What I Learned About Femininity From Growing Out My Armpit Hair

by Hannah Jane Cohen

Ever since I began to self-identify as a feminist, there’s been one glaring black hole within my own execution of the ideology, one that I can’t personally reconcile.

To be less theoretic, in my own eyes, I’m a major feminist f*ckup.

Although I can go on about patriarchy and rape culture, I still follow the demands of our capitalist, heterosexual patriarchy in one very time-consuming sector: appearance.

I'm not going to lie here; I love beauty standards and present myself in a very archetypically “feminine” way.

Look, I have the locks of a goth mermaid.

I wear 1.5-inch acrylic nails (with sparkles).

I run or lift every day.

I love wedge sneakers.

Basically, I aspire to be the girls in G-Eazy's "Tumblr Girls" video.


Because I like looking pretty, and doing these things make me feel that way.

I think most beauty-addicts will agree we just feel better done-up rather than not.

Being “attractive” — and by attractive, I mean attractive in the societally accepted sense — has always meant a lot to me.

I've always found it of the utmost importance.

Sorry to publicly reveal my not-so-hidden vanity, but I think a lot of people can relate.

But, at the same time, I know all of the standards I'm following are socially constructed and ultimately damaging to every female’s psyche.

With airbrushing and plastic surgery now prevalent in society, we all know we are following an unrealistic model of what it means to be a female.

Yet I, personally, still feel I need to be attractive in the ways dictated by patriarchy, even though I know these standards are unattainable and obsessive.

So, I keep my hair long and wear red lipstick.

Yes, I love doing my nails and I love picking out clothing, but why?

Why do I love this stuff so much?

Because it seems kind of pointless, to be honest.

It boils down to this question: How much of my appearance is for me, and how much is subconsciously for male attention?

Why am I doing all of this? Why the f*ck do I care so much?

When I asked myself these questions, I realized I would never get proper answers until I reframed them.

Instead of asking why I was wearing makeup, I learned to ask myself, can I not wear makeup today?

My knee-jerk reaction was a large, opera-screaming, “No!”

I was, frankly, embarrassed by this.

I’ve had pink hair and am covered in tattoos, so why could I not go without concealer?

How lame am I?

I decided I needed to gain a little perspective.

I needed to be a little more liberated.

I tried to think of what standard seemed the most heartily ingrained in me.

Not doing my nails was easy.

What’s a harder feminine trait?

I decided to start off with something big: shaving my underarms.

Some history: Women have only recently began shaving their underarms.

About 100 years ago, as part of their advertising campaigns, shaving and hair removal cream companies started to preach shaved armpits as the norm for women to boost sales.

But before then, it was pretty common for a lady to have underarm hair.

Nowadays? Not so much.

Everyone shaves, and I’ve never even seen a girl with armpit hair in real life.

But if I did this, I would soon meet one in the mirror.

First, I laid down a few rules for myself:

- I could not “opt out” of wearing tank tops or strapless shirts when I would have normally worn them. I had to be loud and proud of my pits.

- I could not tell anyone this was a “test” or “experiment.” If asked, I would just say that I choose not to shave.

With these rules decided, I threw out my razor.

Slowly, stubble came in, and eventually it transformed into real-life soft hair.

I was officially no longer part of the norm, and yeah, it definitely freaked me out at first.

But now it’s been almost two months, and I’m pretty comfortable with it.

It’s mine, and I’m happy.

So, what did I find out?

Well first of all, not as many people as I thought have asked about it.

A lot have definitely noticed, but rarely does a stranger outright say anything to me, even at yoga class or in the sauna.

Friends have noticed, but most seem to take it at face value. (I guess Miley Cyrus and "Girls" have been changing a few minds…)

But who cares about outside validation?

That’s why I was shaving in the beginning, right? How did I feel?

Surprisingly, I really like the hair there.

It feels sexy in an old-school movie way.

Of course, now I’m like, why do I have to find the sexiness in everything?

But still, I thought it would feel unnatural, but it actually feels the opposite.

Like people on the Paleo diet, I have found my cavelady roots.

Will I shave in the future?

To be honest, I think I’ll wait a few more weeks and then start again.

I have work and school, and unfortunately this is a standard that’s seriously engrained in society (meaning I worry I might get fired for showing off underarm hair at my job).

At the same time, I’ll no longer stress if I miss a week or something.

Hair there is no biggie.

I tried it, and I loved it.

What’s next?