Issue 11, Semester 2, 2019
Until recently, I hadn’t shaved in about six months. What started as a way to let my legs heal from a particularly bad bout of ingrown hairs and razor bumps had evolved into an outward proclamation of my femininity and feminism. As I have not been bestowed with the genetics of my Southeast Asian forebears, my pits, and, to a lesser extent, my legs, blossom with hair when unattended, as flowers in spring.
But as the weather inevitably heats up, I’ve begun a process of existential interrogation. Would I be able to work at a law firm, or any professional legal capacity, and maintain the hairiness that has brought me such joy?
I have always harboured deep respect for the women I see who go about their daily lives hairy and proud. I see them as emblems of feminism, of not giving a fuck, of sticking it to a system that mandates that women need to be plucked, waxed, and plied with cosmetics in order to reach some unattainable level of perfection and beauty. To me, the body hair was a quiet but powerful act of resistance to the narrative pumped out by the multi-billion dollar beauty industry preaching that women needed look a certain way, and spend money on certain products in order to be feminine, professional and respectable.
For a long time, I saw this as a cool badge that I, as an awkward and not-fully-self-confident dark-haired young woman, had not yet earned, and so I continued to pluck, shave, and wax myself into oblivion.
Then just like that, without much conscious thought (and with thanks to the cold weather that kept most of my body wrapped up in layers and thus out of sight and mind), that self-consciousness evaporated. I began feeling an empowering sense of abandon, going out for a boogie with friends and throwing my hands up without caring what people might think at the sight of the thick, black, John-Howard-eyebrows smiling out from underneath my arms.
However, this self-confidence re: body hair has been segregated from my professional life, and each day I go to work at my office job, I wrap my legs up in pants and tights, and tuck my armpits safely underneath a jumper or long-sleeved shirt. Because the weather has been mild enough, I’ve not yet had to confront what it might mean to continue being hirsute whilst dressing in short-sleeved tops and skirts at work.
Some of my hirsute friends didn’t seem to understand why I, a fellow hairy-pitter, should care what other people thought, professional setting or not – so comfortable were they in their own skin. Explaining why presenting myself professionally meant a lot to me almost felt like an apology.
Wearing my politics on my sleeve has not always come naturally. In my family, politics was never a dinner-table subject, and I was taught not to rock the boat or question the establishment. My ability to articulate my point of view and hold my own in debates based on my beliefs has therefore been a learned skill, and remains a calculated decision in contrast to the IDGAF attitude I’ve long-admired in my more vocal peers. Personal image is, rather unsurprisingly, something I have always been concerned about, and given my desire to someday work in a law firm or at the Bar, I am aware that it will continue to play a large part in my career.
I am, as a result, torn between wanting to be taken seriously in a professional setting, and wanting to stay true to my body (which responds to razors and waxing with retaliation in the form of angry, red ingrown hairs), my beliefs, and my personal views on what it is beautiful.
So, the question is: can one be seen as professional whilst also challenging perceptions of what it is to be well-groomed? Or does grooming, professionalism, and personal care necessitate that there be a standard by which to judge appearances, and if so, should those standards be gendered in the same way that, for example, fashion is? Not to mention the greater difficulty in navigating this issue for those who by genetic disposition have thicker, darker hair, considered more ‘shocking’ on the scale of societal standards, and thus making it disproportionately harder for women of colour to make these decisions for themselves.
There is no clear answer, and no moral to this story. I hope at the very least to have started a conversation.
Ying is a Second Year JD Student and the 2019 De Minimis Online Editor.