Why I Don’t Wear Makeup or Shave My Armpits
(Featured image instagram @bearcubs)
I don’t wear makeup. I don’t shave my legs or armpits. I cut my own hair. I don’t use nail polish, or wear a bra. I am writing about this mostly because a friend asked me too. She told me it would help to dispel some people’s opinion that I am a ‘weird hippy girl’. So if that is your opinion of me, then this piece is for you (with love of course).
I haven’t always been this way. I spent a lot of my teenage years straightening my hair, learning how to use lipliner, over plucking my eyebrows, drinking too much lambrini, and kissing spotty boys with spiky hair. All things I now consider a waste of valuable time, but still, these actions somehow contributed to the woman I am today, and for that I am grateful.
I remember fighting with my mum the first time I put on makeup, and then again the first time I borrowed her razor to shave my legs. To her, these were signs that I had become self aware and was now in the practice of making myself more desirable to men. I just wanted to grow up and act like the women I saw portrayed all around me in movies, magazines and tv. And yes, I wanted male attention. This was during the time when I used to buy tween magazines with my pocket money. They came with free lipgloss and contained agony aunt pages with advice on how to insert a tampon and the correct length of time to hold a kiss. I even remember one article about how to get a boys attention instructing me to apply lipgloss in front of a boy as it would bring his attention to my lips and make him want to kiss me (wtf did someone say rape culture?). I remember it specifically because I tried it many times. It was just one of the few ways I learnt to objectify myself to get the attention of the opposite sex.
When I was about 14, a girl at school fainted and her top came up a little. A group of boys nearby gathered round, hoping to get a peak at her bra, or better yet, her nipple. This went on until one of the boys shouted ‘eurgh she’s got a snail trail’ (the line of hair between the belly button and the pubic bone), at which point they all leapt back in disgust and dispersed as quickly as they had arrived. Not one of them had offered to help her. On the way home from school that day I used the little money I had to buy veet hair removal cream. After my mum had gone to sleep I covered my entire stomach with it. The prince I had been told would save me wasn’t going to wake me from my 100 years of sleep if he saw I had a snail trail (spoiler alert: you can wake your own damn self).
In my first relationships I spent a lot of time practicing the art of hair removal. Waxing, shaving, bleaching, epilating, hair removal cream. You name it, I’ve tried it, as have many of the other women reading this. A boy seeing me with body hair was my worst nightmare. I was not worthy of love (or what I thought was love) unless I was completely hairless - and I definitely didn’t want the boy to tell everyone I was hairy.
My sister had it worse than I. We are half Greek, and she is blessed with a gene that gives her dark, soft and thick hair. She is descended from the goddesses of Ancient Greece, and the young English boys felt emasculated by her level of unapologetic femininity. They tormented her for years - calling her wolf man and howling at her as she walked past - because she had full eyebrows and dark hair on her arms. Over time, they stripped her of her capacity for self-love. She stopped believing she was beautiful and made every effort to rid herself of the ‘curse’ of her own physicality. A few times she burnt herself from overuse of hair removal cream, leaving scars that she still carries to this day. Why was it acceptable for the boys tormenting her to have hair but not for her?
I spent a lot of my teenage years experimenting with makeup too. I would sit in front of the mirror trying to make my eyes look bigger, my lips fuller and my nose look smaller, following word for word the instructions on popular beauty websites. Don’t get me wrong, I love to look and feel beautiful, but these days I can achieve that without covering every blemish or rouging my cheeks to look like a doll. When I do choose to wear makeup (maybe once a month), there is something sacred and ceremonial about its application. I compare it to war paint or decorating a goddess for ceremony. The outcome no longer concerns me and I am free to experiment with lines, dots, shapes, and colours (AND GLITTER).
I stopped wearing makeup regularly just after a hard breakup, a few months before my 22nd birthday. What started as a reaction to heartbreak soon became part of a personal resistance. I realised I hardly recognised myself without makeup on. I began a process of relearning and redefining who I was, outside of what society told me to be. The entire beauty industry is constructed around making women feel as though they are inadequate, and taking off my makeup was my way of saying fuck you, not only to the boy who broke my heart, but to the entire system that made me feel as though I needed it in the first place. Nobody ‘needs’ to wear makeup.
I stopped shaving about a year later, and I am about to reach my one year anniversary of the last time I shaved my legs (armpits came shortly after). My choice to do this came suddenly one day. I was working in a cafe and in walked a group of 4 young women, probably around 19 years old. What struck me about them was that they were all the same. They had the same hair, were wearing basically the same clothes, they all had eyelash extensions and long fake nails, and they all wore different versions of the same brand of trainers. I honestly felt as though I had fallen down a rabbit hole into some trippy version of the matrix where everyone had been robbed of their individuality.
I understood at this moment that women are not given a choice. You have to wear makeup, you have to be hairless, you have to follow the latest trends and make every effort to make yourself look ‘beautiful’. If you don’t do these things its seen as almost radical. People don’t understand, (and then you have to write a blog post to explain yourself). Society has an image of how a woman should be. Cellulite, stretch marks and hair have no place on the body of the ideal woman. Oh, and she’s also Caucasian - but tanned - and thin, with long hair, perky breasts and full lips. She follows the latest fashion, but doesn’t dress too provocatively, because, you know, she doesn’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention. Anyone who does not fit this mould must adapt and consume accordingly.
The day I saw those girls, I decided to stop conforming, because if we all do what we’re told, nothing will ever change. I want a future full of empowered, conscious women (and men), who have a CHOICE about the way they want to express themselves. I want them to understand that they are beautiful in their own skin, they don’t need to blindly follow beauty standards just to feel worthy, to fit in, or to be loved. I want a future where people love freely - themselves and each other - not just despite our differences, but because of them. Difference should be celebrated. If we are all the same, then we are mostly unnecessary. Our expression is so vital to our mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing, and with rising levels of anxiety and depression, I can’t help but wonder if there is a link there somewhere.
“But don’t you repulse men?” I hear you ask. No. Nowadays I attract a different kind of man. Having body hair and being makeup free has really separated the men from the boys. Occasionally I see a ‘boy’ notice my hairy legs or pits and instantly his expression will drop and the way he is around me will change - I become the ‘weird hippy girl’. In a way, I feel sorry for him. If he was comfortable enough in his own masculinity, he wouldn’t be affected by my personal choices about what I do with my own physical body. I have learnt that I am a mirror, reflecting back to them the opinions of those that judge me. When someone is totally comfortable in their own skin and expressing themselves freely, they accept my choices and my expression without question. (P.S, we are not defined by our relationship to men).
To embrace who you are - mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually - is part of a powerful resistance. It goes against what society has told us is right/normal/beautiful/successful/worthy. I choose to be as naturally me as possible to show others that is it ok to do so. Living this way has only affected my life positively. I feel more myself than I have ever felt, and am becoming more and more in touch with my feminine energy, despite doing things which are ‘unladylike’. I may not do things society wants me to do, but I am content and whole, and that’s what’s important. There is no right or wrong way to express yourself, but expression should be a choice, and I’m happy to be a part of a future I am excited by. I choose to be hairy and bare faced to show that beauty is subjective, and to liberate the women of generations to come.
[DISCLAIMER: I am now in Guatemala and I shaved my armpits. But only because it is so fucking hot and it felt gross. In hot countries the removal of body hair isn’t so much a feminist issue, but more because it’s so much more breezy without it