Tuesday, November 15, 2011

feeling "hairied" at my mammogram

As if the whole breast crushing mammo experience isn’t nerve-wracking and humiliating enough, try enduring it with hairy armpits.

I know what you’re thinking—“uh…SHAVE!”  Believe me, I considered it.  I stood in the shower this a.m., razor poised, pit lathered, but I couldn’t do it.

Why?  Or better yet, why should I?

I imagine some personalities might enjoy the shock value of lifting an arm to surprise their poor unsuspecting doctors with a soft mass of brown hair.

Fine for them, but that’s not my style, my intent, or my desire.

I don’t want to make a statement to anyone with my body.  In fact, with the typical college-aged eating disorder in my background, I’m more inclined to wish my body would disappear than show any bit of it off.  But perhaps it’s partly due to that history that I feel hard-pressed to conform to any standard of beauty that society wants to impose on me, even the mandate for bodily baldness. 

It didn’t help when a friend explained how a hairless woman’s body more resembles the body of a child than a mature woman.  Ugh!  I looked again at the skin-and-bone forms showing off from the racks in the grocery checkout line.  I scanned the skinny shiny legs, the smooth and unnatural pits and bikini lines, the bony rib cages that poked through where there should have been cleavage.  I saw them for what they were:  women pared down to look like tweens in grown up clothing.   Yuck.

The presence of hair, among other things, marks our passage to womanhood. Yet society deems us more sexy without it?  Hmmm…It does seem odd, doesn’t it, that the minute our young daughters sprout a bit of underarm fuzz we hand them a razor and instruct them to eliminate it.  Why do we insist they retain the appearance of the 10 year old body they're supposed to be leaving behind?  

Many women, after a lifetime of cultural conditioning, find their own body hair “gross.” I counted myself among them for many years, but now I think it’s much grosser to suggest we’re sexier after we’ve razored and naired ourselves into prepubescence.  This idea seems especially poignant right now, in the midst of the Sandusky scandal at Penn State.  Clearly, we should be ever-wary of sexualizing the child’s body.

One way to distinguish a woman’s body from a girl’s is hair. 

For years, I shaved only in the summer, secretly letting my tabooed hair grow under cover of winter.  As much as I understood shaving as a relatively new and completely unnatural imposition on women, after a decade of doing so, I had to admit my own body hair offended me.   I couldn’t undo that conditioning overnight.  After all, we categorize a woman’s shaving habits as hygienic, so we react to a hair in the pit the same way we react to a booger in the nose—better do something about it quick!  I didn’t want to be caught with boogers in my nose any more than anyone else.

Then one spring, I somberly got in the bath for my annual first shave.  Time to reluctantly erase my womanhood so I could greet the summer sun with the smooth and slippery legs of a child—“like a pair of uncooked hotdogs!” exclaimed that same friend.  Ew.

Half way through the task, I examined my work, putting one hairy leg next to its silky counterpart.  I was surprised that the shaven leg looked gross to me.  Bald, slippery, naked…Weird.  Weird like my husband’s leg would look if he shaved it. 

For a moment I thought: “I’ve done it!  I’ve stepped out of ideology; I’ve changed my own paradigm!  The shaven leg is gross and the unshaven leg is…” I looked at my other leg.  Weird.  Wierd, a little gross, hairy. 


There I sat in my bath, alienated from both of my legs!  “What the heck do I do now?” I said out loud.  I simply could not turn that other leg into a slimy raw hotdog.  But it would take all summer to regrow hair on the one I’d shaved.  I do have enough fashion sense to know that if I plan to go unshaven, I need two hairy legs. 

With no other choice, I defiled the other leg, stripped it of its womanliness for the sake of consistency, and vowed it would be the last time. 

It was. 

That was 11 years ago, and I'm happy to say that the paradigm shift is complete, and has been for a long time.  My legs feel completely normal to me. 

But the pits.  The pits are another story still.  I cave in and shave them every summer.  I’ve tried not to, but it’s hard to stand on the deck of a pool, timing my daughter's swim meets with a bunch of strangers, holding my arms self-consciously close to my sides to prevent even a tell-tale bit of fur from poking out. 

Underarm hair is more prominent and somehow more offensive to people.  I struggle with this disapproval.

Which brings me back to the mammo today.  It’s November and I’m at least a full month into hairy pit season.  I didn’t want to shave.  I stood in the shower this a.m. and imagined myself sitting in my mammo gown feeling harried, in a cold nervous sweat over a new breast lump, with no deodorant allowed.  I didn’t like that picture, but I also didn’t want to shave. 

Ultimately, I thought back to that day in the tub so many years ago, and I put the razor away.     

If anyone noticed, they didn’t say.  They didn’t even blink.

I thank them for that.

And my films came out negative to boot. 

I thank them for that too.


  1. Comparing my legs to a pair of uncooked hotdogs..., yuck. First off, I'm vegetarian so hotdogs are more repulsive than to the normal human. I admit to my winter time laziness and the razor makes few appearances during this time. College days of shaving every day, sometimes twice if we were heading to the quad to bake our bodies lathered in baby oil during the peak cancer causing hours of the day. Even the summer months now, I find that shaving is not a morning time ritual. If I can say one good thing about menopause and that's hair loss, though I prefer to keep those precious follicles that still remain on my head. My shaving habits are now but a few "maintenance" strokes on an occasional "indian summer" day." The next time I do pick up that razor, I will forever have that vision of a slippery slimy hotdog. ew.

  2. Funnily enough, I am far less self-conscious about armpit hair than leg hair. No idea why. I can quite easily BELIEVE that there's no reason to shave one's pits, that it doesn't look 'gross' otherwise etc, but while I know the same is true of legs... I'm still working on getting myself to that place.

    1. thanks for stopping by! that is so interesting. i am way self-consious about pit hair. shaved again this summer :( funny how different people internalize msgs about how our bodies should look in different ways.