Archive for September 13th, 2010

Daring to be Different

When I lived in London in the early nineties, young single people who had yet to jump onto the property ladder often shared flats with strangers. Naturally, this was a hit-and-miss affair. When one of my less successful flatshares ended in a full-on, door-slamming row over the arrangement of personal belongings on a shelf (I know, I know), I found myself looking for a new flat-mate.

Amelia was one of the people I ‘interviewed’ and we hit it off straight away. She was a very direct, down to earth and funny northern lass who shared my love of Corrie’s Reg Holdsworth. She quickly became a good friend and confidante.

Amelia was also a very attractive woman who had an incredible effect on men. She was tall and toned with an enviable hourglass figure (we’re in Joan Holloway from Mad Men territory here). Combined with her natural self-confidence and world-class flirting skills, this meant that most men who met her were instantly smitten.  She loved men, and sex, and if she wanted a particular man, she usually got him. The problem for the hapless men concerned was that she often became bored after a short time and moved on.

Well, talk about a trail of broken hearts. In those days before the mobile became ubiquitous, I soon got used to fielding calls from her discarded conquests.

Amelia had one other notable attribute, which, in hindsight, strikes me as almost incredible. She never removed any of her body hair.

Yes, Amelia was a stranger to the razor and the smelly depilatory cream. She never endured torture by wax strips. She happily wore vest tops and strappy dresses and wasn’t remotely bothered who saw her underarm or leg hair. When I asked her about this, she said she was doing it as a feminist statement. She was happy with the way she looked and, as a strong woman and a proud feminist who had read widely on the subject, didn’t see why she should remove her hair just to please men. She had a picture of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo on her bedroom wall, an artist whose self portraits usually depict her sporting a moustache and single eyebrow.

Frida Kahlo, hairy heroine

Part of me envied her self-assurance, but I was never brave enough to emulate her. One of the reasons is that I am a much hairier person than Amelia. While she possessed light coloured, fine body hair, mine is thick and dark. If I didn’t regularly wield the tweezers I would soon resemble the long-lost, mono-browed sister of Liam and Noel Gallagher. If not kept in check, my legs would appear almost as hirsute as those of the average man. So I reluctantly get busy with the razor.

Actually, if I’m being honest, in the winter I do let things go a bit, knowing that I can hide away under long-sleeved tops, trousers and thick tights. Whenever I’m compelled to go through the deforestation routine (If I’m about to go swimming for example) I feel quite resentful of the whole business. Also, being very shortsighted, I always miss a few bits in the shower.

These days, even that would be seen by some as a radical admission of female slovenliness. In the years since I lived with Amelia, the notion has taken hold that women who fail to remove every stray hair from their bodies on an almost daily basis are somehow unfeminine, or even unhygienic. I have heard young men discussing the undesirability of girls who fail to keep their lady gardens closely trimmed. Radical waxing seems to have become the norm for the bikini area, to the extent that the complete removal of all body hair is not unusual. But the idea that women should want to make themselves look like pre-pubescent girls has always struck me as bizarre and, actually, a bit creepy.

I know that nowadays men also feel pressure to keep unruly eyebrows in trim or to do something about excessively hairy backs. But there is never any suggestion that their underarm hair is ‘dirty’, despite the fact that they sweat a lot more than women. I’ll never forget the furore caused by Julia Roberts when she dared to flash a bit of underarm hair at a film premiere (I think there was a similar incident involving – gasp! – a glimpse of female leg hair on the red carpet at this year’s Oscars). The whole thing struck me as completely ridiculous, but I think I was in the minority.

No doubt I will keep buying the razors and wax strips. But sometimes I just wish we could all be a bit more like Amelia.

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