I’m thirty-eight years old, but sometimes I wake up in the morning and I want to feel sixteen. On these mornings, I do two things: I put in all my earrings (8), and I start growing my armpit hair.
And no, this has nothing to do with being ashamed of my age, or wanting to feel younger. I love being in my late thirties, can’t wait until forty, and I am grateful every day that I’m out of my horrid, torrid, see-saw-swing twenties. What I’m seeking now is not the bumble-days of youth, but something else. My core.
From sixteen until about twenty-five, I didn’t shave my armpit hair. If I had a gala to go to, I wore a strapless ballroom dress with the pit hair glowing. If I wanted to go to the beach, so what? No need to shave. I thought the hair was sexy, and liberating. I lived in New York at the time, so nobody cared. In the City, people usually have better things to do than stare at your hair. When I held on tight to the subway bar above me, and my hair sprouted from my pits, no one ever bothered to take a second glance. I got used to it, the armpit hair became part of me, and I stopped thinking about it.
Then, when I was twenty-five, I moved back to my hometown of Miami and met my first real boyfriend. Interestingly, he loved my armpit hair, at first, played with it in bed, thought it was “cute.” But then he started asking questions: “Do you always have it?” “What if we have to go somewhere fancy?” At first, I rebelled. I started to wear more tank tops and raise my arms higher, as if to say, if you don’t like me, leave me. But then Miami itself, the place, started to intrude as well.
Miami can be a little backwards in terms of feminism. The same Latin roots that charm the magic city into song, sometimes kick her back into machismo. Women are often so coiffed that it’s painful to watch, and implants abound on the cobbled streets of Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. Unlike in New York, in Miami everyone had something to say about my hair. People on the street would snicker, and if I took public transportation, my fellow commuters would turn the other way in disgust. On the street one day, a guy with an Argentinian accent called out: “Bicho!” Critter. I could feel my stride riding a little less securely, and I started to give in. Eventually, I caved and shaved.
My Cuban grandmother was happy. I was finally “blending in,” as much as I could.
These days though, when I feel particularly pissed about big things like Trump in the White House, or small things like a nasty comment on a feminist piece I’ve written, I start letting my hair sprout its regal axillary spray. The hair takes a while to grow, and I enjoy every second of it. By the time it gets bushy, and anyone has anything to say (I still live in Miami, so people still have things to say), I know how to deal with it. I smile. Men love when you smile. Then I add a wink, as if to say: the hair ain’t goin’ anywhere. And the sixteen-year old inside jumps for victorious joy.
What the hair makes me feel, I realize, when I go wild like this, is feral. It makes me feel like myself. Just me, at the core.
When I was twenty-two, I felt like I was at a crossroads. I remember asking myself: Am I going to let myself go out into the world, be touched by men (I was a virgin), engage with the things society has in store for me, or am I going to be a hermit, a monk. Becoming a nun was a real possibility. Problem was, I wasn’t religious.
I decided to go the way of the world. By the time I was twenty-five, I was enjoying it. Taking it all in, traveling, exploring my sexuality, doing all the things that being a non-hermit entailed. But when it came time to cut my armpit hair, it suddenly felt like, within that act, there was a world, my inner world, my core, being cut. A second umbilical cord.
It seems, I’m not the only one that feels this way. According to an article in the New York Times in May of this year, “between 2013 and 2016, 18 percent of women between the ages of 16 and 24 stopped removing their armpit hair and 7 percent stopped shaving their legs.” Meanwhile, celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Madonna, Gabby Hoffman, Scout Willis, Tyler Ford, and even Sophia Loren back in the day, raise and/or have raised their arms to hairy armpits.
This past spring, when Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman hit the big screen, women asked: Wait, hang on a minute, if these women are bad ass Amazons, why are they wearing wedges, and why are their legs, eyebrows, and armpits so perfectly waxed, trimmed, and shaved? Maxim Magazine’s staff (of course) rebutted online that they liked Gal Gadot without the hair. Then they embedded the original trailer of the film in an article online about the debate, adding this comment: “That’s more than 2 and a half minutes of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) veteran Gal Gadot, nearly six feet tall, absolutely kicking everyone’s ass and looking incredible—and convincing—as she does it.” I think the thing to re-read here, in Maxim’s reply, is: “and looking incredible.”
Seems to me like Maxim doesn’t get to decide what “looking incredible means,” at least not for me, anymore. For me, today, I’d rather focus on action than someone else’s ideal of beauty. I rather let my bushy pits out to play, along with everything they represent.
Image courtesy flickr.com/case__face/