A Love Story. A Hairy Story.

This story is about a girl, mean boys, summer camp, expectations, and one very nice boy. It’s a love story, one that’s still changing and growing. God knows that even though I love my body and I’m comfortable with who I am, I don’t wake up and walk out the door every morning feeling like that. This is a story about my body hair.

Karl came across a website called Woman in the Raw about a month ago through Instagram. It’s a photography project that emphasizes the beauty of the natural female expression. The two women who started the site write, “our femininity is defined by our natural existence rather than having to acquire it through means of alterations.” They’re trying to create conversation about female body hair and the idea of femininity. Karl immediately thought of my hairy armpits, and next thing I know, he’s taking photos of me baring my armpits in the frigid winter temps and we’re writing our stories about hairy women (being one and thinking they’re cool).

You can read what Karl and I wrote here on my blog, but it appeared first on Woman in the Raw. I really hope you take a look at their site and read what others have written there. It’s important.

Besides the, “I will only wear a dress”phase I went through as a very young girl, I wasn’t a very girly kid.The thought of shaving and body hair never really occurred to me. When I was 11years old I spent my first summer at an amazing girls summer camp in NorthCarolina called Green Cove. I remember other girls in my cabin pulling out supplies to shave their legs before dances with boys. I put the shaving cream on my face as a joke. Shaving was the farthest thing from my mind.

In sixth grade my legs started to get hairy and for the first time I was explicitly told that hairy is not how a woman should be. One day I wore shorts to school, I walked up to the front of the room in Reading class to write an answer to a question on the board. I was nervous, a shy kid anyway who hated getting up in front of the class, and as I made my way between the rows of desks, one boy leaned over and whispered in a disgusted voice, “Look at her hairy legs!” I was mortified. Not soon after that I asked my mom if I could start shaving. The next year, in seventh grade, a boy in my Social Studies class made fun of how hairy my arms were. I had never considered my body hair, but suddenly there was too much of it.

So, I started shaving. I read beauty magazines with my friends as I got older, I listened to boys on my rowing team categorize my fellow female teammates’ thighs based on their size and I saw girls pile on make up in high school. My safe haven was that summer camp. Most summers, I headed off to the mountains of North Carolina where I was surrounded by strong, confident women. The hiking and climbing staff was notorious for not shaving. I saw them every day, sporting their hairy legs and arms, and I thought they were, well, just normal. Here, every girl was just herself, no fakeness, no make up, no cool kids, no weird kids. It didn’t matter how weird you were (and I was a weird kid in so many ways), at camp there were no standards for fitting in. Looking back, I know those summers as a camper influenced my decision to go natural today. My summers on staff there did, too. I’d go for days without a shower, I’d forget to shave all week, I’d rarely wear make up. But at the end of the summer, I’d always end up back in the real world, and find myself giving into the pressures of society and ideas of what feminine should be.

Fast forward to May of 2013, I met a guy named Karl. He was everything awesome. As the fall approached he decided to do No Shave November, and with a bit of convincing, I joined him. We were so excited to start not shaving that No Shave November began at the end of August. For me, the excitement was doing something out of the norm. How many women join their men in not shaving? When people asked why I wasn’t shaving, I responded with, “Why not?” November passed and eventually Karl’s beard took on epic proportions, and he had to trim it. But I kept on not shaving. As summer approached, I started to get nervous. My coworker and I frequent the pool at the gym connected to our office. Was I going to lay out by the pool all natural in my bikini? And what about when I wanted to wear t-shirts to work that didn’t cover up my pits entirely? My armpit hair was pretty long at this point and was starting to sprout out of certain shirts. I’m also an avid runner, and I wasn’t about to spend a hot Indiana summer wearing t-shirts, but what would other runners think?  Turns out I didn’t have much to worry about. No one in my office told me to cover up my pits and no one at the pool gave me more than a lingering glance. And runners? Please. It’s like I’d momentarily forgotten that we sweat, spit, and otherwise are disgusting in front of each other, so a little extra body hair wasn’t going to turn them off.

It’s been a little over a year. I’ve shaved my pits a handful of times, but they’ve mostly gone natural, and my legs more regularly. Legs get itchy! I like shaving when and if I feel like it, being hairy when and if I feel like it, not because I feel like I have to. And I somehow feel more like myself when I’m all natural. Maybe it goes back to those summers at camp and those “crunchy,” “granola,” confident counselors I looked up to so much. And some days I still get nervous about baring my natural hair. I recently trained for a sprint triathlon at my gym. Before the first swim practice I worried about what the coach and other people practicing would think about my unshaveness. But swimming was just about the swimming, and no one was looking at each other’s bodies and being critical.

All this time, there has been Karl. It turns out that Karl is really into an all natural lady. Maybe this story would be better if I had discovered on my own that going all natural felt beautiful, but in reality I needed a little push. I needed someone to tell me that my hairy legs and arms, the things that boys had mocked before, were sexy. Karl’s encouragement made me realize that I didn’t have to shave my way into a certain beauty standard to be beautiful for him and to feel beautiful for myself. We women are bombarded by how we should look, sound, every second of the day. We compare, we judge, we wish we were different. But shouldn’t we just want to be ourselves? Shouldn’t we take the time to figure out how we each individually feel beautiful? I feel certain that beauty is different for each woman, each person. I am lucky enough to be able to have someone who doesn’t prescribe to the normal beauty standard, who encourages me to be all natural if that’s what I want, and who is proud of me for displaying my hairiness. Every time I have a positive experience or get to shake up someone’s idea of femininity with something as silly and little as my arm pits, I feel surer and more confident in my choice. It’s a journey. This year, I’m looking forward to summer and to setting my all-natural pits free.

Here’s Karl’s perspective.

Hmmm…my perspective on women with hair…good question. In short, I think it’s great! It’s naturally beautiful. I wished more women would feel comfortable to be just how their bodies intended to be. I’m not really sure how I came upon such a perspective…I don’t remember one defining “aha” moment. I think it was just occasionally seeing a woman here or there lift their arms in public and I would catch sight of full tufts of hair. I found it to be so exotic! Or so alien…as if a hidden world was being uncovered piece by piece. I remember thinking, “women grow hair under their arms like a guy?!” And when you think about it, and remember middle school health class, you know that of course they do. But, being in such a visual/media society one tends to forget that.

I think that dovetails nicely into your question about a media/society disconnect in regards to what a “true” woman looks like. Society and the media have gotten to the point that women are pressured into stripping away very natural parts of their bodies to “fit in.” And then when you look more into the history of it and find out that women shaving their pits came about at the turn of the last century as a marketing ploy to sell more razors, it’s even more appalling. If a man is not shamed for letting his hair grow then why should a woman? There should be no shame whatsoever in how anyone truly is.

Another disconnect I see, and maybe this is me just being anal, is in historical films that pride themselves in their historical detail and accuracy. They put out a movie set hundreds or thousands of years in the past and all the women have silky smooth armpits and legs. Not very historically accurate at all. I see it as yet another attempt by the media to make women believe that their bodies must be “tamed.”

But, it’s nice to be with a woman, Julia, who embraces her natural beauty. I couldn’t be happier with that choice of hers. Years ago I had a friend at church who didn’t shave her pits and she was proud of it. I remember thinking to myself “I hope I end up with a woman who would be proud to be hairy too.” And, I did.

-Karl Bolter

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I Ran a Marathon. My Body is a Miracle.

I’m a woman. I’ve stood in front of my mirror and looked at my naked body and criticized. I’ve been late to work because I spent 20 minutes standing in front of my open closet, changing outfits, each one making me feel fat, making my stomach bulge. I’ve weighed myself every few days, marked down the numbers, obsessed over one pound lost or gained. I’ve not bought perfectly cute pants because I refuse to buy a size 10. I’m a size 8 damn it. Once for a year or so I dropped a pant size and I rejoiced. I swore I’d get back there again some day. I’ve talked the skinny talk. “I’m going to loose 10 pounds before attending that wedding.” “I can’t have pizza tonight. It’s soo bad for you.” “Man, I wish my thighs didn’t touch.”

I’ve never once stopped eating or purged my body of food I’d just eaten because I felt inadequate about my body, but I have definitely disliked myself a whole lot because of how I looked, because I didn’t think I was skinny enough, because the way my stomach folded when I sat or bent forward made me really sad.

One day I started running. And then another day I kind of got addicted to running. That was hard. I read magazines, blogs, articles, all very helpful words, and looked at the accompanying pictures. Lady runners have flat stomachs. They don’t have a big chest. They have small thighs. My thighs only got bigger, stronger, the more I ran, the farther I asked them to carry me. My girls have to be squashed into a sizable bra before they kind of sort of don’t bounce. My stomach? Well maybe it got a little flatter, I’m sure it got stronger, but my love of cookies was strong, too.

At first I ran to combat that love of cookies. Today I run because I love my body, because it feels great after I run, because it’s capable of doing amazing things. It does amazing things looking mostly the same way it did when I stood in front of the mirror and felt sad.

A week and a half ago I finished my first marathon, the Monumental Marathon. My body killed it for me, as in “damn girl, you killed it! That was awesome!” It not only carried me 26.2 miles from start to finish line, it hauled me through months of training, long runs, early mornings, and mental breakdowns. Today there is no way in my right mind I could look at my body and think, “I wish you were different.” My body is a dang miracle, you guys, and I am so thankful for it. It got me to 13.1 miles in 2:07. It pushed me past my house and my cheering section twice.

It started to falter in the last six miles of the race, but somehow, by God’s grace or thanks to the energy stored perhaps in my toes from all the gels I had eaten, somehow that last mile I ran hard, I flew, and I crossed the finish line in this weird mix of emotions. Exhaustion. Joy. Ecstasy. Shock. Anger. (Yep, I wish I’d gone faster.) Pride.

Today I had this epiphany while I was watching this video.

Robyn Lawley says she loves her body. Is she nuts? She’s a woman. Women don’t love their bodies. And then I realized that I do. I love my body after all that time thinking it kinda sucked, that it could be better. I can say the same thing Robyn Lawley says. I love my body the way it is for appreciating when I fill it with pasta and pie and kale and homemade soup and cake. I love it for bending as much as it can when I try to twist it into bird of paradise. I love it for hiking up mountains and through deserts and up and down my street every day behind a silly black dog. I love it for letting me lace up my running shoes every week.

I love my body because it let me finish a marathon. What has your body done for you today? I bet something pretty damn spectacular.