To Those Who Feel Left Out of The Body Hair Revolution: I See You

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

“Why do you have sideburns?” a boy in my class sneered at me one day. That very night I rummaged through my parents’ bathroom, gleefully took my father’s sleek silver razor into the shower, and ran it over the thick black hair that had begun to spread across my forearms, legs, and face.

The Body Hair Revolution is now as much of a fashion statement as it is — and was, originally — a feminist movement. It’s now characterized by thin white women boasting bushy armpits and unruly brows and has become more mainstream over the last five years.

The body hair revolution is here — but not everyone got invited.

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Gifted with wild wavy locks and bushy eyebrows, I was forbidden from removing my hair. “Ask your mom for some powder,” my father would huff while snatching his Gillette from inside the shower.

I was often forced to return to my room with a useless tub of talc that my mother assured me would distract people from the swathe of wiry black hair on my legs. (Why? I have no idea. To my knowledge, the powder does nothing.)

School was spent stealing glances at my classmates’ blonde-haired arms, ones that didn’t provoke the disgust my brown ones did. Then suddenly, after years of deliberately disobeying by waxing, threading, plucking, shaving, lasering, epilating, and slathering on smelly depilatory creams, I was once again at odds with the white kids.

Unibrows, hairy toes, and fuzzy faces naturally have larger implications for some than they do for others. For Black and brown folk, it’s about striving to appear hygienic, professional, and “normal” in a world that reminds us we are not.

“Let your underarms grow free,” a well-meaning friend once exclaimed. But it hasn’t ever been that easy. As white women have weaponized their body hair in the rebellion against patriarchal standards of beauty, other women face a common enemy in the pressure to assimilate.

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It aggravated me to watch women reclaim what I thought was never theirs.

Unibrows, hairy toes, and fuzzy faces naturally have larger implications for some than they do for others. For Black and brown folk, it’s about striving to appear hygienic, professional, and “normal” in a world that reminds us we are not.

The benchmark for beauty, shaped by colonization, is fostered by social movements that center whiteness.

“Our discomfort with the body hair, especially that of Black and brown women, is not just influenced by patriarchy but is also a remnant of colonialism,” Naz Riahi, the Iranian American founder of Bitten, an event series challenging how we culturally connect with food, told i-D. “This is a system in which we were taught that fairness, lightness, whiteness and all [that] comes with it — blue eyes, blonde hair, less body hair — is more beautiful, appealing, better.”

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She, too, felt the same cultural possessiveness of the hairy movement. Seeing those who lack the understanding — of how formative racialized shame and cultural abuse are for people of color — helm such a movement… feels remiss.

Those who don’t fit into paradigms of cisgender bodies are at risk of being subjected to taunting, exclusion, and, in the worst cases, violence.

While some have used the phrase “cultural appropriation” to describe this anger, it doesn’t quite fit the tangle of hurt, jealousy, and rage women of color tend to feel when it comes to this modern fetishization of body hair.

“The body hair revolution or no-shave movement typically celebrates body hair in natural places on white women without factoring in that people of color experience body hair beyond growing out underarms,” says Raveena Grover, a South Asian artist who is creating a photo series exploring and celebrating body hair on brown people.

Not all body hair exists as part of the movement — or is a statement.

Those who aren’t able-bodied or thin find that their bodies are often the subject of scrutiny, both publicly and within feminist movements. That is, women of color, fat women, trans women, and old women, as well as genderqueer and nonbinary folk, are all entangled in the body hair web of shame.

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For The Body Is Not an Apology, Ruiz writes, “I feel like those who participate in these movements haven’t always unlearned their own stigmas against bodies like mine to the point where they [can’t] guarantee my safety within their own circles.”

Those who don’t fit into paradigms of cisgender bodies are at risk of being subjected to taunting, exclusion, and, in the worst cases, violence.

For many trans women, removing body hair isn’t about vanity. A cursory Google search produces numerous results for GoFundMe campaigns in which women seek donations for laser hair removal that costs thousands of dollars. By pursuing this treatment, they are hoping to avoid being misgendered while also tackling their gender dysphoria.

Last year, Human Rights Campaign activists cited 26 deaths of transgender people in the United States at the hands of violence, the majority being Black and brown women.

Oscillating between participating in what is outwardly a feminist movement and wanting to do something just because it feels good for yourself is the crux of many internal debates.

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“Sometimes I do just want to shave and have silky-smooth legs, and not feel some kind of guilt that I’m not participating in the movement,” Catherine, a Berlin- based marketing manager, tells me. “If I want to shave my legs, please don’t make me feel like less of a feminist for doing so.”

Of all the women I spoke to, Hélène, a French photographer, is the most shocked by her own hair journey. “I grew up a hairy little mixed girl, and my mom ended up waxing my legs really early just because she would see me so distressed about it. I am to this day in disbelief about how comfortable I am with my body hair now because it was a huge source of anxiety throughout my life.”

I still shave my legs, I still thread my eyebrows, and I still wonder if it’s time to get a wax. What I no longer question is the beauty in my body.

After a bout of the flu, unable to shave as diligently as she usually would, Hélène grew out her hair and discovered that her skin was less irritated.

“I think having partners who explicitly told me they were into it did a lot for me,” she says. “Realizing people… whose views I trusted were different than what I had internalized for so long made me feel more confident in my new choices. Had I seen more bodies that looked like mine [represented in the movement], I would have been hopeful to have the same leeway as white women to let my hair grow.”

The last time I agonized over my body hair was a year ago.

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Following an afternoon with a new wax specialist in the middle of New Jersey, my skin was left ravaged and raw from the hot synthetic beads I once entrusted with the most delicate parts of my body.

“Beauty is pain,” I quipped when leaving the salon. But since, I’ve been too scared to return. I’ve also started to consider if beauty can be whatever I want it to be.

I still shave my legs, I still thread my eyebrows, and I still wonder if it’s time to get a wax. What I no longer question is the beauty in my body: my hairy knuckles, my crooked nose, and the features that point to a rich culture and history, even if they differ from the norm.

Through seeing others’ pain, especially that of the women I spoke with, I began to understand that the areas my hair rules, especially around the strangest parts of my body, are an emblem of what colonization and the patriarchy can’t take away.

It’s the lasting legacy of my history, my ancestors, and my father’s stolen razors — even when it manifests as a unibrow.

*Name has been changed

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