I shaved my pits for the first time in 2015 yesterday. I remember when New Year’s Eve rolled around and I, out of habit, reached for my razor, but then I stopped myself. I wasn’t showing much skin on that chilly night of December 31, 2014, anyway. Why shave?
Admittedly, I was also curious. One of my best friends had recently let her armpit hair grow out and declared that she loved her fuzzy pits. “Good for you!” I cheered her on, secretly wondering if I’d ever have the gall to do the same.
The earliest memory I have of seeing a clear image of a woman with armpit hair is when I was 18 and watching Lust, Caution, a Taiwanese movie by Ang Lee. I remember feeling horrified. If there was another time I had seen pit fuzz on a woman before that, I don’t remember it. Not even on myself. (I had been shaving my pits for about six years then and never allowed the hair to grow longer than half a centimeter.) That’s both impressive and sad.
Of course there were exceptions. I grew up in the Bay Area, so there were bound to be some liberal women around who let their natural hair grow wherever they pleased. But I didn’t see enough to dilute the shock I felt as I watched Wei Tang (the Chinese leading woman of Lust, Caution) lift her arms during a sex scene. There they were, two black patches of fuzzy hair. There I was, at age 18, feeling shocked to see a woman with fully grown armpit hair.
Seven years later, I was 25 years old and I still hadn’t met my own armpit hair. I was still maintaining my weekly routine to scrape the skin under the shoulders with a razor, without question, always eliminating that specific area of hair that grew out of me for literally no other reason than it was simply what women do. By this time, though, I had seen a handful more women with armpit hair, but they were all white women. Their armpit hair also happened to be light-colored, not like Wei Tang’s and not like mine. It somehow felt like that made a difference.
Maybe it’s because it was New Year’s Eve when I decided to forego shaving my pits. Maybe it felt like a resolution. I don’t know what it was, but this year I suddenly found myself not finding reason in shaving the pits. Not in the goddamn winter anyway.
The morning after New Year’s, I woke up feeling like shit and vowed to make better life choices. January passed. I hadn’t felt the urge to shave my armpits yet. The hair there was only baby fuzz. It was cute. I liked it. I had also dyed my bangs red. Because why not.
Same thing in February, except the armpit hair was no longer an infant. It was a toddler. It was beginning to curl. I grew attached to it. I exposed my armpit hair in public once, unexpectedly. I was in a security line at the airport, wearing a tank top, and I had to take my jacket off. And then I had to hold my arms up in the full body scanner, knowing full well that the TSA agent and the people in line could clearly see that I was unshaven. It felt liberating that I didn’t give a damn.
It was in March when I encountered a crisis. By this time, my armpit hair was fully grown, or close to it. I couldn’t tell if it had stopped growing longer. By any means, I was entirely accustomed to it. I expected to be grossed out at some point when I had gotten too hairy (by whose standards was never clear), but that never happened. Rather, the longer it grew, the more natural I felt I looked. I had also dyed the hair on my scalp fully black. Because why not.
Anyway, the crisis was a pool party. The dark tuft of hair that peeked out of my pits suddenly seemed painfully obvious once I put a bikini on. I was anxious. I couldn’t possibly shave my armpits and put a premature halt to my body-liberating journey just for a gathering at a friend’s pool on a random Sunday! Could I really just leave the hair as it was? I wasn’t ready. I grabbed a scissor and trimmed the hair.
The pool party went fine. No one commented on my (less obvious) pit fuzz. I averted my body slightly away when I was pulling my shirt off. I wasn’t trying to hide the armpit hair, but I wasn’t trying to bring attention to it either. However, I did want to bring attention to women and armpit hair in general. The vast absence of armpit hair on women in real life and in the media had become disturbingly unnatural to me by this time, but I wasn’t sure what kind of platform I wanted to use to talk about this.
I thought about doing a photo shoot with myself as a model and my armpit hair as a part of the image. For some reason, that felt easier to handle than revealing my hairy pits around people in person. The message would be somewhere along the lines of, This should be an ordinary photo of some girl doing mundane everyday things but it’s shocking to you because her armpits are hairy. Except why is it shocking when it’s something that all women have? Why is female armpit hair so erased?
I took a bunch of self portraits. I even talked with a couple of photographers about this project idea. However, I simultaneously struggled with wondering why I needed to document this at all. The friends of mine that grew out their armpit hair didn’t have to declare it to the world. They simply did so.
For me, though, the memory of 18-year-old me feeling disgust at Wei Tang’s armpit hair made such an impression on me that I felt it was so important for young women, of all races, to see that women like themselves don’t have to shave if they don’t want to. I felt that the Western media library was sorely lacking in images of women growing hair naturally and I wanted to contribute to this scarce shelf.
However, I knew the time was approaching that I’d part from my precious pit fuzz. In the past couple weeks, spring had begun settling in around here. The temperature rose and I left my jackets untouched. Soon, there would be events where I would likely be wearing short sleeves and possibly waving my arms around for a variety of reasons. And, I was getting married in July. As much as I felt totally fine with having armpit hair, I couldn’t bring myself to imagine wearing a white wedding dress with unshaven pits.
Sure enough, yesterday happened: the search for my wedding dress. I was in a rush, taking a shower before making the 3 PM appointment, and I looked at my pit hair. I thought about it. I’d be constantly lifting my arms to pull my hair up to see if the dresses looked good with an up-do. A total stranger would be helping me try on the dresses. I did not want to feel self-conscious while deciding what I wanted to get married in. And before I knew it, my razor met my pits.
I barely took a glance at my bare armpits as I got dressed and flew out of the door. After I, sans armpit hair, came back from dress shopping (yes, I found the dress I’m going to get married in!), I re-watched the sex scene with Wei Tang in Lust, Caution. I had an entirely new perspective: Wei Tang looked like a beautiful woman, armpit hair and all. I searched my feelings for a trace of my 18-year-old appalled mentality and I could only sense the faint memory of it. At 25, I was watching the scene with new lens.
You want to know how it feel to not have armpit hair anymore? It feels weird. My armpits look strange without their natural hair. My armpits look unnaturally naked. I miss my pit fuzz. I’m growing it back. And I’ll shave it all off again when I feel like it. And then I’ll grow it back again. Because why not.