I don’t know why armpit hair feels so much more intimate than leg hair.
Showing armpit hair feels akin to revealing pubic hair; that level of reveal, that nakedness, that vulnerability. Armpit hair, like pubic hair, is seen as dirty in a way that leg hair isn’t. There are throwaway jokes in films about shaving leg hair – maybe even a joke about waxing pubic hair – but there are never jokes about underarms, either waxing or shaving.
The armpit feels like the weird middle child between leg and pubic. Leg is casual. Pubic is taboo, but so taboo that it’s occasionally talked about in a daring, let’s-break-boundaries way. Armpit is just awkward.
I stopped shaving my armpit hair almost two years ago. I grew up with the Rock Solid Knowledge that body hair was embarrassing and shameful, and I only stopped shaving after a small mental breakdown made me revaluate many of the Rock Solid Knowledges of my childhood. But it wasn’t like all that shame went away overnight. I was still embarrassed, and while some days I felt Cool and Empowered and Rebellious, other days I just felt stupid and scared.
And then my partner had to go to A&E.
It was a still sweaty sticky summer; I was wearing a tank top; the NHS is overworked and underpaid and stretched thin like Bilbo Baggins’ butter over too much bread. We were in the hospital for around ten hours, every so often moving from one uncomfortable hot room to another uncomfortable hot room, and as time went by my anxiety about my armpit hair seemed less and less important compared with the anxiety of worrying about my partner. The real Moment came when I was sitting on the bed, talking some kind of crap to try and stay cheerful, and I looked around and caught the tail end of a Funny Look from the woman opposite. It took me a moment to realise I’d been waving my arms around — I talk a lot with my hands — and she’d probably been able to see my armpits.
But — My beloved was in hospital. It was so so hot. It was almost midnight, and I had to be up early for work the next day. There were so many other things to be concerned with right then.
The shame didn’t go away that night, either. I didn’t wake up the next day fully liberated from twenty+ years of drinking the hairless Kool-Aid. But I cared much less after that, and I think I care even less now because people are dying, the world is on fire, and empathy and compassion are rarer than flour and toilet paper. I know what I want to care about, and write about, and it’s not about how smooth my underarms are.