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Choosing not to shave

A few weeks ago, my friend Holly started laughing in the middle of the article on “feminist myths” she was reading. “Hey,” she calledPatricia Torvalds to me and began reading from the article. “Myth number four: Feminists don’t shave their legs or armpits.” She laughed again. “Patricia ...”

I laughed, too. I hadn’t shaved my armpits since the first week of January. For the first time ever, I had underarm hair.

I started shaving my armpits as soon as the hair grew in, probably in sixth grade. Sold on the idea that women and girls had to be largely hairless to be attractive and wanting to mimic my friends and older girls I knew, I never really questioned my daily shaving routine. Shaving my legs soon followed, and week after week I squealed with my friends about how soft my legs were and freaked out if anyone felt them while they were even the slightest bit hairy.

Armpit hair was even more embarrassing than leg hair. Armpit hair was for guys, and it was gross and dirty and smelled bad. I was forever fearful that I’d miss a hair and felt ashamed on more than one occasion when I did.

In 1914, Gillette, looking to expand its market, began releasing advertisements that depicted women’s body hair as unfeminine. The scheme caught on. The global market for shaving products for men and women alike is expected to hit $33.3 billion by 2015. This monster of an industry runs, at least in large part, on shaming women into believing that their body’s natural function is gross. And that $33.3 billion doesn’t even account for waxing, lasering or any other lengths we go to to remain silky soft.

So, I stopped shaving my armpits. I shaved my legs on occasion, when it became uncomfortable to feel the hairs. And in doing so, I learned a lot about my family, my friends and myself.

I’m probably most proud of the reactions from my friends. I did my best not to hide my armpit hair, although I didn’t quite advertise it. Whenever it came up, however, my friends reacted with respect, interest and other positive reactions. I tweeted my frustration with my mom’s insistence that I shave and received nothing but positive feedback. I told a friend of mine and his brother about my mission when he mentioned his frustration with a celebrity who had recently shamed women who chose not to shave their body hair. He shrugged. “Oh, OK,” he responded, maybe a little surprised by my casual mention of my bodily habits. The people I chose — and choose — to spend my time with supported me every step of the way.

However, even my friends’ casual acceptance of my hair-related choices didn’t solve every issue I had. I second-guessed myself when choosing short-sleeved shirts to wear, and not just because it was cold outside. I worried, entirely without cause, that my boyfriend, Logan, would think it was gross, and I struggled endlessly in my eventual decision not to shave when it came time to see him again. Logan, of course, has done nothing but support and empower me. The social system I’ve grown up in still has me believing that I’m less desirable for having armpit hair.

In my ballet class, I feared that my fellow dancers would be disgusted by my very visible patches of dark hair or even that my teachers would ask me to shave, and then what would I do? I worried that publishing this column would garner similar disgust from the community at large, although none of the girls at my dance class have shot me so much as a weird look when I raise my arms to fourth or fifth position. I’ve spent over a month growing my armpit hair out. I’m fond of it, but I fear it. It’s a daily reminder that I don’t want to be a part of a society that teaches us that girls must be pretty and hairless and quiet. And it reminds me just as often that I do focus on looks, and I do still worry about the hair I’m cultivating — and that I am a part of the system.

Despite all my cheer and optimism, I’m sure there are people who saw or heard of my hairy armpits and felt repulsed. I guess that’s their issue to deal with. My monthlong journey into extra hair is nothing special on a grander scale. Countless women choose not to shave with much less fanfare and deliberation. I’m no icon or trailblazer for anyone but myself. But as it stands, I’m proud of myself for having taken the path less shaven.

Patricia Torvalds is a junior at Riverdale High School, and she writes a regular column for the Review. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



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