I remember the first time I noticed hair on my body. Instead of the pride one should feel when reaching a new level of growth, I felt a sense of aversion. I had seen all of these commercials, heard all this talk, and I didn't realize it yet, but I had been programmed to believe that I had to shave. I couldn't be a girl and have hair on her legs, even if they were barely there, and I definitely couldn't be a girl if I had an inch of armpit hair. That was a trait deemed masculine by default. So while it was cool for Hakeem and 'em to play ball in their tanks and their taco meat catching beads of sweat effortlessly amid hair and deodorant residue, me walking around in my bathing suit with hair under there couldn't be a thing.
So I succumbed to the pressure and the beliefs of what was beautiful and what wasn't, what was feminine and what was believed to be innately masculine. Despite the discomfort of the razor blade's scrape or the stinging that Nair would create, it was fine, I was hairless.
Fast forward to yesterday, Erykah Badu reignited whatever empowerment in me that at one time felt silent. The neosoul singer took to Instagram to share a photo of herself, with her arm held high above her head. What was particularly notable about the picture was how unabashedly she showed off the tuft of hair in her armpit. "Today's meditation," she captioned, "Use the Funk, Star Children."
And we shall use that funk indeed.
There is a soulfulness and a wokeness about Erykah that doesn't make the fact that she doesn't shave the least bit surprising. Her eccentricism are woven into her threads, the jewels that adorn her fingers, and the headwraps on her head. However, it's her platform and her power as a woman that makes her voice on the subject of keeping things natural with body hair was particularly impactful. Perhaps that's why I felt so empowered by her revolutionary truth. It's natural. And the carpet matches the drapes.
Following her post, Erykah received a lot of backlash, but louder than any of that noise, were echoes of support.
We are quite possibly the only society that aligns femininity with hairlessness.
From our armpits to our bellies to our legs and our vaginas - it is societally expected that if you are a woman, you can't have hair in those places. Despite the fact that's the way growth goes. So, at an early age, we begin to take the arguably unnecessary step of grooming, which means we shave every one-two days, or we wax every four to six weeks, or we use our depillatory cream of choice on a week to week basis. Whatever the means, we must whip our forms into shape to be the way society views and heralds as femininity - not realizing that the divine feminine was always something we possessed - body hair and all.
Puberty sets the stage for adulthood to stand front and center, and our bodies quite literally and physically become temples for reproduction. We start to bleed once a month, our hormones change, our hips and lips and bellies become fuller - and surely enough, our body evolves from a hairless prepubescent canvas to its true post-pubescent self.
Hair not only grows from our heads, it sprouts from our legs, our vaginas, and yes, our armpits. That growth represents a woman coming into her own, it represents sex, and it represents the capability of producing life that a woman is birthed to in turn create.
Who told you your hair isn't beautiful? Who told you that having hair makes you the poster child for bad hygiene?
The hair on your body is there for a reason, and according to studies, more and more women are realizing that. In one study, it showed that 95% of women shaved and waxed their armpits in 2013. But in 2016, that percentage dropped down to 77%.
Writer Lisa Miller from The Cut broke down her understanding of why she feels society might feel so repulsed by women who rock armpit hair and she believes it has everything to do with the repression of sexual expression:
"Armpit hair signals sex because it grows during puberty and is one of the first signs of maturity (and fertility). And it signals sex because it transmits the scents that lead to mating. It triggers disgust because it reminds humans how dangerous sex can be. And that's why we shave it off. Because armpit hair betrays the western fantasy about sex, which is that sex is fun, pleasurable, innocent, and inconsequential, a fantasy that elides the evolutionary truth. The revulsion at armpit hair might be evolution's way of saying "proceed with caution," and its removal one less barrier to cross."
The thing about femininity is that it is a woman's work. As such, a woman should be able to define what is feminine and what is sexy to her – not men or societal rules. All I know is, you won't find me picking up that razor any time soon. Not unless I want to.
And that's my prerogative as a woman.