I’ve always had a difficult relationship with my body hair. It started pretty young. In year 8 gym class, to be exact: 35 pairs of beady eyes glaring at my fuzzy legs told me something was wrong – and it wasn’t my M&S own-brand plimsolls. It was my unshaved legs.
A few elbow nudges here and there; a couple of sniggers behind me. The blood rushed to my cheeks and – in an effort to disappear down a pothole of my own making - I pulled my socks up as far as they could go. Who was I trying to kid? The pothole spat me back out.
In retrospect, the problem wasn’t my hairy, unshaved legs – it was the pressure to conform at such an impressionable age. So when I ran home that day in tears and begged my mum to buy me my first razor, I know why she said no. Your body is beautiful, she said. Don’t change yourself to be like everyone else. You’re too young for all that. And yes, with hindsight, I was. She was right.
It didn’t stop me waxing my lower legs that summer. I was thirteen then and I’ve been waxing them ever since. Over the years I’ve often questioned why I do it – and who I’m doing it for.
I’ve always believed the answer to this question was simple: ME of course. I hate those dark, wiry hairs – and I take great satisfaction in ripping them off, neat oblong by neat oblong, until my legs are smooth and shiny and soft. I feel improved. I'm a better me.
Here’s the thing, though: how do I know? I’ve been drip-fed since I even hit puberty that leg hair is BAD and bikini hair is WORSE. Take last week, for instance: I undressed at my local swimming pool and wrapped a towel round my waist to shield mankind from my unruly pubic hair like it was some kind of radioactive kryptonite.
Why am I resisting the overwhelming urge to wax when it makes me feel ugly? Good question. Stubbornness? Partly. But, actually, it’s a complicated mix of things that I’m in the process of separating out.
I could begin by telling you that I’m a freelance writer and salon waxing is expensive or that I’m making some kind of feminist statement. Both these assertions are true. I can’t afford £50 every fortnight – and I really resent plucking my body to transform it into some kind of pre-pubescent, hairless state. I’ve read The Beauty Myth. I resent the fact that it’s been twenty-six years since Naomi Wolf’s landmark feminist text rallied against the pressures placed on women to aesthetically conform – and yet here I am – hiding under a towel like some kind of furry fugitive in my local leisure centre. What’s that all about?
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I’m also lazy. Have you ever tried to wax the back of your leg whilst contorted on the bathroom floor? It’s hard work. I’ve experienced sadistic yoga sessions that have been physically easier to master – and on both counts I’m paying for the privilege. Which is – in itself – also a feminist issue if you think about it. How much money am I losing by subscribing to this regime? And how much time? According to a survey conducted in 2013: £8,000 during my lifetime, and 72 days. That’s 1,728 hours. And yet I deem my Sopranos box set too ‘time consuming’?
If I’m completely honest, though, it always goes back to the question of ‘whom’ – who’s it for? Susan Sarandon once said, ‘I look forward to being older, when what you look like becomes less and less an issue and what you are is the point.’ For far too long I’ve subscribed to a certain way of looking and, at 33, I’m still fighting a part of myself: the thirteen-year-old girl who looked down at herself and felt ashamed. I’m not sure that sits well with me.
So, basically, until I can look at my body hair in the shower, and not hear the laughter of 35 gym kids, I’m resisting those wax strips. I’m going to try and love what’s there.
Will I succeed? I honestly don’t know. Perhaps I'll always wonder what other people think. I'm hoping I won't. My judgments are so ingrained it’s hard to separate my own thoughts from everyone else’s.
It shouldn’t matter whether I keep something society calls ‘unwanted’. Somehow it does - and it makes me feel more determined to resist.
By Kat Lister