Once upon a time, when I was a not-so-sweet sixteen year old, I quit shaving my legs. I can't remember the exact reason - it was probably more to do with youthful contrarianism than feminism - but I do remember that unlike other acts of teenage rebellion, my shaggy young forelegs were a transgression too far.
"No gorillas in the back seat!" shouted a handsome sixth-former (on whom I'd had a long-standing crush) as I boarded the school bus, his face so full of fear and confusion it was as though I'd rocked up the aisle in a witch's hat and bikini top, a giant veiny dildo strapped to my skirt, roaring I'M HERE, I'M HAIRY, I WANT TO FUCK YOU. Backwards. And at double speed.
Exiled to the front of the bus to sit with the first-formers, I reconsidered my options, which were a) to continue the experiment in not shaving and risk being stoned to death in the schoolyard, or b) conform to the fucked-up idea that says women must not be allowed to thrive in their natural state, because it is both DISGUSTING and UNFEMININE, by resuming depilation. (I say fucked-up, because the desire to make women look like prepubescent little girls is kind of weird. No, scratch that, perverted.)
So that night, largely because I like the feel of stones against my body even less than I like the feel of blades, I shaved.
These three hairy dames would ALSO have been dispatched to the front of the bus
And so it was until a couple of weeks ago, when having forgotten to include razor blades in my online shop, and with the heat inducing a state of Can't. Be. Fucking. Arsed-ness that made nipping to GroTesco Express a physical impossibility, I didn't shave again. And because I am a sexually mature woman, I grew hair. Lots of it. Within days, I was sporting the hairiest pins in northwest Cardiff, possibly the universe. In a breeze, I could feel the hair blowing gently across my legs, which was nice. (No. Seriously. I could.) But there were also darker moments when I wondered whether I might be descended from a long line of lycanthropes. But just as I was building up to attacking myself with razor blades, in what is usually a frenzy of murderous insanity that is arguably the opposite of self-acceptance, I heard the voice of my sixteen-year-old self.
"Why the actual fuck do you need to shave anyway?" "What is WRONG with your body as is?"
And I didn't have an answer that made sense to me.
"Erm, hair is so itchy", I said, tentatively. "It makes me too hot."
"Hair is only itchy until you grow it out properly", she said, a little too smugly. "It protects skin from drying out in the sun. Also, it aids heat transfer into and out of the body, which means, scientifically-speaking, it cools you down."
"Plus, pubes and pit hair trap pheromones, which means that on a primal level, hairiness makes you hot. But NOT sweaty hot. Basically, it's meant to be there. It has a function", she continued.
I wanted to tell her is that in spite of the pheromones argument n'all, my main worry is that body hair, particularly leg hair, will make me look like a man, which will, ergo, make me unfuckable. In other words, I don't want my partner to think that I look, in any way at all, like Brian Blessed.
But I am also self-aware enough to know that every time I shave, part of me is pissed off. Pissed off at the idea that to be attractive, even acceptable, I have to get rid of something. Root something out. Shrink myself down to a one-size-fits-all version of femininity. I even wonder whether, by suppressing my outer hairiness, I'm suppressing my inner hairiness: some part of me that is assertive, ambitious, and yes, animal. RAWRRR. And as much as I tell myself that shaving is a matter of choice (as in "Shall I have the Brazilian or the Hollywood? Wow! Such a dizzying array of beauty choices!") I suspect it's all bullshit. Because if shaving your legs were a choice, I would statistically-speaking see me some other women with bushy shanks walking around the joint. Right? As opposed to ZERO women. Ever. (Which is all the more surprising given that research suggests that leg shaving is women's most hated beauty chore.) Perhaps the truth is that as long as women feel that they have to choose between being a sexual pariah or shaving, it's hard to frame the whole thing as free choice.
And so, like the women of Tumbl'r new Hairy Legs Club , I have decided to go head to head, pin to pin, with prevailing norms. "Don't think you're coming out with me like that!" said a friend a few days ago, though to be fair, she was (kind of) joking. Others tell me that I'm brave. (This to a women who is scared of balloons.) And yet, in spite of the comments and the staring, one of the more difficult aspects of the journey has been my own response to my hairiness. If I were an Elizabethan woman, I'd have shaved off my eyebrows and hairline; if I were an Egyptian woman, I'd have shaved my head. As it is, it is my leg hair that disquiets me: the straggly monkey trousers that falls, unashamedly, from my knees. But I am determined to persevere, to get used to it, to fall in love with it. Yeah! Go me!
Tomorrow I go to the international swimming pool in Cardiff Bay. It is the summer holidays. The pool will be chockers. But already, I can feel something changing. I am not so frightened of what others might think of me. It is a new exciting feeling.
It is, methinks, my inner hairiness ...