") he's been crazy cool and accepting.

As far as our sex life, I think it's enhanced it! There are indeed other factors to consider here, such as me being the breadwinner right now, or perhaps intense, unrelated emotions being directed to him. But independent of those, for some reason, this extra hair has made me feel more comfortable in my body, more confident, more bold and even an odd flavor of sexy; which, for me, has all trickled into the boudoir.

A few weeks in, I realized personal grooming habits are not topics that come up very often for me with friends and certainly not with acquaintances or strangers. So, I put a brief, anonymous, and informal survey out to my social network. 139 of these souls offered their thoughts, and it was fascinating!

I asked why people remove body hair and 67% said because of the way it makes them feel or look; however, when I asked "If it was as socially acceptable to be hairy as it is to be smooth would you still remove your body hair?" And surprisingly 76% said "No" or "Maybe." Which made me wonder: Do people really dig the act or effect as much as they think? The last question of the survey was open-ended, "Anything you wanna tell me?"

Some people said they like things just the way they are:

  • "I have certain expectations I want my guy to follow, so I'm OK with shaving."
  • "Things are good how they are. Wouldn't want to be hairy. Ever."
  • "Sometimes I shave, sometimes I don't. If I don't feel like it, I don't feel ashamed or pressured to."

And that's cool for them, but I guess one of the main reasons I wanted to shine some light on this topic is that it's still a bit of a social taboo. As liberating as I've said growing my hair out has been, personally, I'm sad to admit that I'm a little embarrassed when people see my underarms at the gym. Not because of how I feel, but because of the horror on their faces! It seems there is not a lot of wiggle room regarding what's acceptable and what isn't in our modern standard of beauty. Many survey respondents spoke about wishing this wasn't the case.

  • "This culture has told me from birth that women need to be smooth to be beautiful."
  • "Being teased in my formative years about excess hair has made me aware even 20 years later."
  • "I wish things were different. It's time-consuming, expensive, painful... and for what? Looks? Ugh. Sometimes I wish I had the guts to just not do it."
Do you ever wonder why women started to shave in the first place? As with so many other things in our country, it appears someone was trying to make a buck. The 1982 Journal of American Culture says that women with smooth underarms started showing up in clothing ads in 1914. Shortly after, ads for hair-removal products began appearing, alerting women their hair was unsightly and needed to be removed.

I'm not trying to say our standard for the modern woman is wrong. Like many things, I say that's up to the individual and each person should do what they feel! I just find it unfortunate that the choice of not removing one's body hair seems to equate to such negative things in the eyes of many.

I must give credit where credit is due though. There is definitely a nice chunk of tolerance and free thinkers out here who don't give two nickels about your hair. Speaking of which, 14 of the 139 respondents from my survey were dudes and I LOVED how they weighed in:

  • "I'm attracted to women, hairy or smooth. It's amazing how stigmatized body hair on women is -- so much so that attraction to it is fetishized. Hegemony!"
  • "I think the cultural norms for women are pretty dumb, and especially infuriating when men degrade women verbally if they have hair in "unconventional" (read: normal) places. It's. all. natural. And I think that's beautiful."
  • "Pubic hair is healthy and attractive and there for a reason. The proliferation of porn has created a new cultural standard, I believe. I think women should feel proud of how they look, naturally."

Back to one of the kindest, most tolerant and open-minded men I know... A week or so ago, I asked fiancé if he was OK with me including the bit about our sex life here and he said it was fine. Afterward, though, he sweetly inquired, "So, how long's this experiment gonna last?" He went on to gently inform me that most of the body hair wasn't that big a deal, but that the underarm hair was a little off-putting.

So, how long is this experiment going to last? I don't know. If nothing else, I'll probably start shaving my underarms again soon, but truth be told, I'm going to miss this. And if my future husband and I weren't both in the business of consistently making compromises for the other, I think I just might let my freak flag fly and forget hair removal altogether.

My little hiatus from shaving has been awesome. I've learned some new things about myself, engaged in some substantial, thoughtful dialogue with many peers, and got to play around with some social norms. Most of all though, it is my great hope that a few of you might read this and feel empowered to know it's OK to make a change or experiment, if that interests you. In fact, doing so just might inspire others or start some very freeing conversations for people in your life. Welp, that's all for now, ladies and gents. Until next time, keep calm and hairy on.