No Shave November? More Like No Shave Ever.
I remember it vividly: I was in fifth grade and my mom said it was “time.” She took me into the bathroom, filled the bathtub halfway with warm water, and broke out the ‘Skintimate’. After my first shaving lesson, I sat on the living room floor watching TV and rubbing my legs; they were smooth and hairless. I was 10, apparently the age females start shaving. After that first lesson, I put myself to work every week, shaving my legs (only up the knee). Eventually I started shaving all the way up my leg, and then my armpits, and sometime in middle school I tried shaving my arms and my stomach. I learned to hate my body hair and want it gone at a very young age. I obsessed over body hair in high school, buying hair removal products that made my skin break out in hives, burned me, made me itch, and destroyed my skin. I was convinced it was all totally worth it though, because I was hairless, the way women were supposed to be.
The only time I let myself have body hair was during the month of November, when my friends and I would grow out our leg hair while our male peers grew out the little bit of facial hair they could for “No Shave November.” At the end of the month, though, it was back to hairless legs.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I met women with body hair. I had peers who weren’t shaving or waxing or nair-ing, and seemed to love their hairy bodies. It freaked me out honestly; the body hair looked out of place and untidy on them. I never said anything to them, because I respected their choice, but I was positive that would never be me. After all, the kind of guys I dated would never go for that.
I spent my early adulthood with red, bumpy, irritated skin; razor burn and ingrown hairs galore. I had learned by now that my skin didn’t love being shaved, but what other choice was there?
When I started dancing at Flirt, I continued removing all of my body hair; the addition of bruises and pulled skin didn’t help with any of my previous issues. I also found that I couldn’t stick to the pole for the life of me if I had shaved less than 3 days before class. However, I kept it up for another year. My body stayed hairless until 2018.
In 2018, I went through some life changes and became comfortable with a partner who encouraged me to start making decisions that were good for me, instead of ones that worked for other people. One of the areas I was really trying to gain control of was body autonomy. I tried an experiment at that point: I wouldn’t shave for a month. It was so easy, and a month became two months, and then six months, and a year. Eventually I had grown out my leg hair, my armpits, and my bikini line was its own personal awesome jungle. And my skin – I can’t even tell you how healthy my skin became over that time. I stopped using lotion on my legs and arms entirely because so much moisture had returned to my skin simply by leaving my hair where it grew, and not running chemicals and metal over chapped skin – it did wonders for pole.
Personally, things were smooth sailing with my body hair – I’d come to accept how much healthier it was for me, physically and mentally, to just leave my hair where it was. I felt softer and more confident than I ever had being hairless with bumps and rashes. That acceptance wasn’t free though, it came at the cost of being “othered” by a lot of people, men and women alike. Despite society being in the throes of self-love movements and feminist advances, people weren’t actually ready to put into practice the memes and illustrations that they share on their Facebook pages and Insta stories. I caught some serious eyes at the beach, out for drinks in a sundress, and at work. My own parents were uncomfortable with me leaving my body natural, the way it was when they loved me as a child. I got awkward questions and comments from every demographic you could imagine, and curbed them all with smooth responses about being comfortable enough with myself to make my own decisions about my body. After all, I’d worked hard for the confidence and autonomy that I needed to be here, in this place of being okay with being out of the “norm.”
Within the pole community though, I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel like the odd one out. I’ve never met another dancer with body hair, at the studio or competing or even on Instagram; even the male pole dancers seem to be hairless. The questions I’ve gotten have always been timid and polite:
- “Doesn’t that affect your dancing?” No.
- “Does it hurt when your hair pulls during certain tricks?” No.
- “How do you stay on the pole?” I have better grip now than ever before.
- “Do you compete with your hair like that?” Of course, this is how my body looks.
I answer them all honestly, and let people know that it’s okay to ask questions. At this point, I have a lot of questions for women who continue to remove their body hair, now that I feel so liberated from all of it. Removing body hair consumed so much of my time every week, so much of my money, generated non-recyclable waste that I carried guilt about, and used water resources that I wasn’t comfortable expending on something like hair removal; not to mention that for me, it reinforced the idea that women had to change things about themselves to be desirable in a society that didn’t value us the same way it valued men, anyway. Whether we shave or not, there’s still a pay gap and a pink tax and gender bias, so why should we try to satisfy a society that won’t be equitable for us?
As a child, I was conditioned to hate my body hair; I lived in that conditioning until I was a college graduate with a decent job and a dependable trustworthy partner. I bought into a beauty industry that insisted I destroy my skin and alter my body to be worthy of society’s approval for years, and didn’t ever question it. Dermatologists even told me that I should just try X, Y, and Z new products to help my skin press on through the abuse, and never once suggested that I just stop removing my body hair. It became a cultural norm so embedded in every industry and every person that I just kept at it without a doubt in my mind that it was right for me.
Despite all of that, I went from being a young woman who had to be hairless in order to allow someone to take her photo or to show up to a school dance, to an adult woman who poses for professional pole photoshoots and performs smiling with her natural healthy body. I’ve received resistance of course, from the people who feel the need to share with me their thoughts about a woman having “man” legs, how unattractive it is, how it’s cool but they could never do it, how their boyfriend/husband/partner would never let them (gag), how I obviously am not taking care of myself and I’m letting myself go…my own family talking serious smack behind my back about how I’m not feminine enough and how they think it’s “just gross.”
People can say all they want, and they can stare all they want. I made a decision over a year ago that has proven to be healthy and satisfactory for me, beyond just the health of my skin. I feel liberated as can be knowing that I’m not creating waste, not giving money to an industrial capitalist complex that just wants to profit off of people’s insecurities, and still excelling as a dancer.
I have a personal wish that all women would stop going to war with their body hair, but I know that won’t be the case, and I support women making choices that work for them. However, if you find yourself hating shaving every week, you’re tired of changing out razor blades and making plastic garbage, you just now realized that shaving cream cans aren’t recyclable and feel guilty, your skin is dry and cracked and bumpy, and/or you’re only removing your body hair to please other people, then stop. Take a moment for yourself and engage in the radical act of letting your body just exist.
I support women doing things for themselves, loving themselves, and taking care of themselves. If you pause and ignore all of the noise society creates about what we should do and how we should look, what is it you really want? I found a lot of love for myself when I learned to ignore what everyone else wanted me to do with my body; you might be surprised about what else you might find if you do the same.