To Hair or Not to Hair?

by Millicent Borges Accardi

OK, I’ll admit it, I’m a hippie. Or if not a complete tree-hugging commune living hitchhiking 1960s hippie I am at least hippie-esque. My god babies think I am the epitome of hippidome—through and through—and, with my hippie shack in Topanga, with its river-rock bathtub and my bearded-artist husband, backyard veggie garden, and an aversion to all or most things artificial, except for plastic picnic dishes, I have come to embrace at least a small part of the psychedelic 60s earth mother package. I do after all live in the hippie capital of the United States—Topanga Canyon, a rural zone filled with creekers (poor hippies) and peakers (rich entertainment-type hippies) about halfway between Santa Monica and Malibu, off PCH (Pacific Coast Highway).

Long ago our mothers and our mother’s mothers gave up girdles and burned their bras to the tune of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” and Jane Fonda on a loud speaker, yelling about the Vietnam War and the dangers of antiperspirant. Our mothers grew their hair long and stopped bathing. We ate sprouts and avocados. My mom threw together shakes made of wheat germ, dates, raw eggs, and soy.

Flash forward to 2013.

The world is suddenly filled with New Age hippies, crystals, gluten-free bread, and Om chanting. In yoga classes no one wears perfume; outfits are organic cotton or hemp. We all bring the requisite, glass or aluminum, refillable water bottle and rubber mats. We pour on essential oils and drink baby coconuts when we are thirsty. We shop at farmers markets or CSAs. We can fruit and make our own juices from kale and beets. We meditate and look for new and better ways to reduce our carbon footprint and expand our womanly goddess out into the universe—stronger, fierce, defiant, true, brave and wonderful. The earthly-female quotient of the goddess. We expand our Kundalini and chant Ha-Ha-Ha as if we were Amazon warriors off to battle the universe into peaceful submission. We sing Shanti, shanti, shanti and nod Nameste to each other in our blessed-out, peace-loving humankind existence.

And yet.

Why the heck do we all STILL shave our bodies like secretaries on Mad Men or Jackie Kennedy? Look around and see the free modern women of this millennium. We have embraced every opportunity to grow as spiritual beings and women and au natural is de rigueur—legs shaved, or waxed, underarms prodded and scraped until smooth, hours spent at spas to achieve the perfect Brazilian, hairless sex organs!

What IS this?

Why in this day and age is packaged food seen as bad and yet women still feel compelled to shave their bodies? In a casual survey, if you ask ten women, you will get comments like this: “It’s “gross” or “Ew,” or “It LOOKS bad.” (Same is true with plucking eyebrows or going grey.) Vegan, gluten-free, Yoginis who swear by their raw foods and hemp pajamas think nothing of coloring their hair, getting a wax, plucking their eyebrows, and shaving their legs on a daily basis.

When I peel off my sweatshirt at Topanga Days or the Reggae Festival I get stares about my glorious hairy pits. In the land of freedom and naturalness, why are hairy underarms seen as an abomination?

Why are we still buying into this male-dominated view of what is beautiful? In France, women proudly strut hairy patches visibly under bikinis and raise their hairy armpits in sleeveless smocks to grab the strap on the Métro. Why is hair such a hang-up in the U.S.?

Victorian John Ruskin was supposedly so horrified on his wedding night by his wife’s hairy nether regions that he never consummated the marriage. I suppose he never imagined women had hair too?

It’s clear that decades of advertising and conditioning have embedded in us this fear of the natural state of hair. Why have women rebelled against everything BUT hair removal? Why can’t we learn to love our hair, wherever it grows?

I stopped shaving my legs and armpits when I took a job as an artist model in college. Perhaps it made me feel more covered up? I just found I liked the look and feel of it. It was a great relief not to have red rashes under my arms, to throw away my razors. And, yet, for many years I still shaved for “special occasions,” like formal parties or weddings, places where I had to wear stockings and/or a sleeveless dress. I caved to public opinion and did not want to be abused or to draw attention to my lack of, shall we say, grooming? Recently Julia Roberts was lambasted by TMZ and the gossip media for showing up to a movie premier, in a sleeveless gown, with visible underarm hair. You would have thought she committed murder, the stories that were posted. People were aghast.

I remember my grandmother and my Aunt Lucy not shaving under their arms. In 6th grade when I decided to shave my legs, my grandmother warned me that once I started it would be impossible to stop. She told me shaving made legs hairier, and the more I shaved, the more I would need to. And, she was right. I just did not know it then.

I wear tank tops in yoga and usually go to the same studio, but I still notice stares and weird faces when people look at me. After awhile, people are trained and their eyes, avert. And yet, in the 8 years I have gone to this studio, no one else has joined me in my quest for being truly au natural. Initially, I thought I would have a few hippie sisters in crime. Us bold, daring chance-takers. But no. It has not happened quite yet.

Hairless armpits have been called more sanitary. But why? It seems to have started around the time of the first women’s revolution in the Jazz Age of flappers. For the first time, arms were let out of their clothing-cages and someone, somewhere, decided hair was unpleasant. Silent films like Cleopatra helped establish this hairless trend.

However, we have grown as a society, why do we still today? Are our hippy-dippy, new- agey lives STILL ruled by fashion? Advertisers?

Hair is sensual. The Joy of Sex even says hair adds to the overall experience of touch. It is and can be its own erogenous zone, ripe with scent and a gateway to the skin, our largest organ. Why shave and lose sensation?

In short, what is so horrible about body fur? I like the way my pits feel with hair. I like my legs in their natural state. It feels comfortable. I also like men with chest hair and beards. I like the touch and feel of skin and hair and bodies being natural bodies together.

Underarm hair in particular has a job. It cushions the air around the armpits so the sides do not rub against each other. Like every other part of our body, it is functional, providing ventilation, cooling, and less chaffing.

Why do so many people consider underarm hair vulgar, unclean?

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To Hair or Not to Hair?