The Struggle of The Pit

This is something I wrote for my women’s studies class so it isn’t technically for the writing workshop but it’s free writing, I like it, and think it applies to some things we as a class and I individually have been talking about. We were asked to break a gender norm and then write about the reactions but since I often break these norms out of habit and disinterest in following them I decided to write about one that has been affecting me since I was in sixth grade.

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The Struggle of The Pit

Though American women have overcome a number of issues of dress and beauty in the last century, displaying body hair is still very much a taboo. The control of female body hair has been firmly set in our society. Collectively when we see this “unmanaged” we feel the offender is uncleanly, unkempt, sloppy, it may even be embarrassing. Some feel the need to call a woman out on this or when in a closer relationship they may suggest that the other shave because they personally like the appearance and/or feel of completely smooth legs and armpits. Why should these beauty norms cause intolerance, in the viewer and sometimes the offender themselves?

I’ve had a rocky relationship with shaving since its inception. Because of pressures from classmates I felt the need to shave early on, and the urge became even stronger when we started changing in gym class. My mother wouldn’t allow it at first but after some time she let me use Nair, a hair removal cream that was meant to take away the safety issue with razors. Still, she said I should not shave above my knees. So it was from a fairly early age that I began this beauty ritual that I enacted for others, so I could fit in and avoid being teased or looked at disapprovingly.

Flash ahead to my junior year of high school. I was a punk teenager and had become pretty lazy about shaving or really anything that had to do with beauty standards. I would still keep it up fairly often, though again it was mostly for gym class. I was in a pretty serious relationship with a boy that, for whatever reason, seemed to like it more when I wouldn’t shave my armpits. I wasn’t sure what to make of this. We were punks and perhaps it was just a way of saying “screw you” to society, or just a result of other punks being lazy and doing the same thing. Solidarity. Whatever the reason I was getting male approval for NOT shaving, which seemed to stick. I tried it out a few times and began shaving less frequently on my own terms. Why should I have to do this? Sure, there were a few minor issues of cleanliness but it wasn’t anything serious. Why does the sight of it offend people? Why do I care what they think about my appearance, especially if they are strangers?

I didn’t really think about it much for about five years after that, but since then it started to come up more frequently.  I joined roller derby. I don’t skate and instead am a part of the movement in a way that most people don’t even know exists. I co-founded a cheer and dance team that has roots in the short-lived radical feminist cheerleader movement. At the time our league began many of the players and my fellow teammates did not shave or were at the less frequent level that I was at. It was a collective of alternative minded women that were punks, feminists, and generally a little rough around the edges. As time went on the sport became more mainstream and with it a lot of the older members had been replaced by a wider pool of potentials, many of them having little experience with alternative cultures and radical movements. Not only was I seeing less hair on my league and teammates but I was hearing about it more often. As cheerleaders and dancers our arms are often extended out and above our heads. This meant that everyone – from close friends to first time patrons – were looking right at our pits. I was usually under the practice of shaving the weekend of a bout (performance) because of this but usually wouldn’t shave any other time that month, especially in the cold Wisconsin winter. I thought that was enough but at practie we would see each other’s bare legs and exposed pits 1-5 times a week. I never thought this would be an issue but it started to come up more and more as we gained new members, some of which adhered adamantly to common standards of beauty. We would talk about it frequently, apologizing for not shaving, talking to each other about how often we do it, why we do or don’t do it, and at times felt shame or were offended by the appearance of it. We’ve even pointed it out disapprovingly, either in a confrontational way or behind a teammate’s back, and caused debate. It’s strange – why is this such an issue for a group of open minded women that joined because they wanted to meet other women as friends, have a motivation to be active, and to be a part of an alternative sport? Body hair shouldn’t have any place in a relationship, work out, or performance and yet it is an issue – for our team and many others in our culture – whether it’s neutral chit chat or pointed commentary.

It’s so strange that such an insignificant area as an armpit or a little stubble on a pair of shins would be such a hot topic. Whether the skin is bare, has a five o’clock shadow, or is full grown and out in the open it shouldn’t affect our interaction with others. Some women take body hair to the other end of the spectrum and display it with a sense of pride, liberation, and protest. To me it’s just something I don’t have the interest in maintaining. I ride a line between choosing not to keep up the ritual and continuing it out of a sense of cultural responsibility, but really I just want people to stop paying any attention.

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