I've been sick, gone naked and had a baby on national television. You'd think that when it comes to sharing personal experiences I would have a pretty thick skin. Well, I was recently surprised to find out that there was a cheeky challenge waiting around the corner that would make me quiver in my Topshop ankle boots.
You'd think that in 2012 we are liberated enough to discuss body hair without going red. And that actually growing a little bit wouldn't be a big issue. Wrong. It is a massive, gigantic issue and you have to have great big boobs of steel to do it.
I've engaged in lady maintenance since I was 11. I've waxed, shaved or slathered on toxic-smelling hair removal cream without giving it a moment's thought. When I was teen someone commented on my hairy arms and I've waxed them ever since. In my twenties a boyfriend suggested I deal with my lady garden and so, feeling deeply apologetic, I complied. I just thought it was as much part of being a woman as periods and pretending to like pink. But this all changed when I met a group of wonderful women called Those Pesky Dames. Themselves fans of mother nature's work, they challenged me to grow all of my body hair. After wiping the sweat from my forehead I reasoned with myself: how hard can it be, reeeeally?
Week one: a doddle. I love my new two minute shower routine and am familiar with the slightly spikey legs. I gleefully enjoy extra time with family, friends or doing something constructive like watching repeats of Family Guy.
Week two: as above but I avoid silk PJ's as my legs are starting to catch on the fabric. Nice.
Week three: my underarms start to become visibly hairy. I realise I have gradually switched to long sleeves and I make myself return to vest-tops.
Week four: everything changes. All areas of growth are starting to bother me. I stare longingly at my lonely razor. If I wasn't accountable to a group of feisty girls it'd all be off before you could say Julia Roberts. I brave the bus in a small top and receive my first double take from a female passenger. I can tell she is trying to get another glimpse but I'm too chicken to raise my arm again. I fall into passengers laps for the next fifteen minutes rather than reaching up to the handrail.
Week five: another shift. My armpits have become soft and they are definitely a statement. I talk myself into being proud of this but my courage comes and goes depending on who I am talking to. I wear shirts to meetings. I am suddenly very aware of how not-brave I am. In other downstairs areas I am starting to feel quite womanly and sexy. It is now less five o'clock shadow and more ferral. I decide that it might even be a keeper. The legs, well, I still really hate the legs but I am interested to note that my arms really aren't that hairy. Thank you to the guy who made me paranoid - I have been waxing for 15 years unnecessarily.
I remain strong for week six, seven and eight but at week nine, the legs have gotta go. Before I attack my legs with a razor I stand in front of the mirror and realise that smoothness is a critical part of my definition of 'woman'. I realise how crazy it is that something I am born with, that mother nature deemed important enough not to phase-out, can be something I find so unpleasant. I've been bombarded with razor avertisements telling me that I can only release my inner goddess once I am smooth. I've never seen a female on television, in a film or in a magazine that has body hair - unless she is a witch.
So, contrary to all the images I've absorbed, can I retrain my brain to find my natural state sexy? And am I bothered by the hair itself or other people's opinions of me? Can I be brave enough to stand alone in a world telling me that to be a 'woman' is to be smoother than a toddler?
At one stage of the challenge I did wonder whether I was being paranoid. Do people really give two monkeys about the state of my legs? So I spent the day asking people. And turns out, most of us really mind. 'Be gone she-beast!' was the general vibe I got when I asked members of the public what they thought of my new furry pits. When asked 'would you rather break both your legs or sleep with/be a girl with hairy legs?' I was pretty amazed to hear how happy people were to take a stint in a wheelchair.
I know that, before doing this experiment, I would have been the same. If I'd seen a girl at the bus stop with hairy legs I would have questioned her hygiene. But, having allowed my body to return to its natural hairy state, I can say with some confidence that being hairy does not make you smelly or dirty. In fact, it's very purpose is to aid in keeping you clean. Much like your eyelashes stop dust getting into your eyes, your pubic hair is very good at protecting your vital area.
I am so thankful to the women before us who fought for our rights. We can now drive, own a property, have a job and vote, but I think we've still got a way to go. Perhaps it's not the most important battle we face but I think it's an interesting indication of where feminism hasn't fully permeated.
There's no doubt that choosing for ourselves whether we do or do not have body hair is something that we can all do, and whilst it's not quite the same as setting fire to our underwear, it still takes a huge amount of courage. We've gone a long way up the mountain but we're not there yet. And whilst things are better, we're not at the top yet. I'd really love to see the view in my lifetime.