“I don’t like going down on you with body hair.”
At that moment, I freeze. On my back, legs akimbo, surveying a stain on his bedroom ceiling. He has stopped mid-act, in a moment of intimacy and vulnerability. I am mortified.
It was over a year before I felt comfortable receiving oral sex again. I used to shave my pussy if I even anticipated having sex; it almost became part of foreplay. I’d tell myself it was because I “preferred” it. This was a lie. If I’m honest, it was to avoid a repeat of that experience, to avoid comments from sexual partners about perfectly natural body hair. Ideals and expectations imposed by the porn industry and the patriarchy. I was so cripplingly insecure about my pubic hair and the appearance of my vulva that I would put myself through the discomfort of hair removal to satisfy what I thought my sexual partners wanted. That statement sparked insecurities that drastically affected my sex life, body confidence and self-acceptance. It had a profound effect on how I saw my body hair, intensifying the insecurities ingrained in me from my early teenage years, when I began shaving to pre-emptively ward off snide comments in PE changing rooms.
Over the years, as I’ve tried to channel more self-love and self-acceptance into my life, my outlook has shifted to focus less on what I perceive others to want from me, and more on what brings me a sense of comfort, joy and empowerment. The result has been a period of growth – quite literally. Five years ago, I stopped shaving my legs and haven’t looked back since. I continued to shave my armpits and pubes because I wasn’t quite ready to accept the hair on those parts of my body. – I could justify a bit of leg hair, but societal ideals of “hygiene” and “sex appeal” inhibited me from embracing a full bush. It took years between deciding to no longer shave my legs and being comfortable enough to leave my pits and pussy natural as well. It’s been a gradual process of becoming acquainted, comfortable and confident with my body hair, and that’s the only way I would want it to be. My body – and my decisions about my body hair – are deeply personal, but it is astounding how much more at peace with my body I have become since I stopped shaving.
“Is it a feminist thing?” I used to be asked. Far from being a feminist statement, I made the initial decision quite simply because the showers in my uni halls were too small (and I was too clumsy) that I could no longer be arsed with the routine of it anymore. In some ways, I guess it is, because I am choosing to do what I want with my body, but it never felt forced or like a litmus test of feminism – and it shouldn’t be. Some women feel more comfortable managing their body hair, and that’s great too. Do whatever makes you love and appreciate your body. This is just my experience, but I hope I can encourage you to think more about what you desire for yourself instead of what others desire of you.
I recognise my privilege in being a white, cis woman able to exercise this small act of non-conformity. I’m now so used to (and comfortable with) my body hair that this is the norm for me, but it never takes long for mainstream beauty standards to remind me otherwise. Only recently, a comment on Love Island about “disliking women with hairy arms” had me reeling. This highlights the bigger picture and lived reality of the standards that continue to be imposed on women and the need to challenge this in whatever way we feel comfortable. Discussions about body hair – or, more importantly, how we perceive it – need more attention. The porn industry perpetuates a warped view of women’s bodies and an unrealistic physical ideal, leading to a lack of sensitivity that can cause serious damage to young people in early relationships. I know my experience will not be an isolated one. Deciding to no longer give a fuck about my body hair was one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done. I’ve enjoyed my own body – and sex – far more. In the grand scheme of things, it’s hardly radical, but for me, it has led to a celebration and appreciation of my body I wouldn’t have thought possible as an insecure teen desperately shaving any inch of my body that wasn’t silky smooth. I am happier, healthier, and wonderfully, joyously hairier.