By Natalie Michie
Featured in our fall 2019 issue
I don’t shave my pubic hair. Although I say that now with confidence and even pride, I admit it took me a long time to get to this place. For most of my life, dealing with my body hair has been a struggle.
I grew up not knowing what was acceptable: when I should start shaving or where I should shave. I do, however, have a vivid memory of when I was given a rude awakening of what was expected of me as a woman with body hair. I was 14.
I was on the phone with my best friend at the time. She started laughing into the phone and told me to check Twitter to see what a popular boy in from our school had posted. He had just broken up with his girlfriend, and the tweet simply stated her first and last name and that she “has a hairy vagina.”
Almost everyone in my grade had seen the tweet, which had over fifty likes. I remember feeling mortified for his ex-girlfriend. I imagined the betrayal she must have felt from someone she was intimate with. In the same sense, I also felt panicked. I had never shaved down there, and I hadn’t realized what a big deal it was. That night was the first time I shaved my pubic hair. Since that day, I’ve been on a complex and often laborious journey with my body to redefine my perspective on and relationship with body hair.
My skin has always been soft and sensitive. When shaving, it is really easy for me to get razor burn or irritated skin. I learned quickly that shaving my pubic area was not something my skin could really handle. No matter how many preventative steps I took to nurture my skin, removing the hair always had painful results.
When I was younger, I didn’t worry about it so much. I wasn’t having sex and no one other than me was seeing that area, so I just wouldn’t shave. But it was something that lingered in the back of my mind. I knew that I needed to figure out a way to remove my pubic hair when the time came.
I remember asking my mom about it; telling her about the way my skin reacted when I tried shaving. She told me that I should be using products that are less harsh like hair removal creams. Not shaving was never an option she mentioned.
Growing up surrounded by the narrative that pubic hair is gross, I internalized judgement towards girls with body hair. In high school, I was so insecure that I turned into someone who was quick to judge other girls based on their appearance. I know now that this is just because I was unhappy with myself. I was frustrated that I couldn’t shave my body hair easily as my friends could. It was something I was ashamed of, and I hid it from my friends out of fear of being considered gross or ugly.
When I was a sophomore in high school, my older sister, who was about 17 at the time, stopped shaving her armpits. This became, to say the least, a point of contention in my immediate family. My parents would cramp up in embarrassment when my sister would wear sleeveless tops and her hairy underarms would show. I, too, was embarrassed by her.
One day she posted a picture on Instagram of her at a school dance. She was wearing a dress with spaghetti straps and her arms were up in the air. It seemed like her armpit hair was front and center of the picture. I saw the picture while I was at school, and my heart sank. Some of my peers followed her on Instagram and I was so scared for them to see it. The thought of people associating me with body hair was mortifying at the time.
I think back to the girl I was then, and I feel bad for her. She was so worried about what others thought of her, and she was so mad at her body for having something as natural as hair.
The disgust I had towards my body hair seemed to get worse when sex became a part of my life. Dealing with my hair was no longer something I could ignore or put off.
When I knew I was going to have sex for the first time, getting rid of any traces of pubic hair was my main concern. I did my best to get rid of it. I moisturized, exfoliated, used hair removal cream for ‘sensitive skin’, and still, I couldn’t make my pubic region smooth and bare. I remember the first time I had sex; the whole time I was hoping that my partner wouldn’t notice any of the little bumps or stubble that I had.
The obsessive concern that I had for my partner’s pleasure clouded my thoughts; it prevented me from thinking about anything other than if they found my body attractive. This need-to-please mindset was ingrained in me as a child and has never really left me. Despite being hyper-aware of it, it’s still something that affects my body image.
When I was still shaving my pubic hair, it was always my main concern during sex. I was never thinking of myself, if my partner was prioritizing me, or even if I was enjoying it. The only thoughts constantly racing through my mind were about my partner’s opinion on my body. I remember one time my partner saying, “You have really bad razor burn, did you know?” The words just rolled off his tongue with a laugh. At that moment, I wanted to disappear. Having my biggest insecurity blatantly called out by someone I was intimate with was hurtful and destructive. After that, his voice and those words played over and over in my head. I wished that I could just forget it but I couldn’t.
Despite it being a huge blow to my confidence in a moment of vulnerability, it was a wake-up call. I realized I should stop altering my body to please others. Shaving not only didn’t please me, but it was physically harming my skin. And it didn’t stop me from being body-shamed during sex. ‘So what’s the point?’ I thought. I decided to stop shaving. When I started listening to my skin and treating it right, it started to love me back.
Although I was happy with my pubic hair in private, it was still hard for me to unlearn the notion that body hair on women is unacceptable during sex.
Setting my own beauty standards for myself was something I was able to do thanks to the strong women in my life, like my sisters. They’ve always supported my decisions to look the way I want to look, even though I haven’t always reciprocated that support.
When I’ve been anxious about how someone might react to my pubic hair, my sisters have always reassured me that I am beautiful and I shouldn’t be with someone if they can’t accept me the way I am.
Since I decided to keep my bush, it seems like so many things about my life have improved. I have become more confident, more kind, and more inclusive. It may sound weird, but it honestly made me a better person.
I still struggle with the knowledge that I am deemed less beautiful by society for not shaving my pubic hair. But the more I see other women embracing their hair, the more I feel proud to have mine. I feel more honest with myself. This is my natural body, and I like it.
Growing up, I never saw imagery of women embracing their body hair in the media. I often wonder how much heartache and self-doubt I would have been spared if I had. The journey to loving my body has been fueled by women who have shown me that self-acceptance is beautiful. Through these photos, I hope to portray that same message.
These are powerful, beautiful women who inspire me. Looking at them, I wouldn’t know that they struggled in the past or still struggle with accepting their body hair. But that would be naive to think. In a patriarchal society, women are conditioned to think that their natural bodies are not good enough— it’s abnormal to not have body image-related insecurities.
Some people view not shaving as radical, but the truth is, there’s nothing gross or weird about having hair. It’s just a part of our bodies.
If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years of trying to accept my body, it’s that women are fucking cool. No matter how you choose to present yourself--with body hair or without it--it’s important to remember that this is your body, and the only opinion that matters is yours. Above all, just be kind to yourself.
“As an active way of trying to love myself, I decided to stop shaving. I think some people view not shaving as radical. I think allowing my body hair to grow is an extension of me expressing myself. I don’t condemn shaving; I think if you want to express yourself by shaving, you should. But I don’t think I should be condemned for not shaving.”
“I reject the idea that body hair is somehow unfeminine. When I stopped shaving I made a
conscious choice to frame my body hair as feminine in my own mind. Embracing my underarm,
pubic, and leg hair has been an important step in my own self-love and the love I show my
queer female body... If I identify as a woman, then my body is a woman’s body, and my body
hair is inherently feminine.”
“I stopped shaving because I realized I was only doing it for everyone else; so I could appear
grown-up, sexy, in control. By embracing my body hair, I have learned to love my body and
accept it in ways that challenge my absorbed perceptions of beauty and femininity.”
“In high school, I was spending my money on wax to remove the hair from my arms and upper lip. I was always hyper-aware of how dark and long my hair was. I remember feeling so defeated, looking into different alternatives for the total elimination of my body hair, such as lasering. After high school, I started experimenting with my sexuality. This brought about the ‘issue’ of my pubic hair. Whenever my friends and I would talk about sex, preparation always included shaving that region, so it was instilled in me as a necessary step. I later realized that I was doing all of this grooming solely for the other person’s satisfaction. Today, I rarely shave my armpits, pubic hair and arms. I’m definitely not at the most secure I could be, but I acknowledge that if I don’t want to do something, I don’t have to.”
“As I grew into a young adult, it was cemented in me that I could only belong to the club (of womanhood) through my body’s baldness. Three years ago, after experiencing a decade of ingrown hairs and a breakup, I’d had enough. I wanted to know what it was to be an empowered hairy woman in a world that has turned the term into an oxymoron. Now that my hair empowers me, why the hell would I spend time and money removing it?”
“My liberation from the disgust [I had towards my body hair] was a slow process, but the
process started with feminism. The movement seemed to be growing online, and I started
coming across articles with women talking about their experiences learning to embrace their
body hair. As much as it inspired me, I felt that I would never learn to be comfortable with it. It
planted the idea in my mind though, that maybe one day I’d learn to love it too. As I've gotten
older, I think I’ve started unlearning all the hatred and disgust I'd internalized when I was
younger. I’ve been slowly learning to find power in embracing my body hair in a way I never
thought I would.”