Love Your Body: I gave up shaving and reclaimed my natural self
"I credit Julia Roberts with planting the seed of my rebellion."
Many women have a complicated relationship with their body, often starting from a very young age when they become aware of what society considers 'normal' and 'attractive'. In a new series, Her meets a selection of Irish women who have transformed their thinking and learned to love their bodies as a result...
I was 11 when a boy first made me feel a sense of self-disgust about my body. He looked at the fine blonde hairs on my leg and his face crumpled up into a look of pure disdain.
That night I asked my mum if I could shave my legs. Unsurprisingly she said no, but the razors were sitting by the bath and there was no one to stop from removing the parts of my body that I now knew made me unattractive and unacceptable.
Many years later as an adult, I was at a friend's house helping her to get ready for her mum to visit. She had a pumice stone and was madly chaffing away at her finger. It looked sore.
"What are you doing?" I asked her and she told me that she was removing all the yellow nicotine stains from her fingers, so her mum wouldn't know she smoked.
Full of judgement I said, "So you're rubbing away parts of your body for your mum?"
"Oh, have you stopped shaving then?" she asked, and that was the end of that.
Of course I hadn't stopped shaving; once 11-year-old me picked up that razor I found all sorts of places on my body that needed to be hairless if I was to Succeed As A Woman.
I became a bit lazy about it over the years, but I had friends ready to vigorously enforce my hair removal. One refused to go on a night out with me until I shaved the two-day stubble from under my arms. She literally wouldn't be seen in public with me until I made myself more socially acceptable.
I credit Julia Roberts with planting the seed of my rebellion. There she was, arm raised defiantly with a patch of visible hair under her arm. Julia was a pretty woman. She was the Pretty Woman.
Julia Roberts at the Notting Hill premiere in 1999
It took a few years but over time I got a bit more daring, leaving it longer and longer between shaving. I all but gave up shaving my bikini line, and thus entered the world of trying to find a swimsuit that covered my side patches, which upon being granted their freedom, were making a break for my knees. (Boy short-style swimmers pretty much do the trick btw).
But covering over my bikini line wasn't so daring. Nor is leaving blond barely-visible hairs on your legs. It was the thick, curly and dark underarm hair that I felt most nervous about. I didn't know if I had it in me to wear my beautiful sundresses in public, with visible underarm hair.
It was a man in the pool who clarified my resolve. He was about 60 and he was wearing a tiny pair of Speedo out of which masses of of hair were sprouting from, as if he'd stuffed an Afro wig down there. He looked so happy with himself, so content with his body. His confidence in his right to expose the rest of us to his near naked, hair covered body was almost holy. It was inspiring.
He became my talisman for being confidently hairy. I started thinking about him every time I lifted my arm in the pool and exposed someone to the sight (or even idea) of my hairy underarm.
A boy tooketh, and that man giveth back.
Taryn has embraced her natural appearance
On my 'becoming comfortably hairy' journey I noticed that there were not a lot of role models, so I decided to 'out myself' as a hairy woman and I did it on social media. I wrote a little piece about it and posted with it a picture I took of my hairy pits. I wanted other people to know that women like me exist in their world.
The comments were largely supportive but I was particularly surprised by how lovely and supportive the majority of men were. I had a few private messages from men who recognised themselves in that young, judgemental boy and who wanted to make amends.
It was eye-opening to see how few men cared about women having body hair, and how many applauded me for choosing not to shave. My post and photo resulted in me being invited to talk on the topic on numerous national radio interviews, including the Ryan Tubridy show. Again the majority of comments that came in from men were supportive, it really made me think about how much we as women project onto men, and how we think we need to be a certain way in order to be accepted.
Choosing not to shave isn't for everyone, but I haven't been publicly stoned (yet) so who knows, it might even be socially acceptable?