The first time I became conscious of my body hair was in late grade school, when my mom took a look at my legs and said, "We have to wax that."
We all have a complex relationship with body hair. Science says that we have body hair for a reason, but society says it doesn't look good with shorts or sleeveless blouses so we shave, wax, sugar, or laser it off. Like the appendix, we're not sure what good it serves anymore. And while I have bouts of laziness where I will wear shorts without having shaved my leg hair, that doesn't hold a candle to what my friend Marla Darwin is doing.
Marla runs a graphic design studio with her husband and writes two columns. She is also active in Grrrl Gang Manila, a feminist community group. She also doesn't remove her body hair.
Yes, this woman does not remove body hair, even when she wears shorts or sleeveless shirts. I asked her what it's like to live without a razor in Manila, where it's warm and people are judgmental.
What made you stop removing your body hair?
I don't really remember how it started. I'm going to say that it probably happened when I traveled to the U.S. during winter and stayed there for six weeks. I was always bundled up and it didn't make sense to worry about body hair during those weeks.
I don't really have hairy legs so the parts I always fixated on were my underarms. I always found hair removal such an ordeal. I'm not an advocate of tiis ganda, so there was always some resentment involved whenever I dragged myself to the waxing salon every month. Shaving was too itchy of an option and I found depilatories complicated. So waxing it was! I was already used to growing my hair out for three weeks before having it waxed.
Those six weeks in the States showed me that I really didn't mind seeing my hair and it wasn't a big deal to me anymore. I enjoyed the ease of being freed of one upkeep ritual.
What do people think of it?
I think the people I hang around with have the good manners not to talk about it unless I bring it up. I also don't really showcase my pits on my social media accounts so it's quiet on that front. I don't raise my arms up in the air—I don't really exercise (haha, whoops), and I don't have aspirations of becoming a model. The worst reaction was when my six-year-old niece pointed at my armpits and said they looked funny.
The best reaction was from my husband. I've internalized enough misogyny to worry about what he would think, but he told me he doesn't care and just wanted me to be happy in my skin. Armpit fetishes are notorious with Filipino men and the meanest comments I've heard about underarms have always been from them. My husband's a hairy guy, so hair doesn't faze him at all.
How long have you gone without shaving/ waxing?
The longest I can go is around six months. Whenever it gets hot, that's when I feel the urge to go back to the waxing salon. When you have more hair, you sweat more and I have more beef with sweaty underarms than hairy ones. I don't really look at my underarms and until I look, I forget I have hair there.
I also got pregnant after the aforementioned U.S. trip. Pregnant me had crazy hormones and crazy physical changes. A lot of that got channeled into not caring so much about what people thought about my appearance.
Did you have to talk about it with your husband before you decided to give it a go or did he find out by surprise?
Nope! I asked him about what he thought while in the thick of it, and he was nothing but supportive. He'll sometimes poke my underarms and laugh, but I just do the same to him, then WE laugh.
The big question women are going to be asking is, "Will this make boys stop liking me?"
See how much this matters to you. Like I said earlier, I'm unhappier when I subject myself to beauty rituals that make me uncomfortable. I know a lot of women who love being hairless, and there's nothing wrong with that. Just as long as you do it for you! Any guy who really loves you for who you are will take joy in your quirks. Wouldn't it be amazing to hold out for a guy with beliefs that are just as progressive as yours?
[My husband] is the sort of guy who finds it beautiful when women are being true to themselves. He has always found me pretty, but when you've been together as long as we have (ok, fine, it's not that long, but seven years is very long to us), it's the deep conversations, sense of humor, and quirks that attract us to each other. My husband is my biggest champion, and any guy you bring into your life should assume that role, too.
Would you recommend not removing body hair to other women?
Only if you're already drawn to it as an option. This is a significant lifestyle change in the sense that it invites so much scrutiny. You have to be prepared to examine your own biases and stereotypes about beauty—it's a lot more introspective than we'd like to think, the way it is with the other conversations we have with ourselves about our appearance.