It took me some time to work up the courage and stop shaving my legs. I’m a queer femme; my aesthetic preferences tend toward big jewelry, bright colors, lots of florals, and occasionally, even high heels. Despite being passionately low-maintenance —the main reason I keep my head shaved on one side is so I never have to worry whether my part is straight— for a long time I still questioned whether I could feel feminine with body hair. I was never repelled by the stereotype of queer women as butch and tattooed, with hairy legs and a motorcycle, but that archetype was always more someone I wanted to date than someone I wanted to be.
I understood intellectually that the association of womanhood with eggshell-smooth legs and armpits was invented to sell razor blades — are gender roles really anything but marketing, in the end? But I’ve never found it that easy to extricate my own preferences from the culture in which I was raised. So although shaving my legs was an arduous chore, I kept doing it. The scrape of the razor over my calves each morning was like a bureaucratic ritual, the renewal of my femme card.
But every summer I volunteer at a feminist rock camp for girls, and my fellow volunteers are aesthetic goals from here to eternity. Last July, I found myself seriously envying a vibe several of my co-counselors shared, a look that involved brightly colored lipstick and floral prints, paired with beat-up Doc Martens and gloriously hairy legs. I already had the florals and the Docs, because I refuse to acknowledge that the ‘90s have ended, and I immediately set about acquiring the lipstick (My bank put a fraud alert on my credit card, in case you’re wondering about my prior relationship with makeup.).
And, I gave more thought to checking out the furry side of life. The worst part would be the stubble. I’d thought about growing my body hair out before, but always got fed up around the one-week mark when things got really prickly. This time I was determined to wait it out. I used to shave my head, for goodness sake, and then I grew my hair out all the way to my shoulders; I know from an awkward in between stage.
Ultimately, I chose to embrace the “too tired to give a fuck” mantra I’ve been applying to things like “folding the laundry” and “having an opinion about Game of Thrones,”and ignored my leg hair until it grew out and softened enough that I wasn’t stressed about taking it through airport security.
Since then, I’ve been working on reminding myself that femme is what I make of it. It’s something I am, not something I do. Patriarchal conditioning makes us think that femininity has to be effortful; that the unaltered state of my body, without makeup or jewelry or hair removal, is by default masculine and therefore unacceptable. But I’ve long made space in my femininity for short hair, heavy boots, and little to no makeup.Why can’t body hair also be feminine if I decide I want it to be?
I’m not alone in reaching that conclusion: the research group Mintel recently reported that almost a quarter of young women don’t shave their armpits, and more than a sixth don’t shave their legs. My social circle is far from representative, but I think at this point in my life I have more women and femme friends who don’t shave than those who do.
Mintel notes that sales of hair removal products are on the decline as body hair grows in popularity, and so far magazines and beauty companies don’t seem to have realized that there’s a niche market here just waiting to be wooed. Shaving cream and home waxing kits might not be as lucrative as they used to be, but why is no one jumping on the opportunity to patent a dedicated leg-hair shampoo? Or an antiperspirant that simultaneously nourishes your armpit follicles (and doesn’t leave marks on your shirt)?
I don’t like shaving, but I do like feeling pampered and pretty. Make a product that promises to moisturize my body hair and the skin underneath it while smelling amazing, and you will have a loyal customer for life. The only thing on the market so far is Fur, the Emma Watson-endorsed pubic hair conditioner, which promises softer hair, fewer ingrowns, and no stains on your lingerie. “Fur Oil works well on hair, whether it’s pubic hair, leg hair, armpit hair, eyebrows, or as a deep conditioning mask for your head hair,” says Fur community manager Sara Jane Emmons.
But at $44 for 2.5oz, Fur Oil is on the pricey side for someone who’s still rationing out the Bath & Body Works lotion she got for Christmas last year. Until the cheap version shows up at Target, there are still some things femmes with body hair can do to treat ourselves.
These are suggestions, not requirements! If it grows on your body, you can do whatever you want with it.
- Exfoliate! Dry flaky skin is no fun. Dry flaky skin stuck in your leg hair, though? NOOOOOOOO. Fitness blogger Morgan Mikenas, who made waves earlier this year by announcing she had stopped shaving, says, “I exfoliate my skin with all natural lavender soap and moisturize after with coconut oil.” The skin of your armpits is particularly sensitive, so go with an exfoliant that’s made for your face.
- Condition. Even if you can’t spring for Fur Oil, a little dollop of whatever you use on your head will also nourish your body hair. You can also try products formulated for facial hair – I have a friend who swears by Famous Beard Oil for her arm hair. Eric Lough, founder of the Famous Beard Oil Company, says the products can be used anywhere on the body, because “it’s all natural, and is crafted specifically for maintaining the health and longevity of your skin and hair.” Oh, and don’t skip conditioning just because your legs won’t be on display today. Softer hair is hair that’s less likely to snag on the inside of your leggings and drive you to madness.
- Check deodorant ingredients. Alcohol is super drying, so if you’re rubbing it on your armpit hair every day, well, you do the math. Try switching to a natural brand!
- Be free! Ignore literally any suggestion that doesn’t sound good to you, because it’s your goddamn hair and you get to do whatever you want with it. While compulsory femininity is a pain in the ass, there’s strength and power in reclaiming femininity as something we get to define and create for ourselves – hairy legs and all.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Glamour Magazine, Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Vice.com, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, their daughter, and two very spoiled cats. She is the author of Ask A Queer Chick (Plume, 2016).