Saturday, June 06, 2009
Friday, June 05, 2009
I was having a lunchtime chat with the girls the other day when the topic of underarm hair came up. "Who doesn't shave?" was the question, because someone was curious about the visible hair of a friend she had seen. Is it a European thing? An immigrant thing? What? "Gross!" was the general conclusion.
Mostly I was keeping my mouth shut; I have gone through frequent lengthy periods in my life when for ostensibly feminist political reasons (but that I see now as just plain laziness and conveniently living with a man that actually likes hairy women) that I abandoned the blade. And was happier for it.
I had just read an article in Tricycle, the Buddhist journal, about a renegade Roman Catholic priestess (really, that's another topic) who was assisting a Theravada nun in her final vows, which of course included the shaving of her head. The nun received the long black symbols of impermanence, spa-like, in a large lotus leaf. The priestess, I must note had, like me, very short gray hair, which I have been quite content with over the past 20 years. But honestly, I have sometimes entertained the notion of asking my hairdresser to just take it off, take it all off...even though I prefer the Taoist topknots to the Shaolin-style bald heads. (Although that pixie Pema Chodron is pretty cute.)
Funny this preoccupation with hair. I thought the musical had addressed all that. I was at that show in 1970, amidst a lot of tuxedoed folks in the audience feeling underdressed and out of place in my Army field jacket bedecked with bells and my partner in leather pants and a flowered calico shirt. Then I saw some other folks like us wandering in the aisles-- turned out they were in the cast.
What I didn't say at lunch the other day was that I thought shaving of pits and limbs was just a less violent body modification akin to footbinding and female circumcision (FGM), things women have sadly endured to distinguish themselves from the masculine. In some Song Dynasty erotic art, the only way you can tell the males from the females is that the females' feet are bound. (Penises seem to have a life of their own, like third parties in the encounter.) And FGM is said to be practiced to rid the female body of parts that are suggestive of the male's. You can make a case in both instances that these are to restrain women, the feminist case, but there is something to the artifice argument as well (like makeup and fragrance, which I genuinely enjoy as ways to channel my mother and Cleopatra.) Think about this the next time you are having an expensive laser hair removal, a painful wax job, or struggling with a dull and dangerous blade in the shower. (No double entendre intended.)
But again, for me the shaving always seemed to be just a nuisance; though stubble is repulsive, fully grown-out leg or pit hair is not unattractive or dirty. We've just been taught to see it that way. I shaved my legs for the first time at 13; it was such a weird feeling, like a neurological symptom, my truly naked legs against the bed sheets. Two days later I realized I was going to have to maintain this thing endlessly with a scary razor (they have improved). My mother gave me a little pink Schick electric model with a side reserved for each body area; it was never very effective. Then I discovered dark tights. And later, like the rest of us, suffered the messy trials of waxing (not a great DIY exercise) or that electric thing that ripped out your hair by the roots. (Applied to a non-consenting person, could that be considered torture?) Effective, but really, what are we doing? And I'm not even talking about bikini lines!Today, the only hairs I really make an effort to remove (leg and pit hair diminish with age), are from the follicles that seem to have migrated from above my brow to my chin. They just don't belong there.
In the meantime we might all just step back and think what is so troubling about a little body hair. Kate Winslet looked great in The Reader's sex scenes with hairy pits, but then again maybe not the most convincing example: she was playing an illiterate prison guard. But we don't know that when we first see her. It didn't stop her young lover!
ADDENDUM: I just read that Kate Winslet had a hard time with the grow-out and maintenance phases of the body hair, especially in the bikini area. Somehow given her prediliction for full-frontal displays, I would have thought this was nothing.