And now, a badass public service announcement from Shan De Leers…
It was so much more difficult to write this than I thought it would be. It is such a trivial thing I am writing about… or rather it should be. It shouldn’t be a thing that I felt compelled to write about, but I am because it has been so much more than I expected. So, what’s the thing? I am now undeniably a fancy naked lady, with luxurious armpit hair.
Yup. That’s me loving on my sparkly armpit hair onstage. This should not be a thing of significance to anyone other than me. My armpits have literally no effect on anyone other than me, so why do they have such a huge effect on people? Why has growing out these tiny patches of hair been such a profoundly affecting thing for me personally? It’s hair. HAIR. And not even always visible hair at that! Yet the past three months have been host to a really intense experience for me because of it. It has really changed the way that I feel about myself and the way I feel about a lot of other things concerning body image and self love.
So let’s go over that again, ARM. PIT. HAIR.
“I took back my body. I made her look at it on my terms. And I did it all while smiling and feeling like the sexy boss bitch I am. “
It all started on November 3rd, 2014. That is the morning that I awoke to find out that Tennessee had passed Amendment 1. I am not going to talk about that issue in depth in this post because it is just TOO MUCH, but a bit of context for my non-Tennessee people: the conservative right used manipulative media tactics to misrepresent an attack on women and privacy, and we were dealt a huge setback in this state that day.
I spent the first week of November in tears. Tears of rage and sadness, tears of mutual misery and utter disbelief shared with the people in my world, but I also came to a decision: I was going to focus on the change that I could actually shape and see on an immediate level. The one thing I have total and immediate control of is my body. My physical person… at least for the moment. Mostly.
That was the last week that I shaved my pits.
How ridiculous a thing is that to read? It is a pretty ridiculous thing to type out, because it shouldn’t matter. I went into this experience expecting reactions from people, but I didn’t anticipate how much introspection would come from something so SILLY as growing body hair.
I am really good at liking myself. I am really good at loving myself. It took me a really long time to get to that place, but damn it I made it and I AM AWESOME. But these tiny patches of hair under my arms really fucked with that. I really don’t think any other means of description appropriately relays the way it messed with me. It fucked with my self image in a big way. Because of the stigma of unprettiness associated with women with armpit hair, I took to a daily practice of affirmation. As soon as the hair was noticeable, I took to standing in the bathroom, shirtless, arms crossed above my head, looking at myself in the mirror and saying aloud: “You are beautiful.”
“You aren’t surprised when Amanda Palmer raises her arms and you see a tuft of hair, but when that girl in the rhinestoned gloves and sparkling gown raises her arm to show you a hairy glittered armpit, you are knocked sideways.”
I am not kidding. I HAD to do it. I don’t even really see or notice the hair, but just KNOWING it was there made me feel weird – and unpretty. Not ugly, but very pointedly not pretty. Which… well, we all know the way that our culture has warped our perceptions of what is and isn’t attractive, but WOAH. There was a two week period where I did it every day. I needed to. I had to remind myself. That is an intense thing to NEED to do because of something that should have so little importance.
I have been a vocal feminist for years. I spend a LOT of time talking to ladies about self love and self worth and body positivity and all those good things that happen in informed and empowered minds… but my hairy armpits said “FUCK THAT NOISE” and proceeded to mess with my head and dent my ordinarily solid self image, and I had to deal with that. I spent even more than my regular amount of time reading about feminist issues and movements, reading about why our brains work the way they do when it comes to societal norms and attraction, and I read shared experiences from other women about THEIR armpit revolutions… and while I am happy to have more in-depth discussions on a personal level about it, the end result is this: I am a better person because of my armpit hair.
I know how that might sound. I understand that I am talking about BODY HAIR, I get that. But as women, every choice we make that goes against the grain of the socially accepted norm is a THING. And even if my journey hadn’t started because of a political flashpoint, it would still be a political statement. Perhaps even more so since I present myself as a fancy naked lady. You aren’t surprised when Amanda Palmer raises her arms and you see a tuft of hair, but when that girl in the rhinestoned gloves and sparkling gown raises her arm to show you a hairy glittered armpit, you are knocked sideways. Literally even: I had a woman react so strongly that she rocked her chair as she jerked away. My reaction? I stood directly in front of her and wound my hips round and round with my arms raised until she made eye contact with me.
“But here I am. Furry and full of love. And covered in sparkle.”
I took back my body. I made her look at it on my terms. And I did it all while smiling and feeling like the sexy boss bitch I am. When I say I am a better person because of my armpit hair, I mean internally. I am stronger, more aware, and exponentially more in love with myself because of the process, which is how I treated it. As a process. Once I got into this I realized that even from a place of self love, the outside world is really great at needling its way into your subconscious and moving things around to where it wants them, and it takes a lot of work to figure out the why of that and then change it.
I don’t know how long it will be staying, but I love my fur. It makes me feel empowered and it gives me sense of ownership of my SELF that was taken away last November. I initially thought this would be a thing I did so I could have hairy armpits for an act, but it turned into something so much more meaningful and powerful. And transformative. And isn’t that what this whole life thing is about – growth? Shouldn’t we be finding the best version of ourselves and then helping other people get there themselves? I will be the first to admit that I never would have imagined that I would have hairy pits, let alone have it be a thing that makes me feel so much love for myself. But here I am. Furry and full of love. And covered in sparkle.
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.