I've always viewed shaving my armpits as a necessary evil — something that was annoying but you did it anyway because you're supposed to, like flossing. I've shaved my armpits since I was a tween because I've been told by society that it's attractive to have smooth, hair-free pits, but I've never stopped to consider how I would feel personally if I were to stop shaving my armpits. Would I discover that my personal idea of beauty includes underarm hair? Would it not bother me that I had long hair in a place I'd been taught was Definitely Not Supposed To Have Hair?
If it was considered "acceptable" by society, I wouldn't shave at all except for my lower legs (because I like how my shins and calves feel when smooth). I'm a runner and shaving my thighs always leads to painful ingrown hairs. But I do remove my body hair because even though there are female trailblazers working to prove otherwise, generally speaking, women are considered "more attractive" without body hair. I wasn't really worried about going so long without shaving my armpits because as a mom to twin 3 year olds, things can get hectic and there are weeks when just don't find the time to shave. Rocking a couple days worth of stubble has never impacted my husband's interest in having sex, so I know he doesn't really care what I do with my body hair. But when I mentioned to him that I was going to go a month without shaving my armpits, he was surprised and a little bit grossed out. The reaction was a little surprising, but at the end of the day it's my body and I do what I want with it, so I went forward with the experiment and he supported me.That said, it was was upsetting to see how even my own husband had trouble looking past a little armpit hair. I hated to admit this, but I was entering the month with my ego feeling a bit deflated already.
For 30 long days and nights I bid adieu to my razor where my armpits were concerned. Would I miss being hair free and smooth? Or would letting my armpits grow all natural inspire me to stop all of my body hair removal habits? Only time would tell! Here's what happened.
Week One: A Little Bit Of Stubble
The first couple days of not shaving my armpits are honestly no different from any other week because I don't typically shave every day, but by the end of the week I was regretting my decision to sign up for this experiment.
I usually don't notice my armpits throughout the day, but now that my stubble was growing in I was hyper aware of the 4-inch square patches of skin under my arms. I noticed the stubble more when I was sweating, and the stubble was most uncomfortable when I put my arms down. I usually wear tank tops when working out, but I switched to t-shirts to prove a later of protection between my razor stubble and my skin.
I know some women say it's freeing not to shave your armpits, but at this point for me it's just annoying. Swiping a razor across the prickly patch seemed like a small price to pay for getting rid of the chaffing. Still, I decided to stick it out and see if my stubble would get softer as it grows longer.
My kids are only 3, but they are really observant to any changes in my body. Lolo, in particular, always notices when I switch out my earrings or have a new lip gloss color on, and he was quick to notice the stubble under my armpit and made his displeasure very clear. He couldn't articulate why he didn't like seeing my armpits unshaven, but it really unnerved him. He'd reach towards my stubble like it was a cactus with a frown on his face and then pull his hand back like it was going to hurt him. Then he'd place his fingers on his own bare armpit and look at my stubble, confused.
He didn't like when he could see the stubble, like if I raised my arm up to cuddle him closer while watching a movie he'd grab my arm and put it back down so my armpit was out of sight. I'm hoping it was just that he didn't like that our armpits didn't look the same anymore and not that I'm raising a chauvinist. But hey, on the bright side, at least he learned the word "armpit."
Week Two: Progress!
My crop of armpit hair was growing quite nicely on week two. The stubble stage was over (thankfully) and along with it went the irritation and redness, though I still felt like there was a tiny rainforest under my arms when I was finished with a run. Before this experiment I thought I'd stink if I didn't shave my armpits, but I was so happy to learn that deodorant works just as well on fuzzy armpits as it does on smooth ones.
So far, just seven days into the experiment, my armpits reached the point where the hair is very clearly visible to someone standing nearby. It's grown past the point of "forgot to shave" to "conscious decision not to shave" and I'm having trouble with that. I don't judge other people with hairy armpits, but when it comes to my own body, it's hard for me to get past the narrative I've been fed since childhood that the less body hair a woman has, the more attractive she is. Even though I've never really bothered to look around and inspect other people's armpits while out and about, I can't shake the feeling that if I let my armpit hair show in public, others will find me less attractive. To combat this feeling I've taken to wearing long sleeves when running errands and t-shirts to dance class.
But right before week two ended I decided the experiment would be pointless if I was just going to hide my armpits, so for a nighttime yoga class I wore tank top. I figured the room would be darken enough and that if anyone could appreciate a woman owning her body hair it was going to be a room filled with my fellow yogis. Sure enough, no one seemed to notice or care about my armpit hair, and I reminded myself that the world does not in fact, revolve around me. (Sigh.)
Week Three: So. Much. Hair.
I've been removing hair from various parts of my face, hands, legs, torso, and feet since I was 12, because that's what all of my friends and female relatives did, and I never stopped to think about why they did it or whether I really wanted to remove my body hair. As a self-conscious tween, I just wanted to fit in with everyone else. After two decades of shaving (except for the last trimester of my pregnancy, when I basically gave up on ever seeing my calves again, let alone making them fuzz-free) I had no clue just how thick and dark my body hair was until I stopped shaving my armpits. Based on the pelts I have under each arm there is a legitimate chance I'm related to either Chewbacca or Professor Lupin. Beyond feeling completely justified for the small fortune I spend annually on razors and hair removal methods, I realized just how much the body I present to the world is different from my body in its natural state.
I really began to wonder why I shave my armpits and why I feel so compelled to expend all this time and energy on something that fights against the way my body naturally wants to be. I don't subscribe to the idea that being a feminist means eschewing wearing a bra, shaving, or wearing makeup. I believe I can still stand for gender equality while wearing mascara and a push-up bra, because I do these things to make myself feel confidence, not for other people. But removing my body hair is time consuming and annoying to me, even if I do like how the outcome looks and feels. I'm not sure if I shave my armpits because I want to, or because it's what's expected from me, and that idea is unsettling.
Week Four: Glitter Makes Everything Better
Although I've managed to take my furry armpits out on errands, family gatherings, and at yoga class, I've yet to let them be seen in the light of day at the gym. I've read about glitter armpits being a trend, and the idea of trying something so hip while also getting to revisit the collection of body glitter I've been saving since high school was just too good to pass up.
I asked my stylist for her recommendation on getting the glitter to stick and she suggested hair gel, so I dumped some purple glitter circa Claire's 2001 in a handful of gel and smeared it on my armpits, then stood around with my hands in the air like a background dancer in a music video until it was dry. I felt ridiculous applying the glitter, but the results were amazing.
Lolo still hadn't warmed up to my hairy pits by this point, but he's a sucker for anything shiny, so when he saw it he spent a quiet 15 minutes running his fingers along the inside of my shoulder, fascinated by the glitter. It was relaxing, like the mom version of a mini-massage. I know it was the glitter that had his attention, but I'm hoping he'll remember that body hair can be beautiful, not just that purple glitter is awesome (even though it is).
Suddenly I didn't want to hide my armpits. I wanted to show them to the world! I took my glitter pits to dance class and danced full out. Not only did I not care if anyone noticed my armpit hair, I wanted them to notice, because I thought the glitter was just that pretty and cool. Turns out a little sparkle was all I needed to find the confidence to show my armpit hair.
Am I Ready To Declare Myself Team Armpit Hair?
Although not shaving my armpits for a month taught me that I certainly don't need to shave my armpits, I am still very much attached to my razor and shave gel. Physiologically, I saw no real difference in shaving versus not shaving. Once the skin irritation from my stubble grew out, having armpit hair didn't make me more or less sweaty or smelly than when I shaved, and it was nice not worrying about the fear of nicking myself or getting an ingrown hair.
I learned that other people don't really care what your body hair situation is. Not a single stranger said anything to me about my armpit hair, and even my friends or family who did only made neutral comments ("Oh, you've got armpit hair!") before moving on. No one treated me better or worse or valued my opinions less or more because I said them with two armpits full of hair, so I'd like to think that people view me as bringing more to a conversation or discussion than just my appearance.
But in spite of the fact that no one else really cared whether or not I shave my armpits, I learned that I care. For me, I enjoy the feeling of smooth underarm skin (yes, even more than I enjoy having glitter pits) and the small amount of time it takes to achieve a hairless underarm is worth the hassle for me. But if I happen to have a day when I forget to shave or don't have a razor, I'm not going to let that stop me from wearing a tank top. All humans have body hair so the sight of it shouldn't shock anyone — unless it's covered in glitter.
Images Courtesy of Megan Zander (5), Giphy (1)