“It’s my intention to chip away at stigma and shame surrounding topics like sexuality and sexual identity, body image, the intersections of gender and race, relationships, and more.”
This is the first post in an ongoing series by new contributor, Emma Glassman-Hughes.
“At 19, I began my career in editorial with woman-centered companies that sold menstrual and sex products. I spent my days writing about everything from the state of feminism in India to the pluses and minuses of shower sex. Now — all these many, many years later — I’m 23 and working my dream job as an editor for a travel magazine where, as you might be able to guess, the sex talk is severely limited (the only downside). That’s why I’m so excited to kick off this series with Free People that allows me to keep the conversation going, with the intention of chipping away at stigma and shame surrounding topics like sexuality and sexual identity, body image, the intersections of gender and race, relationships, and more. It’s my hope that you’ll join in the fun and share your intimate side, too. And if you’re dying to talk about this stuff but don’t know where to start, know that it’s normal to be nervous or overwhelmed.
Think of me as the friend who keeps you honest
but never lets you say an unkind word about yourself,
because that’s what I do for my real friends, anyway.
“While I was studying abroad in Europe at the age of 19, I started the (very long and still continuous) journey of coming to terms with what I would later accept as my bisexuality, first with a wonderful boyfriend, then with a massive crush on a girl in my program while still loving my boyfriend, and then with a questioning of my own presentation to the world as a normative, straight white girl who had long flowing locks and wore makeup and shaved her body hair religiously. And while the hair on my head and the makeup on my face felt true to me for the time, I couldn’t shake this feeling that I was shaving my legs and armpits solely to appease a social pressure that requires women to look and feel and spend their money a certain way — and suddenly I felt totally uncomfortable with the whole thing. So much of how I came to understand my adult female body and my sex appeal was through the daily regimen of shaving my legs and armpits (and sometimes my forearms? WHY), panicking at the sight of stubble, equating sexiness with smoothness and refusing intimacy unless I was sure I was hairless. I promised myself that when I got back to the States, I would stop shaving for an entire year to see how it made me, and those around me, feel. I wanted to challenge my own perceptions about things on my body that I felt needed to change largely to placate the male gaze, and explore this foray into a budding new sexual identity by challenging what a femme-presenting person could or should look like. Plus, like, razors cost money and this college gal would take any opportunity that presented itself to trim away at monthly expenses.
“Long story short, I kept my promise to myself and didn’t touch a razor for a year. In fact, I loved not shaving so much that I didn’t touch a razor for a good two years after that fateful realization in a Dutch dorm bathroom. Of course there were challenges; it took me some time to internalize that “hairy” and “sexy” are not antonyms, and I’d get some weird, off-color comments from guys I would hook up with. The biggest challenge for me was summertime in New York City, where it was much harder to hide the hair under my arms, and, let’s be real, much sweatier than I ever could have imagined. Suddenly a tank top — what had been such an innocent sartorial staple for so long — became a trigger for anxiety, and, eventually, a badge of pride, as I slowly got up the courage to expose my hairy armpits, gripping the subway railing above my head and fielding curious or scornful looks left and right from fellow riders.
“That year, 2015 and into 2016, I was joined by what felt like a legion of women who decided to ditch their razors, too, starting thoughtful conversations online about race and class implications in the fight to normalize body hair. It was sort of a magical, culture-shifting time where women and femmes began to publicly reclaim some lost autonomy over self-presentation — and now, several years later, I don’t think twice about a subway stranger glimpsing the hair under my arms.
“In giving up shaving all those years ago, I started working toward repairing my relationship to my own body. It was important for me to commit to growing out my body hair at that time in my life, to push back against discomfort and to reveal a bit of my own lost humanity to myself. I feel very differently now than I did about my body at 19, and I care for my body differently than I did at that age, too. While it’s possible that I’ll never shave my underarms again (I just don’t get why people do it — I think my hairy pits are really cute), I noticed that in never shaving my legs, I was losing touch with my body in a way that I never anticipated.
“As toxic and motivated by self-loathing as my daily shaving was as a teenager, it meant that I spent a lot of time looking at and physically touching my own body every day. It meant that I would carve out a bit of time daily to just sit and be alone with myself in the tub. There were elements of that practice that were actually sort of… dare I say… healthy? As a full-blown adult in 2019, it’s so easy to get caught up with work and (trying to maintain) a social life that, once I stopped shaving, I lost a crucial opportunity for grooming and self-care.
“Now, instead of adhering to a steadfast rule that prohibits me from ever going near a razor, I shave my legs periodically when I feel like I need to spend some good quality time with myself. And doing it less often in turn makes the times when I do shave feel more like a special occasion — very sexy. Evolving my relationship to my body hair and my shaving habits has given me all new ways to learn about, appreciate, and express myself. Also, because I know you were really worried: The forearm hairs have made a full comeback and are better than ever.”