Yeah, you read the title right.
There are a lot of trends I’ve noticed since moving to Sweden, man buns, sneakers with dresses, inflatable bike helmets, however the most notable trend is armpit hair on the ”gentler sex.” I had asked some of my native Swedish friends if this was a big thing here, the reply was that it is part of the feminist movement. Those of you who don’t know, feminism is heavily present in Sweden. It shows, according to the 2013 Gender Gap Report, Sweden holds 4th place. Only being beaten by its close Nordic siblings (Iceland, Finland, Norway).
Now, now, there has been a lot of commotion about feminism, equally negative and positive, but I still identify myself as a feminist. No, I’m not a man hater, I’m happily co-habitating with a man (what an un-arousing term for an otherwise enticing arrangement.) I don’t align my thoughts that to raise the status of females is to oppress males, an eye for an eye, is not in my personal moral guidebook. Drawing away from that, I did not really understand how this whole ”hairy pits” stance had anything to do with the important issues of gender equality: equal pay, awareness of rape culture, breaking down expectations of stereotypical male and female roles. My stance on that by the way is, female bread winner? Great. Stay at home dad? You go man. Vice versa is superb as well.
But, I like to think that I am a reasonable human being, so I used the old ”don’t knock it, till you try it” mantra and decided to try this whole new body image thing out. It was surprisingly easy, because let me in you on a little secret, females can grow body hair. In ”welcomed” and ”unwelcome” places, depending on the individual. Which leads to how I participated in this little ”experiment,” I basically let my body do what it naturally does, grow hair.
Thus began my journey, some of you may be wondering why does having armpit hair have anything to do with feminist movement in any way? While I am no expert, I have a vagina, so I’ve encountered certain expectations on beauty that society places on women. At a young age, around 11 or 12 when puberty hit me, I was taught by my mother how to shave. Sitting with my legs in a half filled tub, my mother bestowed feminine wisdom upon me. Never shave above the knee, the way she put it made it sound catastrophic, and I should shave my armpit hair against the grain. Now I am a woman. A proper lady.
Why did I have to shave my hair and not my boy cousins, I may of asked. The response would of most likely been along the lines that because girls should, it simply is how things are done, and only unhygienic, unattractive women, don’t shave. (Or if we are going on outdated stereotypes, French women don’t shave.) So since the age of 11, I have been diligently shaving away most of the ”unwanted hair” on my body. Because also, looking at media you don’t see leg stubble on the female models, and there are so many Gillette commercials engrained in our brains, that to be beautiful and desirable we have to follow the mandate. Same way a lot of other female beauty ideals are pushed on us. (I will say there are plenty of expectations on men, but I’ll delve into that with another blog post.)
-On a side note, it would be great to see a Gilette model actually have hair to shave away, but moving on-
Some may be wondering, what about your previously mentioned co-habitation partner, what was his take on this? I consulted him, just like how I usually do if I am going to be changing my look, whether it’s a big event outfit, changing my hair colour, or what have you. By consulting, I did not mean asking permission. Since he’s not a bigot, I tend to screen for those things in the early courting stage, he knew I would do basically whatever I want with my body. Of course, if he had found me less attractive, that would of been his personal taste and one can’t really ridicule someone for that. Just like how you shouldn’t be angry at someone for preferring blondes over brunettes, or vice versa. In all honesty, he didn’t care much, and made it clear he didn’t see me as less attractive. He is also the lovely photographer/stylist for this article.
For a bit of a history lesson, in the ancient Roman Empire, hair removal was often seen as an identifier of class. The wealthy women would remove their body hair with pumice stones, razors, tweezers and depilatory creams. For European medieval times, removing body hair wasn’t widely performed. After this dry and hairy period, we reach the 1800’s where paintings and sculptures constantly show a sleek and hairless female form. So as we can see, this hairless trend has been with us for quite some time. The first female razor came out in 1915, in time for the roaring 20s, and the flapper era of sleeveless dresses. Now we’re here, lasering, sugaring, waxing, threading, burning, plucking, really anything to get rid of the stuff.
Perhaps this is simply just another way to distinguish more between male and female, women wear makeup and men have their beards. But to elaborate, I did not feel more female or really less so. After a couple of weeks, most of the time I simply forgot about it. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I am generally not a really hairy person. Genetics are to blame, so that may have slightly skewed my experience. An outlier in this little experiment.
Of course it took some adjusting at certain points, shaving for almost a decade, old habits die hard. Still, I didn’t cower and always wear long sleeved shirts, that would of just made this a pointless experiment. One of the main reasons I wanted to explore this issue is, was I uncomfortable not shaving because of how I like my self to look, or how others will perceive me. Beauty was for a long time, one of the main assets many women could use. And there was a very cookie cutter definition of what beauty is, slowly as time passes, this definition is broadening, it is not just the Marilyn Monroe’s that are considered beautiful. We are seeing a variety of representations, of body shapes, race, and age. There’s still a long way to go, but small improvements should still be celebrated.
Maybe this whole shaving, not shaving, won’t really matter one day. Just up to the personal preference of each individual. Same way some people like their hair short, while others like theirs long. Case and point, while I wholly support females that don’t want to shave, after the 6 week period, I shaved. I like the feel of smooth skin, but if I don’t shave for a couple of days, a week, etc. it won’t make me feel one ounce less of the gender I identify with, female. Or any less beautiful or comfortable, for that matter. Of course, if you found these photos or the concept of female body hair totally grotesque, and it doesn’t align to how you think a female should look. I can’t really change that, you define what femininity means to you. I do know for certain that the definition of femininity, or the female gender, will forever broaden and change. My personal idea of it will differ from yours, from my friends and family, and I feel like my own definition will change over time. Change, for this matter at least, is something I will embrace and encourage others to as well.
Do I think that if I have hairy legs or armpits, that is going to garner me more respect, maybe get me that CEO status? No. Not really. But I will say this, in my personal opinion, while I defend the feminist notion that a female is allowed to do what she wants with her body, I want my words and actions to be the thing that really stands out, as being a feminist, but more importantly, being a human being. I hope that I was able to achieve just a little bit of that right here, right now.