What If I AM Like The Feminist Stereotype?
Am I giving feminism a bad rap by not shaving my armpits? I worry that people will take one look at my pits, label me as “one of those feminists” (the only kind they think exists), and dismiss what I say and stand for. I don’t want people to further solidify the stereotype that all feminists are hairy mammoth, lesbian, man-hating bra-burners, except it’s more important to me that we get across that there isn’t anything wrong whatsoever with being a lesbian or a woman who doesn’t shave in the first place. I also firmly believe that not shaving is a feminist statement, albeit one I do not expect many to understand or apply to their own lives.
I love my armpit hair. At the moment, it’s my special little not-so-secret that I can smile about without having to explain to others. I am very proud of my hair and that I decided to let it grow out now, as a teenager, instead of saving that experience for when I’m an adult and don’t have quite so much to lose socially. I asked myself, why wait? If I really want to practice what I preach, then I’m not going to submit to this double standard any longer. And besides, what do I have to lose anyway?
That is my choice. It feels like the right thing to do for me, and it does not mean that girls who choose to shave their legs and armpits are any less feminist. I don’t have a problem with that, so long as they’re aware that shaving is something women are unfairly expected to do in order to be attractive by today’s beauty standards. Same with makeup. I care that girls know they can survive and look just fine without it, that they don’t need makeup, shaving, or validation from others saying they’re beautiful to know that they’re whole, complete, and perfect. Personally, I just don’t have time to be constantly applying, reapplying, shaving, and worrying about tiny, prickly hairs pushing through my skin that I wouldn’t have to deal with if I just didn’t shave at all. I’d rather sleep in.
As I’m thinking all of this, looking at the sunny blue sky stretching across my window, I become increasingly aware that it’s summer in California. I’m wearing tank tops and shorts, but I’m not concerned about my peculiarly blond leg hair because they’re not very visible on brown legs. I know, however, that there will come a day when others will actively try to make me aware of this. For example, as a very active participant in class, I'll have the urge to raise my hand and reveal to my classmates the small patches of hair under my arms.
I can picture it now: raising my arm at the elbow, self-consciously keeping my upper arm glued to my side and glancing at it every few seconds. I’m not interested in doing that, and the more I think about it, I’m not going to. My classmates will deal with it. Why should I be embarrassed by my personal resistance of sexism? I am not ashamed of my hair, and I do not want to spend the time or money to keep it all smooth and hairless and conform to a double standard.
I’m actually quite certain that my peers’ perception of me will not be forever hijacked by that the moment they see me with hairy underarms, especially if I hold my head and my arm up high and act like there’s nothing unusual about it. I do imagine, though, that of all the people who could be offended by my choice, many may be girls. I dislike when people assume that girls in general are dramatic, hypocritical, and catty, but I have noticed that when a girl wears a low-cut top or gets a unique haircut, the gossip I hear is mostly from girls.
What I strive to do is understand in full this concept that another girl’s choices or appearance makes all girls (or all members of a group, like feminists) look bad. I want to understand why I hear mostly girls call other girls sluts, bitches, fat-asses, and other names. Why was it that the first person who gave me the idea that I needed to shave in the first place – and this was in the fifth grade – was a girl my age?
Let’s be aware of our own fears of making a statement, of our internalized sexism, and what we and others are really saying and why when women are being criticized.
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