Monday, May 30, 2016

Arm Shaving as a Political Statement (or not)

I was (am) hesitant to write this post, because it draws attention to something I feel generally uncomfortable about- the hair on my arms.

this is me and my arm hair
There has been plenty written about the war on women's body hair, and there are enough angry rants about "when did we start thinking hair is evil??" and "who gets to decide how my body looks?".
Instead, I want to look at a particular issue- shaving of the arms- in the cultural context I find myself in. 

Georgians are a hairy people- girls, boys, pretty much everyone. It varies by ethnic background (Faces of Georgia), of course, but unibrows aren't really uncommon and chest hair on men is pretty expected. 
I never really thought about women's arm hair until a male friend made a comment, we'll call him Giorgi. He was comparing American women (myself subtly included) with Georgian women. He remarked that it shocked him the first time he was in America to see all the women with unshaven was only then that I realized most Georgian women shave their arms. Then I started looking. Some women, it seems to me, have very fair or little arm hair and they don't shave. Other women clearly shave- you can see patches growing back at different rates, or you touch their arm and feel just a little pricklyness. Other women clearly don't shave- this group is mostly "weird" liberals and old married women who have given up on the beauty standards of the 20-somethings.

Do we need solutions? This YouTube lady thinks so

Why do Georgian women shave their arms? When did the trend start? How much time and effort do they put into it? How important a part of the daily beauty ritual is it? How attractive is it to men for a woman to have shaved arms?
We may never know the answer to these questions, because I don't have any Georgian girl friends, but if I find out anything else, I will report back, faithful readers. Maybe I'll do an informal observational study of women who sit next to me on public transport...

And what about me, you ask? I don't shave my arms for a few reasons. Firstly, I have a chalky white complexion and thick dark hair- this may seem like a greater reason TO shave, but in fact my dark hair is probably the only physical attribute I inherited from my mother's Panamanian side- that and my phat a$$ (just kidding I have a pancake butt). While it sometimes makes me uncomfortable, it's kind of a marker of my heritage. I can't say that I LIKE it, but I can tolerate it. Further, shaving is a hell of a hassle. I am meticulous about my legs- any prickles and to me it feels like dirt or sand or something. Even in the winter I usually sleep in shorts, and I can't handle feeling like I'm sleeping in sand. Doing my arms too would be torture. I would have to constantly shave, because you can SEE when it starts to grow back- much more than on your legs- and it looks and feels terrible. Finally, it's one of the few things I do in rejection of the fashion-industrial complex...I try to have a strong body image and self esteem apart from the standards set forth by magazines and music videos. If I make any sort of stand- here it is. If it was easier to shave, would I do it? Very possibly...maybe that makes me a sell-out, but hey, I never claimed to be a righteous mouthpiece for the socially stigmatized. It could be a political statement, and I'm sure that many women choose not to shave, or wear cosmetic products, or buy clothing from certain stores, as a political statement- but it is not that way for me. 

In high school gym glass, a girl friend made an offhand comment about how she needed to shave her arms, or she had forgotten to shave, or something along those lines- that was my first exposure to the practice. Until then I had no idea anyone ever shaved their arms. My friend was Korean, and at the time I chalked it up to a different beauty standard and different cultural practices. Now I know it is actually a common practice in much of the world. In the US, there are several ways to remove unwanted hair (waxing, lasers, threading, creams, razors, bleaching, etc.), and as long as hair-removal is a profit-driven business, there will be people marketing the next trend in hair removal, people telling you that this or that area is more beautiful, more desirable without hair, and the beauty industry will continue trying to manipulate the desirability of women and the desires of men.
wow, this girl got so much more beautiful
after this super dramatic transformation

I honestly have very rarely thought about my (or anyone else's arm hair). Sometimes I notice when other girls have as much or more/darker arm hair than me, and for a moment take pleasure in their "misfortune," imagining myself better off on the whole because I am "better" off than them. Since I've been in Georgia, it's been harder to ignore, seeing women with arms in various stage of shave-ment and regrowth, and remembering "Giorgi"'s comments, and that he noticed the different "trends" in arm hair in the US and Georgia, I can't help but feel a bit more self conscious. But I am still not going to shave my arms. I am too lazy, don't care enough, and sometimes feel a little pride over my resistance to stigma and ability to ignore these arbitrary standards.
With my silken-haired arms, do Georgian men still find me attractive? I don't know- I suspect that it's much more an issue of individual preference than a blanket rejection of women with arm hair. I DO know that many Georgian men say that they don't like the Georgian custom of caking on a pound of make up before going literally anywhere (would they still prefer limited makeup if the women looked less perfect and beautiful with less makeup? Who knows...). I also know that I am certainly attractive enough for myself, and I look in mirrors a lot, so really- that's all that matters. 

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