I was about nine or 10 years old when my underarm sprouted its first strand of hair. Being the kid that I was, I found myself absent-mindedly running my fingers through it and tugging. The younger me didn't take it seriously, and I forgot about it right away. Out of nowhere, the same strand of hair suddenly became almost as long as my pinky, and that's when it became too much for my pre-menstrual self to ignore. "Shave it off," my mom said matter-of-factly. Presented with no alternative, I did as she advised. She gave me one of her unused razors, and that was that. Goodbye, lone strand.
Little did I know, that wasn't the end of it. As I got older, more hair kept growing in places I never knew hair could grow. I didn't know what else to do, so I approached it the same way I did the first time—I shaved it all off without a second thought. After all, my mom and my friends do it, and so do the girls with the perfect armpits in commercials. They seemed okay with it, so who was I to complain?
Which leads us to one point in my teenage years, when I was shaving my underarms pretty much every day. It was a chore that forced me to wake up extra early on a school day. But other than being solely concerned about my growing underarm hair, I started worrying about my armpits becoming too dark and bumpy, too. I was suddenly stuck in a miserable cycle, which involved repeatedly shaving and buying whatever whitening and smoothing deodorant I could get my hands on.
It didn't help that my mom and I never really talked about body hair at all, except when she would reprimand me whenever my underarm hair got "too long." Body hair wasn't something people in my circle discussed. Everyone just agreed that it shouldn't be seen. Honestly, if it weren't for the internet and my best friend, I probably would have never explored other options.
For almost a decade since, I had been a follower of the hairless way of life. I slaved through every shave like my self-esteem depended on it. It felt almost robotic, enough to numb the realization that I was doing more harm than good every time I ran that blade over my skin—chicken skin, hyperpigmentation, etc.
I didn't realize that I was unknowingly cultivating self-hate by doing something that seemed like an innocent form of self-care. By repeatedly ridding myself of body hair, I was telling myself that this thing my body grows to protect me is as unsightly and dangerous as a wart. Worst of all, obsessing over being hairless was actually dragging me farther away from loving my body, since I was basically telling it that its natural state wasn't enough.
Don't get me wrong. If you prefer having your body hair shaved, waxed, or lasered off, then be my guest. Point is, women are not supposed to grow up thinking that we have no other choice. Most women never even realize that they can put their foot down and say no.
Hence, I did myself a favor. I stopped attempting to remove my body hair entirely—from the hair on my underarms, to my legs, down to my bikini area. And in the process, I also stopped letting my femininity be defined by whether or not I get myself stripped hairless by hot wax and blades. I'm a woman regardless of how I choose to deal with my body.
On a lighter note, I quit shaving because I'm tired of it, having to do something that's essentially unnecessary. I'd rather spend my time in the shower doing something I actually need to do, like washing my hair and scrubbing my back. Shaving always felt like a chore to me anyway, no matter how much lotion and conditioner I used to make the slide easier. Basically, I quit hair removal since I wasn't doing it because I wanted to. It was all an attempt to subscribe to this skewed image of being more "ladylike."
How's life sans the weekly shave, you ask? Well, the only underarm-related thing that matters to me now is not having BO, which is nothing a good body soap and deodorant can't fix. My hygiene has practically stayed the same, and my skincare routine still has eight steps. In fact, my body doesn't feel any different since I stopped worrying about my body hair. I might even go as far as saying that I feel better about it than I did before.
That said, I'm nowhere near the level of Instagramming my bare armpits, mind you. I admit I have a lot more work to do with my self-esteem, and that's okay. But reaching this point of abandoning hair removal entirely is already liberating in itself. So don't take this as me telling you to follow my footsteps. After all, no one should go around telling others what to do with their bodies. My only wish is to spread the word, especially to women, that we should never feel trapped in our bodies, and that we always have more than one choice.