By nine years old, I had dark, thick hair all over my legs, arms, and stomach. One evening, my brother and I were coming back from his basketball practice and his coach gave us a ride. I guess I was sitting on my brother’s lap in the front seat (it was the '90s), and the coach looked down at our legs and said to my brother, "Man, your sister has hairier legs than you do!"
The comment was supposed to be a dig at my brother—boy, you’re not man enough—you barely grow hair on your legs—but they cut me to the core. Boys were supposed to have lots of hair. Girls were not. I still remember how mortified I was. That night, I begged my mom to let me shave my legs, and she did because she also felt embarrassed for me. I became the first child to shave in my class.
At some point, my perspective on hair shifted. Rather than seeing body hair as “disgusting,” I started to think it looked cute. (I’m pretty sure it was because I saw Miley Cyrus sporting hairy armpits.) Clearly something was changing in popular culture. In fact, according to a report from The Telegraph based on research from Mintel, one in four women under 25 no longer shave their armpits, in comparison to one in 20 back in 2013. I grew out my pit hairs and never looked back.
This dramatic shift was proof that I never actually hated the way body hair looked: I had simply never seen it as an option for female-bodied people. Speaking with Cyrus Veyssi, a non-binary Persian content creator and creative strategist, the topic of body hair came up. “I grew up around many Persians and Persian women. Persian women in general have a lot of hair and still identify as highly femme… I never coded body hair as being masculine or feminine and that’s a reflection of my specific culture.”
Even though I kept the leg hair for two years, I can’t say I ever fell in love with it. I pretended to like the way my leg hair looked, but deep down, I didn’t.
Much of what we deem as “acceptable appearance” is based on the culture we grew up in, the people we surround ourselves with, and the media we consume. But trends around body hair are also changeable. Perhaps you once loved the way you looked with barely-there eyebrows, until one day you found yourself drawing them on thicker. One is not inherently ugly and one is not inherently beautiful—it’s all subjective, and it’s okay to fluctuate preferences with the times. But we don’t have to hate parts of ourselves if they’re not in vogue.
I started feeling rebellious and decided to grow out my leg hair. I tossed my razor and watched the leg hairs turn long and dark and soft. I exposed them on red carpets, wore them to the beach, I dyed them a bright color a few times, and one summer I even glued multicolor gems to them (I have to be honest, that was pretty cute).
But, spoiler alert, even though I kept the leg hair for two years, I can’t say I ever fell in love with it. I pretended to like the way my leg hair looked, but deep down, I didn’t. Sure, I liked not spending time shaving. Yes, I liked saving money on razor blades. I definitely liked that it was a big middle finger to traditional gender roles. But it just didn’t feel like me.
So I decided to shave, though not without some guilt. Was I abandoning my “progressive values”? Was I succumbing to gender norms? Was I (gasp) basic? Why did I feel guilty even when I was making the decision that was right for me?
When those annoying voices about what my body should do, think, or be start to rise in my head, that’s when I fall back on body neutrality. I’m tired of hating my body. But I don’t want to be forced to love it all the time, either—that’s exhausting. What if I could just…exist in it?
I no longer have to remove my hair, I get to remove my hair—on my timeline, on my terms, in my way.
I really do believe one of the most radical and rebellious things you can do is to be neutral about your body. So often our bodies act as a battleground in a war of ideas, weaponized and politicized on all sides. How would it feel to let go of the weight of that burden and allow your body to just be? To allow your aesthetic choices to be just that—simple choices—rather than having them be a flag about your beliefs on unrelated matters? To approach things like body hair and makeup without judgment, towards yourself and others? Forget what society thinks—and by that I mean what all of society thinks, from the most conservative to the most progressive.
Here’s the cool thing about my leg-hair journey: I’m much less attached to it than I was before. Yes, I prefer my legs to be hairless when I’m wearing a mini dress, but I don’t shave every day like I used to. In fact, I’m less bothered by hair generally. These days, I let my hair grow freely, and when something big is coming up and I know my legs will be on display, I’ll wax them myself in my bathroom. I don’t mind wearing shorts with stubble, I don’t panic-shave when my calves aren’t covered, my leg hairs no longer feel dirty or shameful, nor do they feel proud or rebellious. I feel neutral about them: some days hair is there, and some days hair isn’t, and I get to decide. As trivial as it may seem, it’s an incredibly freeing feeling. I no longer have to remove my hair, I get to remove my hair—on my timeline, on my terms, in my way.
Adapted excerpted from I Am More Than My Body by Bethany C. Meyers, out June 27. Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2023 by Bear One Holdings, LLC.
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