Hi, my name is Chelsea and I am hairy. As a member of the human species, an animal and mammal, I sprout hair. It grows all over my body; most notably on my scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, arms, legs, and pubic area. I’ve got hair on my hands and feet, and a fine almost invisible hair that grows nearly all over my entire body. If you are a human like me, there’s a good chance you’ve got some hair too.
In addition to identifying as a human with hair, my sex organs tell me I’m biologically female, and sometimes I agree with that gender assignment as well, (even though I identify more as ‘human’ than ‘female’). As a result of this, I’ve been slowly and (sub)consciously learning and picking up clues from my environment, experiences, and culture about what it means to be a woman.
Women with(out?) Body Hair
The most pervasive representations of women I see in my society come in the form of advertisements. Nearly everywhere I look, where the female is represented, I see a sexualized, artificially manipulated and hairless version of myself. A woman like me – decorated, modified and sexualized – for the purpose of selling us the latest products, services, ideas and consumables out there.
Sex sells, hair is not sexy, and apparently exclusively permitted on our heads and male counterparts. Think about it: you just don’t see female body hair portrayed anywhere. Which gets me thinking; why have we decided to collectively deny the existence of female body hair?
Why have we decided to collectively deny the existence of female body hair?
On the whole, we don’t see female body hair represented in mainstream media. Maybe it just doesn’t help to fulfill the purpose of advertising – to make us feel like we’re not good enough until we buy product X – okay. But that does not explain why we also generally don’t see female body hair in two other major spheres; porn and everyday life.
I would certainly like to think that the world of porn, and everyday life, are somehow intrinsically opposites. But in so many ways, the ‘real world’ influences porn and vise versa. Similarly to how body hair in porn has been marginalized to exclusively vintage or fetish collections; real world women who forgo hair removal risk being labeled, categorized, dismissed, ridiculed or put down. The words ‘outsider’, ‘extreme feminist’ and ‘dirty hippy’ come to mind – have you ever used those words to refer to a woman who exercised her freedom of choice one day by deciding not to shave?
Wake up and fix yourself – remove your body hair before you go outside – or else suffer the consequences. This is the message we’ve been sending women everywhere, discouraging them from showing themselves in their natural state.
If you’re a man reading this right now, ask yourself, what do you do to get yourself ready to go out every day? How do you make yourself ‘presentable’? On the whole, my impression is that men can wake up, splash some water on their faces and go out and face the day. If women make the same choice however, their personal and professional lives may very likely suffer.
Trying to Conform to an Impossible Ideal
So, throughout my life, I learned that being a woman meant having no body hair. Long, luscious locks and perfectly manicured eyebrows were acceptable; everything else, an abomination – blasphemous to society’s highly regarded feminine ideal.
In practical terms this meant that I tried my best to conform to societal standards for women for the majority of my life. Using shaving, makeup, and fashion to manipulate my looks – and consequently, the reactions I got from those around me.
I thought that if I don’t shave before a job interview, I won’t get the job. If I don’t shave before a date, I won’t get the guy. If I don’t modify my body to fit the supposedly female norm, I’ll be not only a hideous, hairy monster, but also rejected and ostracized by the society to which I belong.
I thought that if I don’t shave before a job interview, I won’t get the job. If I don’t shave before a date, I won’t get the guy.
As a woman with a substantial (read: normal) amount of body hair, I felt like I was the lone exception to the female, no-body-hair rule. I made myself miserable imagining I was hairier than the rest of the female population. (Sound familiar?)
The unwanted hair was in all the places I thought it ‘shouldn’t’ be: on my toes, feet, legs, pubic area, navel, between my butt cheeks, under my arms, around my nipples, under my chin, above my lip, around my jawline, between my eyebrows. I considered myself a menace, a disgrace to the female human species!
In my efforts to stave off the growth of my body hair, I plucked, shaved, waxed, and epilated. I tried using bleach and other harsh chemical products to lighten or remove the hair. I considered spending thousands on laser hair removal. My efforts were both time consuming and futile. No matter how much hair I removed one day, it would come back the next, often appearing thicker and darker than it had before.
This is where I was at at the age of 27 – fed up after years of spending hours each week trying to fight the fact that my body hair exists – when I heard about and started practicing Radical Honesty.
Transforming My Relationship to My Body Hair through Radical Honesty
In April 2018, I attended my first Radical Honesty workshop, where I learned powerful skills to transform my life by telling the truth. We learned how to pay attention to what was going on at any given time around us, within our bodies, and in our minds.
I Notice, I Imagine
One exercise we did on this workshop was called, ‘I Notice, I Imagine’. I stood together with another participant, looking into each other’s eyes. We took turns reporting out loud to the other, things that we noticed about them (things we could see) followed by our imaginings. Reporting the first thing we see, followed by the first thing we imagine. For example, “I notice your glasses; I imagine you like to read books.”
My partner carefully scrutinized me and commented on several parts of my body and physical appearance. Upon hearing some of his noticings and imaginings, I was neutral; others felt quite positive and were well received. Others, I took as a blow to the heart and after the exercise, found myself crying as I returned to the circle to discuss the exercise with the group.
Although I am smiling in the photo above, the truth was, I was terrified to be seen. Scared to look into the eyes of another human being, in broad daylight; to have their entire focus on me – not on what I was saying but on my physical appearance. I was terrified he would see me up close, and to my horrification, discover all the ways I fail to live up to that feminine ideal.
And that’s exactly what happened: he pointed out the skin on my face and judged it to look dirty; noticed my arms and judged them to be ‘hairier than most girls arms’, and worst; saw the hair under my chin that I try so hard to hide from everyone. I was mortified. After 15 years of striving to fit some female ideal, I was failing, blatantly.
Experiencing My Experience
I sat in the circle and cried while the other participants and coaches around me sat patiently, present to my experience. There I had the space to feel all my emotions, and let my sadness, anger, frustration, embarrassment, shame, and whatever else – all just be there. I shared about how I was making myself feel embarrassed and unworthy in the group.
I was most ashamed of the tiny black hairs on my chin and neck. There, I was invited to stand up in the middle of the circle and to show each person, one by one, what I was terrified for them to see. Effectively, facing my own worst nightmare.
Shaking and with tears streaming down my face, I showed the group what I didn’t want them to see most. I felt my body throughout the experience, and expressed any resentments and appreciations which came up. Eventually I calmed down and the workshop moved on.
Afterwards I also had a follow up talk with my partner about the exercise. He expressed a lot of compassion and even expressed attraction to me, despite having seen the ‘imperfections’ I was so worried he would see.
This was the beginning of my Radical Honesty journey and the start of a new relationship with my body hair. The workshop was uncomfortable and messy, and also one of the most rewarding things I had done with my life. There it became clear to me that my body hair was a big topic I was going to have to work on.
During that retreat, I remember making repeated trips to the bathroom to apply make-up, brush my hair, and tweeze any hairs that sprouted up in places they didn’t ‘belong’. There were many, and it was a dimly lit bathroom, so I remember not being able to get them all and feeling disgusted with myself. This was a familiar feeling, but not one that I wanted to continue living with for the rest of my life.
I wanted to get to a place where I could feel comfortable in my own skin, in the company of myself and others. So I went home, and for the first time, began experimenting with the idea of not shaving my legs.
My No-Shaving Experiment
Over the next few months, I experimented with letting go of the idea of perfection, stopped trying to live up to the feminine ideal, and started trying to accept myself for how I am. I wanted to love and accept myself, body hair and all.
Continuing to face my worst nightmare, I went about eight months without shaving my leg hair. I imagine that I became the ‘hairy beast’ I feared I would be! My hair was dark and on my pale skin, stuck out like a sore thumb (or so I imagined).
This photo was taken during one of the first times I’d ever really experienced my own leg hair. I sat with myself, noticing the amount of hair on my legs, the color, thickness, where it grew and where it did not. I cried as as I looked down at myself, imagining that in my most natural state, I was completely foreign to myself.
Over the next few days, weeks, and months, I did my best to embrace the uncomfortable experience I was having, as I had been taught through my practice of Radical Honesty.
Learning to Love Myself with Body Hair
As time went on, the initial shock of seeing my own body hair subsided and I started to get used to myself in my new, furrier state. I even started to enjoy and appreciate the sensation of hair on my legs; for example, feeling the wind blowing through my hair on a hot summer’s day!
Moreover there was something sexy about it; I experienced myself in a new and exciting way. Like an adorable, fuzzy bunny or a fierce tiger who was just seeing her stripes for the very first time; I felt empowered and curious about myself.
As I got more and more comfortable with myself at home, I began to venture out of my comfort zone and show my body hair in public. Below are a few photos of me from this time.
I had succeeded in confronting my own fears of facing myself with body hair; and as I ventured out more and more, it was time to face the reactions of others.
Facing Other People’s Reactions to My Body Hair
Just as the amount of hair on my body had changed, so did the reactions I got from those around me.
One day on the tram to work, I was sitting like this, minding my own business:
Suddenly, a man came out of nowhere and started yelling at me in German saying ‘Women don’t sit that way!’ Was it simply because my #womanspreading posture offended him, or did my leg hair have something to do with it too? I’ll never know.
Around the same time, my lover became less sexually interested in me because I had hairy legs – and we stopped sleeping together. In these ways and more, the simple act of growing out my leg hair shook my world.
I continued dating, only to be faced with the humiliation of what would happen when my date discovered that I did not shave – and that a natural woman resided inside the clothes that kept me so well-hidden and protected from another’s scrutiny.
I was afraid to reveal myself to any new potential lovers, as their disapproval would discourage me from getting closer, or allowing myself to be seen by someone who might ‘reject’ me for the way my body looks.
For this reason or perhaps another, I decided to try shaving my legs again.
The Strangeness of Being Shaved Bare Again
To see how it would feel to go back to my old ways, I shaved everything – and I mean everything – again. It’s what I had done, and considered normal, up until the age of 28(!). I remember feeling the strange way that removing virtually all of my body hair (at least from the waist down) immediately sexualized my body in a way that was at once, creepily, both pornographic and childlike.
I looked down at my body after removing the hair from my legs and public area and thought, ‘I look like a sex doll!’ No wonder a society that has been dominated by men since the beginning of human history prefers me fully-shaven than in my natural state.
I did like the way my legs felt immediately after shaving. Yet, that sensation seemed to last hours at best. All it took was getting goosebumps for a few moments and bam! The stubble would be back.
My brief experiment with shaving again quickly taught me that I don’t care for it; I don’t like the chemicals in shaving cream, the way the razor feels against my skin, the dryness I’m left with afterwards, the risk to cut myself and bleed, the itchiness that sometimes ensued, the time it takes to remove all of one’s body hair, the way it irritated my skin, and last but not least, the way that it would grow back again almost immediately.
Having relatively thick, dark hair on my legs, it seemed crazy now to try to keep it removed. It was like fighting nature: futile, and the reward was not really worth the daily effort and hassle.
So I stopped shaving again, this time with more courage to be with myself, as I am.
Where I’m at Now
Now, it’s March 2020 and I don’t remember the last time I shaved my legs – it’s been a while. I stopped shaving most of my body although I do still remove hair from different areas as I like.
I’ve taken part in nine Radical Honesty workshops since that first one (on the path to becoming a Radical Honesty trainer), and have explored the topic of my body hair in nearly all of them. In the most recent workshop, I judge that the topic was not such a big deal for me.
I sat in the workshop in shorts, nervously albeit purposefully revealing my unshaven legs to the group. After shaking slightly for the first few minutes, afraid of what the others might say, my body calmed down as I realized that no one really cared about my leg hair. When I asked for their reactions, one person even said they find my body hair, and me, sexy. Me, in my shorts, with long pale legs covered in dark brown hair! That was the last reaction I expected, and I made myself feel great about it.
We did the ‘I notice, I imagine’ exercise again. This time, my partner did not mention the hair under my chin as I feared she would. So after the exercise, I showed her and asked if she had noticed it; she said no. I felt relieved. Perhaps my body hair was not such a big deal as I had made it out to be.
Overall, not shaving my legs has turned out not to be as bad as I expected it to be. Here is a quick summary of some of the good and bad side effects I experienced as a result of not shaving my legs:
- My lover found me less sexually interesting.
- A new potential lover expressed not liking my leg hair.
- Getting yelled at by a stranger on the tram.
- Having one or two people describe my body hair as ‘disgusting’.
- Getting a few looks/stares from people in public.
- People saying they respect me for showing my body hair.
- People saying they are inspired by me.
- People saying I am brave or courageous.
- People expressing attraction to me, or finding me beautiful, in spite (or because) of my body hair.
- Becoming more comfortable with myself & worrying less about what people think of me.
- Finding new friends and a partner, who like and accept me for who I am.
For me, I can live with both the positive and negative reactions to my body hair; the joys of being true to myself and living authentically far outweigh any ‘bad’ reactions someone else might have to me.
I am still working towards loving myself completely – looking down at my unshaven legs will always be a reminder of my commitment to love myself.
Looking down at my unshaven legs will always be a reminder of my commitment to love myself.
If you are a human struggling with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy around your body hair, I wish for you what I’ve found for me; the freedom to decide how I show up in this world. The freedom to do what’s best for me, and to love myself despite stupid societal expectations.
So before I wrap this up, I want to leave you with a few tips on what helped me to get comfortable with my body hair.
Tips for Getting Comfortable with Your Body Hair
- It’s about the journey, not the destination. Do not get too disappointed in yourself for not being where you want to be. Things like this take time.
- Practicing Radical Honesty & coming clean about the other ways you hide your true self can help you on your journey towards radical self-disclosure and deeper intimacy with yourself and others.
- Talking to other women or people in a similar situation to you can be super empowering and purpose-affirming.
- Doing mirror work can help to you to cultivate a strong and consistent practice of self-love.
Letting Your Gorgeous Wild Ways Shine
Removing one’s body hair is like trimming a tree. It can certainly be done for practical or aesthetic reasons. And while the tree may look nicely manicured afterwards, the beauty of the newly trimmed tree cannot be compared to that of the natural, wild tree itself, growing to its full potential.
In this way, discovering and embracing my unadulterated self has been one of the most rewarding, albeit challenging, pleasures I have known.
With that, I’d like to leave you with a poem (written by myself):
You are as wild as the untamed forest,
as vast as the unending sky.
So let all your gory rawness;
your glorious, gorgeous colors
Did you like this story? If so, share it with a friend and spread the body hair positivity!
- Learn more about Radical Honesty
- Find a Radical Honesty workshop near you
- Alicia Keys on Going Makeup-Free
(This post has been published additionally on the Radical Honesty blog – check it out!)