Photography by: Nikki Freyermuth (Snikka)
Video by: Vanessa Quintero
Mainstream feminism has closed its chapter on body hair. I know this not only because of the long, dyed, or braided armpit hairs I usually see on white women, but because those same women shame me for shaving mine. This feminism has yet to develop the capacity to acknowledge the aspects of women of color (WoC) and queer and trans people of color’s (QTPoC) lives which can, at times, prevent them from accessing their body image or perception of self in the same way white women do.
As a product of the South Asian diaspora, I have always been hairy—from my toes to my legs, to my tummy, to my back, to my cheeks, arms, knuckles, and upper lip—I am constantly reminded that I am covered in hair. I can still recall the day in middle school when I finally convinced my mother to get my eyebrows waxed, using all the stories I had of me being teased for my hairiness to sway her, only to arrive at school the next day and get teased for waxing them. These memories, while having occurred over a decade ago, still leave me with the same anxious pit in my stomach I had that day walking into my 6th-grade classroom.
Many WoC and QTPoC have internalized these stigmas surrounding body hair, just as I had, from a young age. Even today, mainstream feminism tells us that if we remove our hair we are succumbing to the patriarchy, mothers, and aunties shame us for leaving the house without shaving, partners feel that they can have a say in how we groom, and patriarchal gender roles prevent us from utilizing body hair in a way that makes us feel ourselves.
While many feel that a discussion on body hair may be dated, fruitless, and tired, others do not. Let’s hear about their hair.
PEYTON DIX, 23
Peyton Dix, 23, felt pressured to groom her body hair in the ballet classes she took as an adolescent, as she was ostracized as one of the only dancers with noticeable body hair.
“I developed faster, my boobs grew bigger, and my pit hair grew longer. I shaved so much because of this that it made my armpits black. In dance your arms have to be up all of the time, and I felt ostracized,” she said.
Dix rarely shaves now, and only sometimes waxes her armpits—a method of hair removal she only uses for comfort. Having started dating women three years ago, Dix has also noticed a definite change in the way woman partners and man partners view her body hair.
“For men I used to shave for the night, but women don’t give a fuck. And men shouldn’t give a fuck either, because pussy is pussy—you’re welcome I am even here,” she said.
Generational differences in body hair care are evident to Dix, as she recalls how old-school her mom is—which led her to laser remove all of her body hair. Whether it’s an effect of the patriarchy or her mom’s prerogative, she’s unsure.
Regardless, Dix wants people to speak up more about their relationship with their body hair.
“Even if body hair has been a conversation since the 1960s or 1970s, that is still so recent,” she says. “The more we talk about it the more we see the layered issues, intergenerationally and through different races.”
KARI SONDE, 22
It’s often overlooked in mainstream feminism that not everyone grooms their body hair because it makes them insecure — some want to groom because of comfort. And some, like Kari Sonde, 22, take pleasure in the relationships built through grooming one another.
“The best relationship I have is with my wax girl,” said Sonde. “People groom in all sorts of ways and most of them are solitary methods, but with waxing, it’s a cooperative activity. I trust very few people like I trust her.” She also takes joy in the ritual of threading her own eyebrows, as well as her sister’s—a skill she learned from her aunt.
“It’s a good time when we can sit in silence. I like doing that one thing for her; there is some camaraderie with it. I mean, monkeys also groom each other,” said Sonde.
Ultimately, Sonde sees a stark double standard when it comes to body hair in today’s feminist movements. It often makes her uncomfortable to see white women embodying a “divine goddess” aesthetic that simultaneously feels transphobic to her.
“Not everyone wants to grow their body hair into beautiful massive forests,” said Sonde, who grooms her pubic hairs for comfort. “If I had gossamer fine baby hair body hair I would be okay with it, but this shames people who do groom.”
ELLI HU, 20
In middle school, Elli Hu, 20, was watching a Youtube video during which Jenna Marbles was describing how she was shaving the hair around her anus — a place Hu didn’t even know hair existed until she whipped out a mirror and saw it for herself.
“It was a painful and terrible feeling, like what other evil secret dark caverns do I have,” laughed Hu. “I felt like my body betrayed me.” Hu also recalled that her most trauma-inducing body hair stories came from her time on her high school’s volleyball team where she felt that the uniform required her to constantly shave.
“Sometimes my leg hair would get burned off from turf burn during volleyball games and I would like that because the hair would not grow back,” she remembered.
It’s because of memories like these that Hu feels body hair needs to be addressed more in art to de-shroud the topic and facilitate a conversation on it. Especially for her, because as a hairy East Asian woman, she finds that most judgment directed at her body hair comes from other women.
“I find there is a lot more stigma toward body hair on other East Asian women because we are ‘supposed to be’ naturally hairless,” said Hu. “However for me, it feels like I’m a body-hair anomaly, and I regularly find myself jealous of other East Asian and Southeast Asian women for having less body hair in general.”
AMARA AUGUSTE, 20
For many womxn, “Nair” can be an extremely triggering word. Amara Auguste, 20, can attest to this fact. She recalled a time in middle school when she wore capri pants on a school field trip which resulted in other students making fun of her leg hair, which she says deeply impacted her self-esteem.
“For my next school trip I had my mom put Nair on my legs and I ended up leaving it on for too long, burning my skin, getting a rash, and killing some hair follicles,” she said. “The negatives of removing my leg hair seemed to outweigh the positives, and I haven’t really shaved my legs since.”
Auguste described how she has grown to embrace the long, dark hair that covers her legs, knuckles, arms, and sometimes face.
“It’s not going anywhere, and we need to keep saying this so little girls know that it is okay.”
VANESSA NEWMAN, 23
Mainstream feminism also fails to realize that body hair can act as a tool for queer and trans folx to feel more like their authentic selves. Vanessa Newman, 23, while acknowledging that body hair does not make everyone feel masculine, reflects on the fact that it does have that effect on them.
“On this nonbinary journey, I feel like my body is limiting sometimes, where I wish I had something or didn’t have something,” they said. “I wish I would grow more facial hair. I wish it was gender neutral and women and men could grow it. That’s what I miss about Snapchat: the stubble filter.”
As someone who doesn’t normally shave, Newman expressed that this is not for political reasons, but for financial ones.
“I don’t shave my body hair because I am trying to make a statement, it’s because it is expensive and I don’t have time to shave. It’s a lot of work that I am fine without doing,” they said.
Newman also feels that views on body hair may be generational. They recounted a recent trip to an affluent country club in Atlanta with their grandmother that resulted in them being forced to shave their legs because their grandma insisted they were around “respectable people”.
“If I can’t go out in a skirt or shorts because I’ll be treated differently because of my leg hair, the problem isn’t over,” they said. “Until it isn’t a big deal, we need to make it a deal and have the external agency.”
FELISA ADDERLEY, 21
Felisa Adderley, 21, feels that it’s not only mainstream feminism that pushes people to move on from certain social issues — it’s also the internet.
“It makes us feel like we have to move on to the next thing, and it’s very unfortunate,” she said.
While Adderley did grow up in a household that allowed her to feel comfortable in her body hair, she also grew up in a predominantly white town where she constantly felt stereotyped and otherized because of her thick eyebrows or arm hair. Today, she uses conversation to confront these stereotypes.
“I get asked a lot if I don’t shave it because I’m a feminist and sometimes that bothers me, but I always try to push the conversation to get the root of why I can’t just have body hair because I want it,” says Adderley. “I think it helps break the stereotypes and stigma if I get people to think critically about what they’re asking me.”
While Adderley normally chooses to remain unshaven, she still struggles with body hair when it comes to her armpits.
“Sometimes I will check my armpits before I go out and maybe shave them down, and I wonder if I am succumbing to someone… I also notice when people notice my armpit hair, I can see them see it,” she said.
ANYI SANCHEZ, 19
Anyi Sanchez, 19, grew up in a Dominican home where she feels that sexism played a role in the insecurities that created her perception of body hair.
“It is a close-minded culture that indoctrinates all of those sexist values or beliefs. One of those beliefs being that body hair is ‘manly,’ ‘gross,’ ‘disgusting,’ and ‘unhygienic’ on women,” she said. “From a young age, that has shaped me into a somewhat insecure person and made me always feel shameful about embracing my body hair.”
Only recently did Sanchez evolve to accept and love her body hair, but she emphasizes that this is a process of unlearning and self-growth that should not be rushed by mainstream feminism.
“I slowly stopped shaving a lot of areas, but I can’t fully embrace it all at once,” she said. “Just because someone else is comfortable doesn’t mean that everyone is at that stage.”
Check out some behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot below.