Here’s a short-ish story I wrote for a writing class I’m taking down here. It’s about pit hair and its pitfalls. Enjoy.
The last parts of my body that dry off are my armpits. Post-shower when I towel off, I raise my arms over my head, rubbing the hair in circles. If I go too hard, the hair will accidentally catch on the towel, which hurts like a sonofabitch. It’s fine if I tug my armpit hair, but not when something else does.
The way it came to be was an accident. I lived with five other people in a three-bedroom in Pilsen in 2014, the second year of Polar Vortexes, in a room the size of my bed with no heat or ventilation and a broken space heater. Between the six of us, showers were limited. The hot water would last 15-20 minutes. My hair was recovering from a quarter-life crisis decision to dye and shave most of it off, so my showers didn’t take long, unless I wanted to shave. One night in November, I impulsively faced a tough decision: do I stick out the cold water in order to remove my thick Jewish girl body hair, or do I just leave it?
I decided to leave it alone for now, and I enjoyed the freedom it brought me, but after a while the novelty wore off. I didn’t like the way the air felt on my legs, like the wind was pulling my skin open. I didn’t like my vagina completely unshaven. It didn’t itch, it felt nice, but my partner wasn’t too jazzed, I wasn’t in love with how bushy my underwear looked, how overheated I felt, the aesthetic. Full bush didn’t look cool on me. But I really liked the way my armpits felt and looked. (The Midwestern winters gave it a practical excuse, too.)
I can partially credit my neuroses for keeping it. I love the feeling of pulling on it. It scratches a different anxious itch than pulling out my hair or picking at my skin does. Sometimes, even the feeling of tugging lightly is enough. It’s a quiet, delightful pain, like when you roll your foot on a tennis ball, stretching out your arch, shifting the ball. But credit must go to its aesthetic.
In my early 20s I immersed myself in the burgeoning body acceptance/positivity movement. When I look back on when I loved myself, I remember these beautiful people being themselves for their own pleasure. I saw bodies as they were, not sexualized, no male gaze, just bodies, the people inhabiting them existing fully. Black, asian, hispanic, disabled, queer, nonbinary, trans, questioning, purple hair, septum rings, natural hair, fat, breasts, thick thighs, hair, my god, the hair, big-bellied babes like me, thick hair in imperfect ovals under their arms: brown, blonde, pink, electric blue. The body hair movement was on its way to becoming cool, while holding itself to its feminist roots.
When I’d look at myself, raising my arms up and out, I’d imagine myself as an Artemisia Gentilischi painting: a strong, powerful, always-her-own woman. In my own way, I felt more like a woman, more connected to my femininity and sexuality with my plentiful, dark armpit hair. Maybe it was pheromones. Maybe it was not feeling so damn itchy or self-conscious about stubble. And if I ever needed it gone, it would always grow back. A modifiable accessory for the modern woman.
Before my second ever visit to Miami, I’d decided to take the plunge and dye my pit hair blue, and I’d excitedly told Matt about this cool new thing I was doing. He responded:
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
“It’s not a thing people do down here.”
“I mean, my family isn’t going to understand.”
That’s okay. I can cover up when I’m around them.
“Why do you want to do this?”
I don’t know, because I just… do?
“I just want people to see you as I see you.”
I get that I’d had my post-college embarrassing hair crisis, and it was the first impression Matt’s family got of me. I get that when I’d first started growing it, he’d been skeptical of why. I get that it wasn’t his preferred aesthetic on women, although he supported my body autonomy, which was kind. I get that many of my recourses after bouts of depression have involved physical/aesthetic changes, and that for some folks, it gave them cause for alarm. A therapist once proclaimed my penchant for hair dye and piercings an act of self-harm. I’ve never understood that mentality. His words hurt. I began to panic that his family and friends thought poorly of me. I began to wonder what he’d told them about me. I almost canceled my trip, but it was his 30th birthday, so I went. Fortunately, the dye didn’t take, so I managed to avoid any unpleasantness. The anxiety hasn’t stopped lingering since. While he apologized, I’m not sure he ever understood why it affected me.
I’m not blaming him or that incident for my backslide by any means. I don’t blame my parents’ puzzlement and questions. They feel how they feel. I respect that. It wasn’t until recently, until I moved to Miami, that I began to look at it differently. It didn’t help that the body positivity that allowed me to love the way I looked at 190 pounds, that boosted my mentality enough to try to eat better and take care of myself, leading to weight loss, a different look, had waned over the years to the point where it’s nonexistent, and that I find myself back in a hate-hate relationship with my body, its marks, its padding.
When I worked in Wynwood, I’d been proud to look the way I did. I was in a community of diversity (for how gentrified the area is), of artists and hippie entrepreneurs, a type of crowd I’m familiar with. If my hair hung out, who gave a shit if male tourists would lean in too close to me and hiss politely about how that’s not usually the norm for women. I was in a place that made me forget about my appearance and focus on the potential that had driven me to Miami. The people I work with in the ‘burbs are the kindest. They’ve been nothing but generous and caring. But it wears on a body when the women focus on how fat they look, the diet they’re on, how you should cut out all forms of bread, where their purses and shoes come from. It wears on a body when the men make offhand remarks about attractiveness. It wears on a body when the girls want to give me makeovers or poke my belly, or tell me how skinny I look that day. My self-love has depended on the opinions of others from a young age. Although usually their focus is on themselves, it’s difficult not to feel waves of shame rolling down my body rolls and cellulite, my stretched-out fishbelly-pale thighs.
For the office christmas party, I wore a sleeveless dress that made my hips look gorgeous and made me feel powerful. Before I got in the shower, I asked Matt, “Do you think it’d be weird if I had… this?” I gestured to my armpits.
He said, “I’d prefer if you shaved.”
Oh well. It grows back, right?
He says he notices a change when I shave, like, I don’t look like myself, I don’t seem like I’m all-there. I’d shaved on one of his last visits to Chicago before the move, and he told me afterwards that when he saw me, he’d thought to himself, “That’s not my babygirl.” Me, I feel like my wings have been clipped when I don’t have hair there. The compulsion to get rid of stubble bubbles up in me. I shave until there are angry red bumps that sting when I put on too much deodorant. My arms look too fat, the skin looks too yellow-green. I keep my arms down more, feeling increasingly ashamed, even though my surroundings tell me I shouldn’t.
The last time I showered, I shaved my legs, my cunt, examining each fold and patch of skin carefully, running my fingers over and over the parts I choose to keep bare, trying my hardest to ensure a clean, smooth landscape. Trying to stay fuckable. Once I was done, I considered it. Maybe I’d feel free enough to hold my arms outstretched again someday. My hair was too thick, black hair, never perfectly curly, always poking out in odd, wavy directions. I’d never look like the pictures of pretty people on the internet. Maybe it would turn into something that’s one less imperfection to obsess over. My razor head was too clogged from the hair. I threw it out. I’m buying new razor heads this week.