A Story Of Sexual Assault
This week on Turn Me On: Get a lift home from the airport with Bryde and Jeremie. Then use their internet to send dirty videos to your long distance partner. They'll tell you what to say. Sorry for the sound quality. Then they chat with Maxi Brocklane, who wrote us her intriguing story of a fresh-faced Canadian abroad, living the student dream, complete with a blackout that came back to haunt her. Trigger Warning: sexual assault.
Be sure to check out Carly's blog below where she shares her thoughts on her lady hair.
"Let your hair down"
I can remember my mother broaching the topic of personal grooming with me sometime around grade 5. She informed me it was a routine I would eventually have to engage in, but was strictly verboten until she indicated otherwise. I was not blissfully unaware that my hairy preteen legs were at odds with the ideals of womanliness that I was confronted with in every aspect of mainstream media. Despite the fact that I had naturally blonde hair on my head, my hair everywhere else was dark brown, and much to my chagrin quite noticeable. I felt pretty hard done by to have to live my life feeling like a Sasquatch. I took matters into my own hands one day at the cottage and stole one of my uncles razors, fresh from the package. This would tip the scales in my favour when pursuing cute neighbourhood boys, or at least strip them of insult ammunition, as hairyness, like any body-related topic, was a go-to in pre-teen taunts. Ultimately, I ended up coming out of the bathroom speckled with tiny pieces of Kleenex that I hoped would stem the massacre I had inflicted upon myself. My mother's mouth flopped open behind her newspaper upon seeing me, she said something to the effect of "I see you have decided you were ready to shave, huh? Didn't think a tutorial would have helped?". I looked like I had had an encounter with Edward Scissor hands. By the time I had started using porn to explore my sexuality and noticed that all women were completely bald under their bloomers I had thankfully mastered the use of a Bic tri-blade. So, long before I even became sexually active I began to shave my pussy, à la Mr. Bigglesworth. I didn't think much of conforming to these beauty standards, it seemed like the only option.
In doing a little research on the topic it turns out that the war waged on women's body hair is centuries old. During the colonization of North America it was observed that women in indigenous communities were already engaging in hair removal. It was a trend that initially baffled 18th century explorers, yet became shockingly commonplace within the next century. Darwin's works "The Descent of Man" brought the spotlight onto the racial differences in hair growth and type. As these works were widely disseminated in America, the public began to latch on to these findings as concrete truths. Hairiness became associated with "primitive ancestry". An important aspect of this widely popularized framework was the fact that hairiness in men was desirable and hairiness in women was not.
By the 1900s hairlessness in women was strongly tied to femininity. As more revealing clothing became à la mode, women were engaging in creative ways to remove this unsightly burden. These women were desperate enough to engage in practices like using radiation to remove unwanted hair or modified rat poison as a dilapitory. Ultimately these practices were abandoned for a more familiar tool, but not without countless casualties and irresversible damage to their bodies. This gives a whole new meaning to hair-die (pun).
During WWII more than 99% of North American women were engaged in some sort of hair removal, voluntarily altering our bodies from their natural state. Shaving became the preferred method. Later into the 20th century other alternatives like chemical hair removal, waxing and laser hair removal also became popular. No matter what method, these practices were expensive and time consuming. I myself have to shell out 28.99 plus tax at Costco for my Shick Intuition habit. It is estimated the average North American woman who shaves spends about 10 000$ in their lifetime on hair removal. I can think of so many more interesting ways to spend that kind of cash.
Rebecca Herzig explains in Plucked: A History of Hair Removal that hair removal in essence is gendered social control. As women's rights and freedom increased, so did the need to modify their body. The effect of the hairless norm is to "produce feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability, the sense that women's bodies are problematic the way they naturally are". This resonates with me. Why have we been conditioned to feel that our bodies are repulsive when in their natural state? How can we reverse this standard?
The past week and a half I took a deliberate hiatus from shaving. Within a few days my legs, armpits and unmentionables were overgrown by traditional beauty standards. Try as I may to feel feminine in this state, I cringed at the idea of wearing a skirt or dress. Every posture at yoga that revealed my unshaven armpits made my face flush with embarrassment. I noticed that even my friends' eyes would flick involuntarily to the coarse black hair in my armpits when leaning into a yawn-stretch. FORGET about getting intimate, as the thought of engaging in sexual activity in this state leaves me feeling mortified. Not to mention due to the fact that my hair has become more coarse from regular shaving it is literally uncomfortable to feel the stubble return underneath my clothing. Despite the fact that shaving is a personal choice, I feel shackled to my Shick Intuition.
Personally, my shaving habit has caused me undue stress when it comes to my sexual-assault related PTSD. The constant fear that I am plagued by an undiagnosed STI meant that I was routinely engaging in shaving my pubic area, so I could whip out my handy-dandy pocket mirror and survey the area. Upon visiting a very frank gyn-derm specialist due to bumps in my groin, I was informed that A) they were ingrown hairs FROM shaving (folliculitis, if you wanna get medical), B) to get a grip and to ditch my razor because the microscopic wounds I was inflicting on myself were putting me at higher risk for infection. Pubic hair removal causes routine irritation and abrasion of a very sensitive area, and leaves you MORE exposed to sexually transmitted infections and diseases transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. The furrier you are down there the more cushion you have to protect you from sex-related friction, but also provides protection from unwanted pathogens.
Fortunately, there is a re-emerging (though not quite mainstream) trend among women to embrace body hair. Every time I see a woman unabashedly showing off her hairy legs and armpits I am reaffirmed in my desire to join the movement. When I observe these "hairy" women I do not perceive them as any less womanly or feminine... if anything I recognize them as beings infinitely more feminine than myself, having accepted their body in its natural state. Their capacity for self-acceptance is something that I envy and hope to emulate. Of course, we all have weak moments or evenings out at The Seahorse with a new dress that beckons to feature silky smooth legs. I'm workin' on it. I truly believe that existing just as you are should not feel like an act based in counter-culture. So that being said, ladies- Let you hair down.