The stand I didn’t know I was making

It is generally considered unacceptably rude to tell a stranger that you find their appearance disgusting. Even the most tolerant among us find certain people and certain characteristics unattractive; it takes a great deal of determination and broad-mindedness to prevent appearance from affecting your judgment of someone. However, most of us are sympathetic enough to refrain from airing our personal gripes about each others’ externals – one person’s ugly is another’s beautiful.

This, apparently, goes out the window when it comes to body hair. Female body hair, more specifically.
I realise I am in the minority when I say I do not find unshaven women unattractive. Body hair does not have that trigger effect for me  – ‘Ew! Hair!’ – and genitals that I can see the goosebumps on just don’t do it for me.
Too much info? Yeah, it is; no-one should give a shit about what I think of body hair, apart from the person I’m sleeping with. This doesn’t stop the widespread and abhorrent tendency of the tabloid press to scrupulously pick over pictures of female celebrities, and triumphantly crow ‘LOOK! WE’VE FOUND ONE WHO FORGOT TO SHAVE THE STUBBLE OFF HER ARMPITS!’ According to them, the public desperately care whether or not Sandra Bullock shaves her armpits. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop with the press.
I recently had a hostile and (to me) entirely unexpected experience relating to my body hair. As of a few months ago, I stopped shaving/waxing my armpits. There were numerous reasons – shaving produced stubble that needed removal every few days, but waxing was painful and expensive; I was ruining the delicate skin under my arms; and, genuinely, I hated how my skin looked shaved. I also had a think about why I ever removed the hair in the first place – every other woman I have ever known does it; people might find the hair disgusting; and … that was it. So I opted out. As far as I am concerned, deciding not to remove one’s body hair is an entirely personal decision; it makes me feel much better than fretting over the stubble on my legs or the decision whether to wax or shave.
However, it seems the personal cannot be entirely divorced from the political. In the student publication I write for, someone wrote a light-hearted, uplifting article giving the opinion that this summer, we should all stop striving for a ‘perfect’ beach body, and not be afraid to enjoy the sun whether or not we carry a spare tyre, or have stubble on our legs. The website has a comment facility; I wrote that I was in full-hearted agreement – we should feel free to do that, because I have, and I have never encountered disgusted looks or comments from strangers. To imagine one would would be to have a very poor view of humanity.

The original can be found here. But let me give you an abbreviated run-down of the ensuing comment thread:

Anonymous: Nothing wrong with being pale and a bit fat but dear god no-one wants to see unshaven bits, there’s no excuse for that! I like to cheat the world with decent nude tights in summer. Even skin tone, slight tan, and stubbly leg cover up! What more could you want!

I was slightly put out by this person’s judgement. So, being the person I am, replied:

Gillian Love: …Why thank you. I shall indeed take your advice and tear all of the hair out of my skin so that everyone can rest easy. Or, indeed, go out in the sun in tights and get a super-sweaty groin. Mmm.
P.S. Wanna get rid of that stubble? Don’t shave!

From personal experience, going out with stubbly legs is highly preferable to going out in the blazing sun with nylon tubes strapped to your legs and groin. Seriously. But, on with the responses:

Anonymous: Gillian Love: confirming stereotypes of feminists everywhere since 2011.

Anonymous: That is truly disgusting…and sweaty groin? Er, gross?…

Anonymous: Girls, please don’t get hung up about how you look in the sun, it’s true that too much is made of perfection. But for the love of God, please continue to shave and if you get a ‘super-sweaty groin’ should you don tights, please please don’t share this info 🙂

After protesting, and addressing the author of the article by saying it is entirely her decision whether she shave or not, I was miraculously backed up:

Justin: I’m astonished by the force of commentor’s reactions here to what is clearly a completely personal decision…what makes you think your personal taste is anyone’s business but your own?…How bewilderingly arrogant to angrily denounce somebody merely for not, in your eyes, being attractive enough!

Justin, I salute you. But you know what all of those anonymous commenters said in their defence?

Anonymous: Pretty much all of the comments here were directed at Gillian, not the original article, which is an admirable and good piece.

It’s bewilderingly OK to attack my body hair, but not the author’s. Because apparently I was being provocative. Because I agreed that not shaving can be OK. And, according to one woefully illiterate guy:

David Spelling: chastising people who object to *celebration* of female obesity and hairiness, or oddly enthusiatic descriptions of sweaty groins, is childish…

Pretty sure I’ve never celebrated a sweaty groin. But there you go.

The point of this long post is to show that a decision that I believed was personal, and one someone else wrote about and I agreed with, was attacked on entirely personal terms but as a political decision. I was disgusting, I was wrong, because I don’t shave and prefer not to wear tights in the sun. I was also making a feminist statement, according to these strangers (the fact the decision ties in with some of my feminst beliefs is not important – remember, these guys don’t know me). The only other person expressing the same view as me, who was not attacked personally? A guy.

Before I am accused of misandry, I want to make clear that there is as much, if not more, pressure from women to remove body hair as there is from men (remember the tabloid hacks above). However, I have an acute problem with receiving the opinion that body hair is disgusting from a person who has never felt the pressure to remove his own. He has never stayed indoors instead of going out because he’d run out of wax strips; he has never felt like crying because he looked in the mirror and realised he’s forgotten to shave his armpits; and he has never been told by strangers that the unavoidable growth of bodily hair is repugnant (but only on arbitrary parts of the body). Which makes it all the more relieving to find men (and women) who actually don’t give a fuck about your hair follicles.

So, by having hairy armpits and legs I am actually making a loud statement without intending (or initially wanting) to. But, you know what? Bring it on. If people take it as such, I’ll treat it as such, because since taking the decision to let my body hair grow, I have felt comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life. If anyone, especially strangers, are disgusted or offended by my body, the onus is entirely on them to change. Because now that I’ve encountered my first hostile body-hair-haterz, my personal has become political.