Thursday, July 22, 2010

No longer hirsute under her suit?

One of my smart and gorgeous readers recently suggested a column idea on the topic of depilation: To shave or not to shave. For some of us, it's not a question. For others, it is. But what's interesting is that being unshaven does not seem to be the lesbo indicator it once was. Doesn't it seem like hairy legs and armpits were once an earthy territory traversed only by lesbians? In Armpit Hair, loud sapphist Alix Olson sings about the double standard of women needing to be hairless while men are accepted as furry (Alix raps: "I don't find that particularly pretty, so get your opinion out of my hairy pitty.") Alix's desire to have hairy pits seems a direct statement against the sexist standard of femininity imposed upon her by the patriarchy. But doesn't that stance almost seem like a throwback? All due respect to Alix Olson and the injustices of the patriarchy, of course. But these days, something else seems to be going on. Straight gals are going hairy, and lesbians are impeccably groomed. I have two pieces of empirical evidence, and by that I mean my anecdotal observations.

1. Young lesbians of today are much, much more groomed than those of a previous generation. Even the butches are plucking their eyebrows. Have you noticed this? It's true. In the last year or so I have made the acquaintance of two otherwise very butch young lesbians who have clearly put a lot of time and care into shaping their eyebrows. They wear a bit of eye makeup, even. Don't get me wrong. They look very nice. They are handsome young butches.
It's just not something you saw among the butches previously. Where did it come from? Is Shane imitating life, or is life imitating Shane? You see it even among our star butches. Rachel Maddow. Julie Goldman. It's clear these butches spend time in the salon. Unheard of a generation ago. Even the beloved Bearded Lady of Provincetown—famously unshaven—apparently is keeping her eyebrows shapely. By the way, I think you look great, Bearded Lady.

2. The second part of my argument is related to an arena I know of only through a lifetime of observation: Straight women. They seem to be going hairy. Tossing aside the customs of Betty Draper, some of them—still a minority—are hairy free spirits. Mo'Nique with her hairy legs at the Golden Globes.  Amanda Palmer flipping off the world with her pits. But the practice is not embraced by a mainstream that still wants its women hairless. A recent NYT article, Unshaven Women: Free Spirits or Unkempt?, said it was "brazen" to go unshaven in public. The article suggests there is a fear "that no man will want you and your hairy legs." So, despite everything, hairy female bodies are still seen as not heterosexual, and are, therefore, unwanted. Maybe Alix Olson is not such a throwback, after all.


M said...

My own shaving habits are determined by convenience and the seasons. I attribute this willingness to shave-as-I-please to being a lesbian and the freedom that comes from not being attached to men.

This new-found freedom reminds me of Gloria Steinem's essay "In Praise of Women's Bodies" from her book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. I read that essay decades ago but it is just in the past few years that I embraced the notion that I could discard the trappings of the traditional female body and apparel and instead do what felt right for me.

I do not shave my legs in the winter months (it dries out my skin) but I do keep the pits clean. I was amazed to learn that my partner shaves her pits everyday -- she thinks it helps with odor control. I go braless whenever I can, I wear cotton briefs, and the only Brazillian I've ever had was a waitress on the upper west side. All my choices. Others will choose differently. I love the idea that both straight and lesbian women are expressing the freedom to do what feels best for them.

I do wonder why no female athletes have hairy pits. Why is that? Does the NCAA or WNBA do pit inspections before letting them women hit the court? There MUST be A FEW hairy pit girl athletes out there! Are they fined if they are not clean shaven? I've watched a lot of women's sports and never seen a single hairy female pit. Yet the men's pits seem to get their own cover photos and stories in Sports Illustrated and ESPN - up close and personal. What gives?

Sapphist Gazetteer said...

My theory on the lack of hairy pits in women's sports: Rampant homophobia. As many of us have experienced, homophobia is particularly intense in women's athletics because straight women and lesbians alike feel intense pressure to prove they are not gay. Hence the clean pits and the ponytails.

wiseacre said...

Straight guy here. I like unshaven women. Pit shaving,leg shaving,and(gag)groin shaving seem like infantalization or something.