Nicki Butler is a psychology senior and Mustang News opinion editor. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
Lined up on the blacktop in our P.E. clothes, 30 or so sixth graders clad in matching athletic shorts looked almost identical. I was 11, fresh faced with pink rimmed glasses and choppy bangs. Swimming in baggy athletic wear, I felt like a bonafide member of this odd little pack.
I had changed hurriedly in a cramped locker room with the other girls. I brought deodorant and contributed to the cloud of perfumed body spray after class. However, it wasn’t until that very instant, as I looked at the ground, that I realized just how different I was.
Under the navy blue rayon shorts, a thick dusting of hair coated my scrawny legs. I glanced around frantically– every other girl had dolphin-smooth legs, yet mine were more like Sasquatch’s. Mortified, I stood there, hoping no one would look down and see my repulsive and undeniably manly forest of peach fuzz.
When I got home that day, I immediately begged my mom to aid in the deforestation of my deepest humiliation. She kindly gave me my first line of defense: a bottle of Nair. The bathtub reeked of sulfur as I coated my shame in pink toxic waste.
That was the last time I would ever use Nair.
My next weapon of choice was a pink Venus razor. For the next 10 years, I would go on to use that bubblegum machete to thwack every stubborn tree that sprouted from the unruly terrain of my legs.
In March of 2020, we all stopped leaving the house. Out of everything there was to worry about, my twin sasquatches sat cross-legged at the bottom of the list. I stopped shaving on a whim one day, and decided to see how long I could go without doing so. This little self-challenge was an aimless form of entertainment I derived out of boredom, but it became something much more.
As my leg hair grew out, I started to think about the girl with pink rimmed glasses and choppy bangs. Though I ditched those glasses, I felt the same embarrassment and humiliation she did ten years ago. I developed a certain resentment toward the world that made her hate herself. Fueled by this anger and protectiveness of my younger self, I began to search for the fault lines in the foundation that taught her what was beautiful and what was unkempt.
I hate the magazines, the models, the tv shows and the movies that said I was dirty for existing as I was made. I hate “Big Razor,” and the 2.5 billion dollar hair removal industry. I hate the constant push to make women look like babies– smooth to the touch and easy to control. But most of all, I hate men.
I hate men that get to strut around in their natural form, rewarded for doing nothing and applauded for existing without alteration.
I started to envy them and their stupid luck. The luck that gave them a Y and me an X and the luck that made a world that would see two sets of legs and only give rules to one.
It took me months to finally be even remotely comfortable as a woman out in public with unshaven legs. Every day that I leave the house in shorts is an act of courage that shakes me just a little bit.
At 11 years old, I traded my body hair in for the word sexy. Ten years later, I’m back at the negotiating table, trying to leave with them both. It’s a psychological uphill battle, and a sociological one too. Society has weapons in the form of the words “unprofessional,” “unclean” and “unsexy.”
The courage I need as a white woman to leave the house unshaven is nothing to that of a woman of color. The racist history of women of color being categorized as unkempt and unruly because of the presence of body hair creates a steeper hill. Women of color have to battle racism and sexism, a two headed beast that bites twice as hard.
It’s a struggle started by the two-headed beast during the late 1800s. Western scientists became infatuated with the racial differences existing in hair type and growth. These researchers falsely claimed, among many other things, that noticeable physical differences between males and females were indicative of a more anthropologically developed race. They also believed that men were supposed to be hairy while women were not.
These ideologies reaffirmed the Western belief of white superiority by implying that races where women had thick body hair were evolutionarily underdeveloped.
Thick body hair on women became synonymous with deviance and uncleanliness. White women did not only want to distance themselves from women of color who had thick body hair, they also wanted to create a barrier between themselves and lower class individuals who could not afford the expense of hair removal.
Through the normalized removal of body hair, white women added bricks to the growing hegemonic structure of patriarchal oppression. This is one of many examples of white women oppressing women of color in order to sit slightly higher on the societal hierarchy, yet still below men.
That structure of patriarchal oppression is the hill I’m still trying to climb, the foundation I see cracks in and the real forest I want to burn down. Looking at myself in the mirror covered in the hair my body grows naturally and not grimacing is kind of like lighting a match— and I want that damn forest to burn.