Friday, December 15, 2006

On bodies and bits (TMI warning)

Over the past couple of years I've read many posts about underarm hair on women, and we've all contributed to comment threads exposing our own practices re. that subject, but I just wanted to reiterate my amusement and frustration that underarm hair still seems to be up there with nipple escape as a titilating conversational distraction.

It's been very hot lately, and I generally prefer not to wear sleeveless tops (more to do with my bye-byes than anything else), but the heat has driven me to wear them. Nearly every conversation I have, with either men or women, gets sidetracked slightly if I raise my arms slightly and a wisp of hair is exposed. They don't change the topic, but I notice the other person getting a bit flustered and either looking or trying very hard NOT to look. One man I was talking to couldn't drag his eyes away for a moment. I felt like I was topless! In fact, I think if I had been topless he wouldn't have blinked; it was something to do with the hair.

I like to move my hands as I talk, so my underarm hairs do get an airing regularly. I even trim them neatly, preferring the slightly prickle of freshly-trimmed hairs to the sharp irritation of deodorant on raw skin and the agony of stubble rash. It's HAIR. It grows naturally. It belongs there. It's nice and furry. I shave my legs these days, but I can't relinquish the little underarm mice. Are we really such a waxed and polished society? I can't wait to get to Woodford (yes, we are going, after all) and let it all hang out in an anything-goes atmosphere for a while. That's what I call a holiday.

While I'm on the topic of bodies, my lovely sister outlaw, while commiserating on the phone last week about my ladybits, said something that really resonated with me. We were talking about that plunge into nothingness with general anaesthetic, and how scary it is even if you trust the doctor. She mused that she couldn't understand how people can willingly go under the knife with plastic surgeons, to take that plunge for the sake of making your body different/more acceptable. More acceptable to whom? is my first question. WTF? is my second. Especially in the case of vaginoplasties, or 'vaginal rejuvenation', as I was reading in the latest issue of The Monthly this morning.* Erk. Anyway, I agree with my outlaw: going under the knife for something necessary is scary and risky enough; going under for sheer vanity or to be fashionable is sad and foolish.** Apparently vaginoplasties are 'in' because it aims to make your ladybits 'more attractive', and as Anne Manne says:

These are not ... surgeries to increase female pleasure. They are designed solely to render a vagina*** more "attractive" -- and more in line with the quietly universalising standards established by pornography: the surgical version of the Brazilian wax, with its faint resonances of child pornography. Indeed, the Society for Gynecological Surgeons warns of the scarring, nerve damage and numbness which may follow vaginoplasty.*

Are men really that judge-mental? Actually, I can believe that some are, after an experience a few months ago (I can't remember if I blogged it and I'm being naughty taking this much time to write, so I won't search -- apologies if I have) riding along the bike path and having a man ride very slowly behind me for a while, then slowly overtake me and look back. He took one look at my face and sneered and shook his head, then rode fast away. At the next intersection I saw him chase up to another female rider, and then later again he was trying to chat another one up, a nice-looking girl with great legs who obviously met his standards. She was ignoring him. But the irony was that this man was short, fat and oddly hairy; something I wouldn't hold against him in an ordinary meeting, but in this context it was sad and offensive.

I don't really know what I'm trying to say here. It's a mosh of ideas that I just needed to vent today. Yay for women who like themselves just the way they are, to quote Mark Darcy. I'm sorry for people who think they need to be better. I'm sorry for people who can't accept other people's bodies. And to all of you out there who think women shouldn't have underarm hair, I'm sorry. It's YOUR problem. It's really very friendly if you get to know it.

* "Love Me Tender: Sex & Power in the Age of Pornography" by Anne Manne, The Monthly, Dec 2006.

** I should say here that I don't consider a breast reduction vanity surgery. Nor reconstructive plastic surgery. Duh.

*** I'm hoping that having the V word in this post may attract some readers who never think about underarms. May you learn something today.


Anonymous said...

Hoorah for underarm hair!

I haven't shaved my underarms since... 1990, and I'm very fond of the fluff.
I wear sleeveless shirts more often than sleeved (because I'm a big sweater.... ahahha. nothing to do with cardigans) and I generally don't notice people's second takes. Or if I do, I generally call attention to it - "are you staring at my underarms?" and they get embarassed. And I laugh. Cruel, no? Satisfying, yes.

We were in Sydney at a dance that had a fair lot of rock n rollers there. Those doods are really anal about their appearance - they do full on hair, big poodle skirts, lots of makeup, full on shoes. The guys have proper quiffs (sp?), etc etc etc. The Squeeze and I were mucking about being silly, when I noticed that when I raised my arm to make a point (I'm also a big hand-arm talker), a couple of rock n rollers cringed. So we made sure to flash my underarms at as many rock n rollers as possible - they were (literally) shocked and didn't know where to look. I think they'd have been less shocked if I'd flashed them my muff. The Squeeze, of course, thought it was hilarious.

I generally never even think about my underarms, though, although I have wondered what the odd prudish/finicky lead has thought in the odd, very close, armpit-to-forearm holds while dancing.

Ampersand Duck said...

Heh, excellent work, Dogpossum.

I love the fact that natural hair is the last bastion of shock. I'm sure if I ran nekkid through Canberra the biggest issue would be my untamed body hair.

Anonymous said...

Mowing the underarm is also an engineering problem not worth the effort to solve - you lift the arm, the armpit deepens in response to the movement and position and you need a neck like an egret and a long handled razor to swoope, shave and trim. Far too much effort for too little gain.
& as for vaginoplasties - i'm confused. Presumably we're discussing the vagina, ie the birth canal, the passage from cervix to well anyway. I'm sorry but if you're aiming to "make it more attractive" umm who's looking? Do men now carry speculums, exam lights and field guides to ID and rate the vaginas they might encounter? Perhaps we're really talking about the area visible in the p0rn notion of visual or is this also creeping into notions of what successful sex should feel like - ie for the bloke?
AAARRRGGGHHH. Let me say it one more time - thank god I'm a lesbian.

Ampersand Duck said...

Actually, you're right. Manne does say that they are 'cosmetic operations to alter the labia and vulva', so the name shouldn't be anything to do with the vagina, should it? Just sounds like female circumcision to me, and that's just plain crazy.

I have heard that women can have operations to tighten their vaginas, which seems to be a desperate attempt to convince their husbands that they can have a wife who has had four kids and still feels like a virgin. I'd say it would be more pain than gain, and if he'd been complaining he'd probably end up leaving for a 18-yo anyway. I think that's also one of the contributory factors for a lot of elective caesarians (keeping the bits tight fo' yo' man). Gah. Ick. GRRR.

Anonymous said...

I wrote quite the response, about the hair removal not the labiaplasty -- which is the one where they fix 'ugly' labia (shudder, shudder, shudder some more) at my blog to avoid clogging up your comments. (LADIES! YOUR LABIA ARE NOT UGLY! Do men get ball-sack tightening surgeries? I do not think so.)

In short, I'm not a hairy underarm person. I can't give up the razor.

Ampersand Duck said...

Heh, so I went and hogged up your comments. I stole your surgery link, too. Gawd, reading stuff like that really makes me do my pelvic floor exercises.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying not to think about the surgery.

Is it a bit like those ladies with no jobs and lots of money who are continually redecorating their houses? They're bored and kind of micro-analysing everything?

Mousicles said...

All I can say is, don't go to Spain!

I have interesting hormones which make me a touch hirsute and long ago I discovered I was too lazy to battle to make the body I was given to conform to the media's ideals. I tend not to wear shorts or sleeves shirts except around close friends. They're used to it.

My partner and I went on a holiday last year. It's hot in Spain so I dressed for the climate. Spaniards are world class at staring. Everywhere we went we found people doing a double take at my legs. On the train in Madrid, some teenage boys found it amusing to take photos. We couldn't speak the language but we knew what they were talking about.

We ignored them all.

Strange that a hairy woman can cause more shock than a naked one but that does seem to be the case. It's odd that it seemed to be more of a stir in Europe than here...

And I agree, non-essential surgery is MAD.

Anonymous said...

That was a good piece by Anne Manne. I used to shave under my arms but the last couple of summers shaving has been followed by very painful cyst-like swellings which doctors said would go away if I stopped shaving, and they did. I too am a very sweaty person and I find an abundance of pit hair messy, so I clip the hair short. Sometimes at the gym I feel a bit self-conscious, but interestingly enough, I don't think I've ever had a funny look directed at my underarms - maybe that's because when they're visible I'm generally waving 25kg of hand weights in the air.

Anonymous said...

"Do men now carry speculums, exam lights and field guides to ID and rate the vaginas they might encounter?"

Yes, always. Get with the 21st century, lady.

[Note to self: research ball-sack tightening surgery.]

Anonymous said...

In Germany leg shaving was not really done. They found it quite bizarre, and used to ask me 'why not the arms too?'. indeed.

Sadly apparently it is now becoming more normal over there too. Pointless really - they are all wispy blondes, and in their crummy weather legs are only on display about 2 months of the year.

JahTeh said...

The first thing I thought of was how much we jump up and down when we hear about female circumcision in Africa but this surgery is supposed to be okay to make the 'bits' more attractive.

As for the hairy armpits, I don't have any, none on the legs and not much in other parts, somewhere in my life it just disappeared thankfully before the Brazilian wax became popular.

worldpeace and a speedboat said...

I shave legs regularly, and armpits less regularly - my water wings are too gruesome so I don't expose the upperarms very often, I don't want to frighten the children, heh. but find the hair really annoying after a while.

I confess, sometimes when confronted with armpit hear I'll start, but I'm not offended in the least. sometimes I think a bloke's armpit hair can be surprising as well.

really not sure what it is with armpits, for myself or other's but it can certainly make people uneasy more often than other unshaven parts of the body. is it the notion of a hidden place suddenly being on display, which therefore makes it more sexual or intimate?

other people's hair is fine, it's their own business, and as you say, as long as their personal hygiene is up to scratch, who gives a monkey's?

btw the whole labia nip-and-tuck business - how obscene!

Teej Mahal said...

Hmmm... I like my underarms and legs completely smooth, mainly because I prefer how it feels, but also because I have a strange horny fascination with quite hairy men.

(Oh god! It's true! It's all true! )

I think it's because I find contrasts extremely attractive.

For example, my current crush is a lean whippy blonde, which is about as much of a polar opposite to me as possible. I like the fact that we look so different.

audrey said...

I must admit, I'm guilty of the start and stare - however, I can honestly say it's because I find it so cool to see a girl with unashamed hairy underarms. My best friend insists on showing it off wherever she goes and it's delightful.

This is where I get confused though - I'd love to grow my hair out, but the growth area is quite expansive. I think it makes me equally as conformist to desire the kind of hair that grows fine and tidy so I can...what? Make a statement without being too scruffy?

It bothers me.

As for vaginoplasties, I honestly can't think of anything more insulting and detrimental to the feminist movement. Porn has a lot to answer for. The truly sad thing though is the amount of women obtaining these mutilations that are probably quite convinced they're doing it for themselves, rather than the satisfaction of a constructed notion of sexual attractiveness.

And you're spot on with the ball sack surgery - can you imagine any man you know consenting to a doctor going near his dangly bits for anything other than lifesaving surgery, and even then they'd have to think about it?

Women are wack. I weep for us.

Ariel Levy for President!

worldpeace and a speedboat said...

The truly sad thing though is the amount of women obtaining these mutilations that are probably quite convinced they're doing it for themselves, rather than the satisfaction of a constructed notion of sexual attractiveness.

and therein lies the crux of what seems to be the bulk of what is seen to be feminism at the moment. because it's so empowering to dress like a hoor and get an orally-transmitted STD through giving your boyfriend a blowjob (which is not sex and keeps him happy, don't you know).

ellis hutch said...

hehehe - yep I gave up on the painful depilation process many years ago - I remember my poor mum almost having a heart attack at the combination of my shaved head and hairy arm pits. (My dad said I looked like I joined the Marines)

I just wanted to say hope you're recovering well - I've been internetless in Newcastle for a little while so just caught up on your health posts, hope you have a fabulous healing time up North!



Anonymous said...

I once shaved my arm with a stanley knife. Never done the legs. I can hardly be bothered to shave my face. Three or four times a year is nice for a change (kissing is better beardless). I must be one of the last men left who doesn't give a rats about female body hair. If I can't be arsed, why should they?

Of course chic young men do remove their pubes and such and I wish them many wonderful ingrown hairs.

While a small minority of Australian woman let their body hair grow and (just) avoid public stoning, female facial hair, while fairly common to varying extents, is seen as rarely as nude sunbathing in Garema Place. Interestingly, one sees bearded male political leaders almost as rarely.

There is a category of porn called 'hairy' involving anything from normally hairy unshaved girls to rather freakishly hairy individuals. Presumably there's a market for it as well, not entirely composed of creeps.

Just a few thoughts. Oh, and if anyone wants tosend me a photo of their underarm, hairy or not, I'd be happy to add them to my collection.

Anonymous said...

Shave it you dirty lesbian! People stare at you because it's socially unacceptable to leave the hair there.

If you have underarm hair you are either:

A) A lesbian

B) A dirty hippie who is against razers and soap.

Ampersand Duck said...

Get a grip, 'Disgusted'. It should be quite clear from the rest of this blog that I am neither, but I see no problem in anyone being from either of those dotpoints.

Go and hose down all that righteous indignation.