If my shaving razor were a person, they’d think I was a pretty shitty friend. Blowing hot and cold, never turning up to commitments, going MIA for months on end. Yet whilst the Gilette Venus luckily has no feelings when it comes to the frequency of hair removal, I can’t say exactly the same for me.
I realised at the end of June that I never shaved because I wanted to. I shaved out of fear, a sense of societal compulsion. The final straw broke when I shaved my legs in a panic to go to a conference. I knew that most the participants wouldn’t be British, and a good third of them would be American. Thanks to my unholy addiction to American teen dramas, I couldn’t entertain the thought that it would be ok for Americans to catch sight of a little female fuzz. So out came the razor, and what for a while had characterised my legs went swimming down the drain.
Not shaving had been a positive political act – in a world of misogyny, rape apologists and Twitter trolls, I felt that if I couldn’t take control of society, I could at least take control of my own body and my own choices. Reclaim some sense of autonomy over myself and do it visibly.
I stood in front of the mirror and instantly felt like I’d lost myself.
It dawned on me that this was a familiar pattern, and it wasn’t only about feminism. It was about fat.
I remember sitting opposite a woman on the Overground once on my way to a work meeting. She was wearing a long skirt, but when she crossed one leg over the other, she showed her hairy calves. She was very slim, and I remember thinking how cool she was for not – at least visibly – giving a fuck about what anyone thought. But even though my own legs weren’t that different in terms of hair-o-meter, I’d never quite got to the point where I could go out with hairy legs in public and not worry about what people thought. It seemed obvious to me that whilst a skinny woman looked principled, I would just look like I didn’t make an effort. That somehow the thickness of my thighs would convert every principled stance into laziness, an excuse for a public crucifixion.
My favourite part about being deaf is that I get to miss out on the majority of cat calls. But even so, I’ve caught a couple of “fat slags” and “heifer alerts” here and there. Maybe part of it is me filling in the blanks, of falsely interpreting external taunts with internalised concern. Maybe it doesn’t really matter either way. The impact is the same.
There’s keen sense of double prejudice when it comes to having both a vagina and an extra few stone around your middle. It’s hard enough to feel visible as a disabled woman in this society. It’s almost impossible to feel secure and respected when you’ve spent a lifetime not fitting into the “right” size jeans.
And now I’d signed away something important to me in order to quell my fears that all these new conference-goers wouldn’t have something else to judge. The next week, I decided that enough was enough – it was time for Veet to politely fuck off.
For some reason, I’d never freaked out about my pits – the hair there had always been to stay. For the rest of summer, my legs would remain similarly untouched. I’d make an effort to wear whatever I wanted in the heat, to not be held back by the possibility of flashing a little hairy calf. In many ways, it was a complete non-decision. Hadn’t I always wanted to act this way, and been 80% there? But that 20% was radical.
Over the next couple of months, I got up on stages and taught in gorgeously knee-length black crepe culottes. I ran identity politics sessions for teenagers that disclosed sensitive and private information about myself. I ran around with five year olds in day care. I ate dinner at my grandparents’ flat without a bra on and with a lot of body hair showing.
Something really miraculous occurred: nothing bad happened. I felt great.
For the first time, perhaps ever, I realised that when I walked down the street I didn’t actually care what anyone saw when they looked at me. I started going out without a bra on when it was hot. I stretched my arms over my head to yawn with no sleeves on. I didn’t worry about whether people thought I looked fat. I began view my body as if it were only for me.
It was bloody glorious, and I never expected it.
I had conversations with friends about my body. They said they’d never seen me as a “big woman”. I said that I dressed well for my figure, and noted that I didn’t want such a simple statement to make me so happy. I’m working on it.
I might have spent an entire life telling myself that I would never be one of “those” – insert “pretty” – girls, but I decided that perhaps I’d feel confident instead if I didn’t keep holding myself to a standard that I’d always loathed and politically objected to. That maybe I wouldn’t be your stereotypical Topshop model but I could be Hannah Brady. I decided that being Hannah Brady would be pretty fucking good.
I went to a swimming pool and put on my suit and didn’t feel a rising sense of panic whilst walking to the water. I stood by the side of the pool after to read the clock and let myself breathe. Breathing seems like it should be easy, but sometimes stopping to breathe is the hardest thing to do.
I lived for a lifetime in a city of nerves, but I hired a moving van and found somewhere a hell of a lot better. In this new city, life feels so much more free.
Today I woke up and stroked my legs and felt like I fancied feeling smooth again for a few days. Start a fresh slate and wait for a new cycle of follicles to start sprouting. I took my razor out for the first time in twelve weeks and for the first time it didn’t feel like I was caving. This time, it felt like a choice.