Jess Cummin for 'Natural Beauty' by Ben Hopper (2019)
“I stopped shaving at the age of 18. I was suffering from PTSD as the result of rape and was trying to regain autonomy over my body in any way I knew how. I had also reached a breaking point with the amount of catcalling and sexual advances I was experiencing and was willing to go to any extreme to protect myself from that. It didn’t take long for my body hair to become obvious, and within the space of about a month, I was already noticing the shift in attitude from men towards me, which reinforced the importance of continuing this. It also awoke deep anger and frustration that shaving was an expectancy for women and our beauty was dependant on it.
It made me feel simultaneously embarrassed and empowered. I struggled with wearing clothing that exposed my armpits unless I was at queer events or around other creatives. I wasn’t yet resilient enough to ignore people whispering about it in public or the double takes from people at the gym. Within my first year of growing my body hair, I shaved several times out of awkwardness, and it has been known to rarely happen even now.
The like-minded women around me celebrated it and embraced my armpits. It took longer for family and friends to be on board with it (with moments of encouraging me to shave for family events or holidays) but they too came around. Men took no effort in hiding their disgust, they called me ‘dirty, unclean, smelly, feminist(!), gross’ or other things along those lines. They fetishized me in a way that made me feel incredibly uneasy. I had to privatise my social media as fetish accounts were taking photos of my armpits, sharing them and consequently my inboxes were getting clogged up with ‘dick pics’.
About a year and a half down the line of this journey, I started regaining my sexuality and began dating again. I felt a bizarre need to warn partners in advance that I had body hair, as though it was necessary to be apologetic prior to them deciding if they wanted to sleep with me. Nearly everyone was okay with it and those that weren’t I stopped seeing as I was not going to shave for anyone. Weirdly enough, my hair taught me to take control and not take anyone’s shit!”
In the times I have shaved I have felt weirdly naked and vulnerable with discomfort at seeing the empty spaces where my hair should be. Luckily, the pain of regrowth has quickly reminded me that my natural state is hairy and how my body feels best! I find my body hair incredibly feminine and powerful, it has connected me to a strong and sexy woman within me, even if sometimes certain settings make me awkward and overly aware of it. I’m so glad that not shaving is becoming normal and acceptable. I always look back at when I was a teenager and the thought of even having pubes was a crime and laugh at how far I have come in rejecting what is expected of me. Whilst I have no issue in how people choose to groom themselves (especially because I occasionally remove my body hair) I have always been bewildered by the embarrassment a tuft of armpit hair can bring upon a room of rational people.”
– Jess Cummin (2019)