The Sex Appeal of a Hairy Armpit

My boyfriend is baffled when I get worked up over my weight, or start complexing over my body hair. “But you’re such a feminist,” he says. “Don’t you think these worries come from stupid societal standards?” And of course, he is absolutely right, but what people often forget is that, however much of a convinced and vocal feminist you are, we have all been raised by a sexist society that gave us very strict gender stereotypes to comply to, and sometimes it is really hard to feel good about oneself when breaking out of these norms. Even when you know that these social stereotypes are stupid, your self-esteem is still tied to them.

I can write pages and pages against objectifying women, but still feel a dire need to fit into society’s definition of sexy, because otherwise it really does affect my sense of self-worth.

Why wouldn’t it? I’m a woman, I have learnt my entire life that my value comes from how much sex appeal I have to men.

When you break rank, everything you have ever been told about what it means to be good, to be a success, is suddenly invalidated, and you have to reinvent it all.

It is like you escape one place, and land in an empty world, where everything has to be rebuilt.

I’ve stopped shaving my legs and they are now passably fluffy.

My hairy legs say, fuck society, I have value even if I’m not sexy.

But I also want them to say, fuck beauty norms, because hairy legs are hot too.

I feel like I’m making two arguments at once, that don’t quite fit. Even the post-patriarchal standards I set for myself are still deeply ingrained by the sexist injunction to be sexy. Like I really can’t conceive my self-worth any other way.

It is especially hard because one of the ways that systems of oppression remain in place is by making the oppressed feel like they are never enough — constantly telling them their limits, and presenting them with an unattainable vision of how they should be. Because of this, women are accustomed to feeling worthless. I know a lot of women who wax lyrical about feminist theory, but when it comes to applying it to their own lives, struggle to feel important enough, worthy enough, of the same things they tell their friends to fight for.

Feeling good about oneself outside of gender-norms is a process, and I get the feeling it is a very long one. But it does get easier — you grow more assertive. You learn to love new bits of yourself. You learn to love yourself for fighting as much as you hate yourself for failing.

It is lonely, too, like any creative process is. We are creating new ways to live, new standards to measure ourselves by. And creators know that starting out, you have to learn to be your own biggest fan, whatever criticism is thrown at you. Even though it is terribly difficult to reach that level of confidence when society constantly puts you down.

Especially since, when you are writing a book or making abstract art, people close to you generally form your first fan-club. Your grandad or mom will hang your weird art up and tell everyone how wonderful you are. You can’t necessarily expect the same thing when becoming a feminist — you will be called into question even by those closest to you.

This is why it is so important to grow a feminist bubble to retreat to. You might not live in a place where you can be around many feminists, or for myriad other reasons not be able to give the time to going out and meeting them, but the internet is also home to pockets of goodness, and the gentle encouragement from fellow feminists is vital for redefining, together, what it means to be a success.

The Sex Appeal of a Hairy Armpit

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