Unshaved Armpits

By Kate Ringer

She is perched at the top of a steep, concrete step, the curve of her calf accentuated by the strain of her pose. There are her legs, tan and endless; a flip of a sleek ponytail; the seductive pucker of her lips as she peeks over her shoulder and leers at the camera; the strip of her flat belly, framed by her tight black crop top and the Daisy Dukes clinging to her waist; then, finally, her perfect butt, like two crescent suns emerging from the clouds of denim.

I am almost salivating, wanting to shout, “Damn, look at her butt!” but I keep my thoughts to myself.

I am not the best feminist.

A photo of the author. She is standing on the beach on a cloudy day, wearing a backward blue baseball cap, a light blue tee shirt, and a backpacking backpack with her hair in a braid.
A photo of the author

I’ve never been to a feminist rally. I read feminist books occasionally but know little about the literature and the powerful women that have shaped the feminist movement. I have intrusive thoughts, thoughts that I know are wrong, but I find myself thinking nonetheless. Besides these reasons and many more that I could use to exclude myself from the movement, I still proudly identify as a feminist, albeit a bad one.

I prefer to engage in small acts of activism. I stopped shaving my armpits in June for purely practical purposes – I was backpacking for fifty days straight, and I was trying to limit the items in my pack as much as possible. It is the first time I have had hairy armpits, ever, as I have been shaving them daily for over a decade. I always shaved because I thought it would be smelly, itchy, and gross to leave them unshaved. I thought that people would make fun of me, or be disgusted, if they saw that I hadn’t shaved. I was constantly self-conscious of lifting my arms above my head, afraid they would see the tiny, dark stubble with the red, irritated skin.

A woman with an afro flexes her bicep, showing off her armpit hair.
Taken from the Natural Beauty Series by Ben Hopper. Learn more here: https://metro.co.uk/2017/08/08/stunning-photo-series-will-make-you-want-to-grow-out-your-armpit-hair-6835819/

Shame.

Shame.

Shame.

In early July when the hair really started to come in, I found myself feeling liberated. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t embarrassed when other people saw my armpits; instead, I felt like I was sending a message about my core beliefs. In a tiny way, I was telling our society that I won’t let it tell me what beauty means for women. Even though I’ve had access to a razor for weeks now, I’ve left my armpits unshaved because, shockingly, I like them better that way.

I’ve been taking the birth control pill every day at 8:00 pm since I was sixteen years old. This is not uncommon: about 60% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 use some method of contraception, yet there is still a huge stigma surrounding contraceptive use. This is why I never hide that I am taking the pill. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with actively preventing pregnancy, and if I publicly take my pill every day, maybe I will empower another woman to seek access to some form of birth control. I’ve gotten flak for doing this. As a senior in high school, I was attending the homecoming football game when the time came to take my pill. I pulled the pack out of my purse, punched out a pill, and popped it in my mouth. A friend of mine said, “Really, Kate? You’re going to take your birth control in the middle of a football game?”

A cartoon of a man cowering in fear, holding a box of condoms, and being berated by individuals calling him,
What if men faced the same stigma when they were seeking access to birth control? Learn more here: https://mic.com/articles/103616/if-birth-control-logic-was-applied-to-men-here-s-what-it-would-look-like#.2kdmxHkrw

“Why wouldn’t I?” I responded, “There’s nothing wrong with being on the pill.”

She laughed, “You are so weird.” She was right, though. I was weird. I was one of the few women in my senior class in Boise, Idaho who had access to one of the best protections against teenage pregnancy, and of that population, I was one of very few who wasn’t ashamed to be on the pill. My lack of shame earned me a reputation by the middle of the year; I was someone girls could come to if they had questions about different forms of birth control, or they needed advice about seeing a doctor or talking to their parents. It didn’t take much for me to help destigmatize the use of birth control for women in my school, just the courage to share my experiences. This is why I believe in small acts of activism.

Above all, I believe that we can bring about change through education, using our voices. Everyone can be an activist if they are willing to speak their mind. That is why I chose to write for this blog; I truly believe that words can revolutionize a culture. I have been labeled obnoxious, bitchy, arrogant, bossy, and just plain too loud for sharing my voice, but I will not be silenced. I have too much to say, and so many ways to say it. This is a drive that I plan on sharing with my future students, especially my female students and those from other minority groups, as they so often feel that they don’t have anything valuable to say. Everyone has a new perspective to offer, and it is important that everyone is empowered to share it. You don’t have to be in the spotlight to be a leader, a feminist, or an activist. Everyone can engage in what they believe in, even if it’s in small ways. These are the ways that we can make a difference.

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