I remember growing up, I was a big fan of the TV show “That 70’s Show.” It had a catchy intro and featured a group of teenagers, one of them even a migrant like me! In one episode, one of the characters went ring shopping for his girlfriend. The store owner tried to help him choose a ring by putting it on and pretending to be her. However, the boyfriend was “thrown off” by the store owner’s knuckle hair.
I recall staring in the mirror and wondering if I had the same effect on people. Would others be “thrown off” by me wearing rings that drew attention to my hairy knuckles? Should I not wear rings? And was my chin maybe in need of a trim too?
Later that year I purchased my first pack of razors. I shaved my knuckles, my arms, my legs, my toes, and my armpits. I was fourteen years old, had just been separated from my mother, and was looking for a sense of control in my life.
My relationship with shaving has been on and off since then, from my very first Nair mishap in my late teens to throwing away a handful of razors as an adult. It has now been about two years since I last shaved. None of the TV shows I watched growing up had prepared me for the world I grew into, a world in which in order to survive I had to choose to love myself, daily and unapologetically. By choosing to stop shaving, I’ve chosen to stop policing my body, and though I understand that others are empowered by shaving, I wasn’t.
Here are eight things that happened when I stopped shaving and instead chose to dig deeper into my radical self-love.
1. My body has become even more hypervisible
By choosing to no longer shave, my body is seen by others as “other.” My invisibility cloak is gone, and though I’ve always been an outsider in a city that is mostly white and conservative, choosing to grow my body hair places yet another layer of difference between me and my neighbors.
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2. Those close to me express their discontent
Having a hairy body in my hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah means having a different body. As my neighbors and family have noticed this, my body has become a topic of conversation.
As someone who is curvy and curly, I’ve grown up listening to my family’s comments about my weight and the state of my hair. Adding my body hair to the mix made my mother particularly uncomfortable. One Christmas night, she begged me to let her trim my chin hairs before we went out to eat with our family. That night, I wore long pants, a shirt with sleeves long enough that they covered my armpits, and the necklace she had brought me back from Peru.
Camouflaging myself to put those around me at ease got old really fast.
3. Nonetheless, I’ve grown more confident
As I explored my choices, and my personal reasons behind them, I became more and more confident about these choices, as well as my appearance. Once I’d made the decision not to shave, there was no going back for me. I knew that the person in the mirror was the femme I’d been waiting for all these years.
My family and friends eventually got used to it, and I did too. It stopped being weird and became something I’m now proud of. I love my body hair. I love my hairy armpits and my hairy legs.
4. My fashion choices are freer
I’ve started wearing shorter skirts, as well as dresses and shorts. Outfits that I never would’ve worn as an insecure teenager have now become my fashion staple as a confident adult.
5. Getting ready to go out has become easier and faster
I used to have a ritual before heading to work, school, or even grocery shopping. In my head I would make up an image of what was acceptable at home and what was acceptable outside.
It took me years to realize that I wasn’t comfortable unless I complied with these expectations. I’d look in the mirror and feel comfortable with my face without makeup, my breasts without a bra, but never my body with hair, despite the fact that this was the most natural of transitions.
I couldn’t stop my body from growing hair, just as I couldn’t stop myself from feeling ashamed of it — until I was able to re-evaluate my priorities and work on my self-worth, of course. Now I’m able to leave the house without undergoing that mental ritual or shaming myself.
6. I feel healthier
When I stopped shaving, I stopped having random cuts and rashes on my legs. My skin felt softer and less dried out. This wasn’t an overnight change for me, but looking back, I can’t help but cringe over how much pain I would go through on a weekly basis just to have those tiny little hairs gone from my legs.
I remember ex-partners telling me how much they loved my legs, but nowadays I have lovers who touch my hairy legs and say those very same words. It feels different, in a good way.
7. My sex life improved
As I started loving every hairy part of my body, as well as every part of my partners’ bodies, my sex life changed for the better. Sex became less about a performance and more about spontaneity. I found myself with newfound confidence.
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8. My art, and my self-worth, were transformed
Choosing to love my hairy body changed my art. I started drawing thick femmes, hairy femmes. And in so doing, I found myself falling in love with my body, as every drawing became a poem to this new self.
And at the same time this “new” self wasn’t new. Choosing to no longer shave felt like coming home, like turning back time and taking all of my childhood back. As a survivor of border trauma and various forms of abuse, this is tied to my healing process.
Growing up as an immigrant, I was taught to assimilate and blend in as much as I could. To be able to do this was tied to my survival. And though I’ve had my immigration status be up in the air, I’ve still made choices that made me feel safe. In a world in which the legality of my body is questioned by politicians and lawmakers on a daily basis, choosing to love my body is its own testament to freedom.
I wake up in the morning, surprised at this new life that I’ve been building. I feel my body, and touch the soft parts, the bulgy parts, the fat and hairy parts, and it all feels so good.
I make late breakfast and eat as much as I want. I bicycle to work, singing about falling in love, and when I come home, I feel safe. I feel confident. I feel happy.
These changes have come gradually, and through many different choices, one of them being to no longer shave. But the most important one has been simply to love myself as I am.
It’s still difficult for me to practice this form of self-love. I am still unlearning to see myself through the lenses of those around me. But by being intentional about manifesting love in everyday actions that are important for my health, I am practicing self-love. And this makes my body happy, and healthy, in every way.
[Feature Image: A grey scale photo of a person with brown skin and long dark curly hair. They look upwards with an understated smile and clasp their hands under their chin as if they’re in deep thought. They are wearing a black and white shirt with large flowers. One elbow is leaning on a pillow. Source: Gabriel S. Delgado C.]