This is a photo from Redneck Mommy. How does it make you feel?
The Beauty Standard. I’ve been wanting to talk about this for a while, mainly because every time I go into my bathroom I feel helpless. The shelf above the sink is lined with products I shouldn’t have to use: razors, shaving cream, wax strips, hair removal cream – all designed to make me appear smooth and sexy to anyone I should come into contact with.
The tricky business of removing parts of oneself has always been an issue for me. I wasn’t some fair-haired, dainty child. I remember sitting in school assembly, aged around eleven, looking at the spikes of hair that poked through the knees of my navy blue tights. I hated P.E and I hated summer more, that time of year when the girls were forced into blue and white gingham dresses and white ankle socks. I felt like a monster. Embarrassingly, the other girls seemed to agree. We used to play Disney themed games where the girls picked what princess they wanted to be. I have a distant memory of being chosen to be the beast, chasing them around the playground. I switched to tracksuit bottoms and baggy t-shirts shortly after that.
Even now, being as candid as I am, I don’t want you all to think I’m some sort of Yeti. I shave my legs every day but I’m not powered by a full moon. Growing up and going through puberty with girls I’d known since I was five who were allowed razors, makeup, hairsyles, really took it out of me. I never felt feminine. At seventeen, when one of the Indian cooks at the restaurant I worked at told me my arms were hairy, I snuck a roll of masking tape from my Dad’s shed and went to work. I looked down afterwards and felt amazing.
High School was a different ball game. It was rugby, American football. You took the hits. Between the ages of thirteen to fourteen the opinion of pubic hair changed on a regular basis. It was a badge of honour or it was disgusting. And whilst you’re probably thinking – “um, Red, if you never took your pants off then why was it an issue?”, consider that I went to a failing community college where anything goes. Boys literally snipped off bits of their public hair and left them on the table to freak out girls. It was disgusting. Periods were the ultimate taboo that no-one talked about. They were a joke – boys somehow found sanitary towels and would stick them to the floor or people’s chairs. I remember once when a boy touched my bum during shark week and said “you have a hard arse”. Sounds hilarious now, but I couldn’t get out of the room fast enough. Nowadays if I meet a woman who talks openly about her body or moans about period pains I am filled with a mixture of respect, awe and gratefulness. It’s nice to finally be out of that school environment of shame.
It’s really sad that it’s got this far. Pre-teens are getting bikini waxes, for Christ sake. And maybe I’ve got it wrong, that it’s empowering for women to take control over their bodies, but seriously – why should we be ashamed of our naturally hairy bodies anyway? Maintenance is all well and good but it’s ok to take some time off from shaving your legs, right? To leave it alone for a while and get rid of that shaving rash on your unmentionable? Apparently not. 99% of heterosexual guys I’ve dated have sympathised with my womanly chores but as soon as I have mentioned not shaving my legs for a while their expressions change. You see that little glimpse of panic, disgust. Don’t even think about it. The forget that we don’t have any more control over how our bodies grow any more than we do, but it’s important that we don’t let it show.
It’s a double standard. Men feel ashamed of their bodies too. Who doesn’t in some way or another? There are always some things we wish were more toned, smoother, bigger. But in comparison to women, men have the easier road. Correct me if I’m wrong but there is nowhere near the kind of pressure to conform to beauty standards for men. They can let their hairy shoulders and un-manscaped private parts blow freely in the wind, and good on them. If I had shoulder hair I would probably still be a virgin. I wish it was that simple for women but there isn’t a day in the world where I haven’t seen an advert for hair removal or skin cream or something else designed to make us shinier. It makes me angry that I’ve been conditioned to be ashamed of myself and my body. Aware of it as I am, I still panic when I’m out of useable razors.
There’s no going back from it, I think. I will still apologise when I get into bed with stubbly legs, even though I know my boyfriend doesn’t care because he loves me as I am and appreciates the natural form of woman. I can’t imagine dating someone who wasn’t, but sadly I know these people exist. They’ve been conditioned too, and it’s like we’re all in this weird trance, some sort of nightmare that as long as society and the media tell us body hair isn’t ok, it won’t be. Take a stand, women, grow out your armpit hair! I feel sad that I will probably never break my mental shackles and feel confident enough to do this.