Hair is so much more than what we see in the mirror. It’s linked intrinsically to who we are, to our identity, gender, culture and ethnicity, whether it’s the hair on our heads or our bodies. In the July/August issue of IMAGE Magazine, on sale now, Holly O'Neill spoke to seven Irish women on how their relationships with hair has shaped their lives. Here, Taryn De Vere, writer, parenting coach and performance artist shares her story.
I became aware of my body hair when I was 11. A boy in my school told me that my leg hair was gross. I felt disgusted by my own body hair. I went home and asked my mum if I could shave my legs. She said no, that I was too young. I decided to do it anyway. As I grew older and became more influenced by culture and media and my friends and what have you, it was all just constantly reinforcing that same message: our body hair was disgusting.
Through childbirth and pregnancy, I became more comfortable with my body. The first thing I stopped shaving was my pubic area. When I shaved, I’d always end up with raised, red bumps and infections. I tried waxing and that was really horrific. It seemed so absurd to me. It was causing me a lot of pain and I have sensitive skin, so I stopped shaving there. That’s pretty easy to get away with, so it didn’t have any massive impact on my life. When I explored the history of shaving, in our culture, it only started in the 1920s and was specifically designed so Gillette could sell more razors. I was buying into this capitalist idea of making money for razor companies, and in the meantime, causing myself a lot of hassle and expense and pain. It all just seemed a bit ridiculous. Then I stopped shaving most of my legs and would just shave my calves. Not shaving my underarms was the biggest challenge. Underarm hair is very noticeable, or you feel like it is when you don’t shave it at first. I go to the pool a lot, and the majority of people there would be elderly men and women. It took me a long time to get comfortable with raising my arms, I was so self-conscious. One day, I was in the steam room, looking over at the elderly men.
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Hair went right from their throat all the way down to the belly, poking out the top of their Speedos. And I thought, they’re just sitting there, with normal body hair. Why am I sitting here freaking out they might see a few tufts under my arm? I decided to post a picture of myself on Twitter, showing my underarm hair, because I’m always posting pictures where I look quite glamorous. I felt I had a responsibility to make sure that people knew, so young girls and women know that these women exist and that it is a possibility in the menu of life.
I had a lot of positive responses from men who told me they were fully supportive of what I was doing. A man reached out when I told the story of how I had been hair-shamed by an 11-year-old boy. He said he thought that he could have been that 11-year-old for another girl and felt bad. He had grown in his ideas about women and about the way women’s bodies are policed. He wanted to apologise to me on behalf of his former self. I think body hair is totally a matter of choice. What works for me isn’t going to work for everybody. I’m really happy and comfortable with my choice and my body at this point in my life. I’ve never had a negative response from anyone. I was sick recently and in an emergency, seeing a doctor who I don’t normally see. He said to me that he had heard me on the radio talking about my body hair and he thought body hair was wonderful. I hope he’s told the women in his life.
Read the stories of seven Irish women and their relationships with their hair in the July/August issue of IMAGE Magazine, on sale now.
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