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    7 MIN READ


    A case for loving your body hair in a world that is preoccupied with feminine sterility. 

    My mum told me she was sad the first time I asked her if I could start shaving my legs. I was 12, and I had already grown ashamed of the dark hair that boys would point out to me on the playground. It took years of practice before I could do it without cutting my ankles or knees, tiny nicks that would bleed incessantly and sting in the shower, patched up by bandaids before school. In and out of the years of high school I felt ashamed of my dark thick hair that would always creep back no matter how many times I took a razor to it on steamy bathroom floors. At the girls school I went to, we proclaimed ourselves feminists, but kept each other in line by removing everything that grew below our eyes. I was told it was wrong to have hair below your neck, that to be feminine and sexually desirable was to be hairless – as if that same hair was not what began to grow as I went through puberty and became a woman. During and after high school, I continued to shave, always a little resentful of the pressure I felt to erase that part of my body when men didn’t have to.

    In 2020, right as the world was turned on its head, I started facing some major health issues which changed the way I looked at my body drastically. I was experiencing crippling digestive and joint pain, due to an undiagnosed genetic disorder. I lost the ability to function or work like I used to, and have spent my early twenties trying to fix myself. After the first year of no answers, I was presented with the option of a double knee reconstruction as a step toward regaining some normal functioning. I needed the surgery for both legs, and would have to undergo a lengthy and painful recovery for each one. The night before the first operation, I vividly remember standing in the shower crying from fear of what lay ahead. And of course, in the midst of my mental anguish, I glanced down and absentmindedly wondered if I needed to shave before the surgery. 

    Would anyone mind if my legs had hair while they were cutting me open?

    It was just another moment where I was worrying about what other people might think of me in my natural state, even more ludicrous considering the circumstances. Despite how many waves of feminism and countless equal rights campaigns, we are all still walking around pretending like women don’t grow body hair. You don’t see it in advertisements or television, in films, in porn, on billboards or in real life. I’d lost count of the time and money I’d spent in grim processes of hair erasure, like laser hair removal where you “get used” to the brutal pain after a few eye-watering treatments.

    To live as a woman is to walk a fine line. There are so many contradictions to navigate, beyond just body hair. From periods to our breasts, we’re constantly told to hide the things that make us female, except for when it’s pleasing to the male gaze. It’s an exceptionally confusing way to grow up, and my younger self was left to ponder which other parts of me would be unwanted. I found myself wearing bras, hiding period products at work, dressing more modestly, making a million little choices to mitigate how men would treat me. 

    I always knew the concept of women having to shave made me uncomfortable, but losing sight of my body the way I had once known it saw these confusing feelings begin to crystallise into a clear question: how did I spend so long hating my body hair and thinking it was unsexy, when it only grew when I was capable of having sex? 

    That night in the shower the day before my surgery, I decided to leave my hair the way that it was. Through those hard months of recovery, in and out of lockdowns, I watched in awe as my leg knit itself back together as if nothing had ever happened. From being bedridden to crutches to finally being able to walk and then dance again, the resentment to my hair melted away. I finally looked at my natural legs with a sense of appreciation and wonder, as if they had been perfect all along. I stopped hating myself for the way I was and slowly became more comfortable with people seeing my body hair. I hoped maybe little girls would see my legs and know that it’s okay, like I wish someone had told me when I was younger.

    It’s been over a year since my last surgery now, and my relationship to my body hair has changed immensely. I still do shave now and then, but now it feels like much more of a personal choice, rather than something I have to do. I see my body hair as just another part of myself that is beautiful and feminine, as I now see I am inherently beautiful and feminine.

    Over so many hours spent in waiting rooms and surgeries, I’ve come to see my body less as decoration, and more as a complex organism: growing, changing, healing.

    The pressure to remove body hair is even more magnified for women of colour, trans women and non-binary people, who face much more discrimination and many more hurdles to fit into society’s westernised lens of beauty. Nadine Ajaka provides an overview of how harmful hair removal standards are rooted in racism and misogyny in this article for The Atlantic. Chiddera Eggerue, one of the best feminist writers out there, features in a documentary about pubic hair, and you can read her incredibly eloquent take on it for Grazia here. Gender non-conforming poet and activist Alok V Menon speaks often of the pressures to remove body hair for all people in this piece for the BBC, as well as a poem on their website which you can visit here

    Portia Theodora is a Sydney/Eora based writer and artist. Inspired by nature, Portia looks to illuminate the living world around us, and its endless ability to heal and grow. Her work is led by her own personal experiences of illness and grief, and aims to bring feelings of visibility to those facing similar challenges. Disillusioned by the false sense of community sold to us by social media, and the way it sells consumerism and wealth as the path to happiness, Portia’s art is her journey to finding joy and purpose in the real world.