Body hair and nakedness in lockdown
By: Hannah Copestake
I gave up on shaving two years ago. Clumsy by nature, I had so often slipped while hurriedly reaping the dark hairs on my legs that I no longer trusted myself not to end up with a few cuts and scrapes. Not to mention the existential climate guilt I felt as I consigned another infantile-pink plastic razor to the bathroom bin, after finally allowing myself to see the rust clinging to the safety blade.
Instead, I chose waxing. At a local salon my guilt was assuaged by the organic, vegan wax. It poured warm and dark onto my skin, purple and lightly scented of blackcurrant and liquorice. I emerged egg-smooth and refreshed, after chatting to a nice woman who patiently de-haired places only my lovers had seen before.
Around two weeks before lockdown, I went for my regular appointment. My beautician advised leaving a slightly longer gap between sessions. Let it grow out, she advised, then we’ll get a much smoother finish. I nodded, mentally scheduling as many dates as possible with the person I was seeing in the acceptable-hair-length period between now and then. How would I cope, I wondered, towards the end of the six-week wait?
Then – lockdown. Dates moved online and then were abandoned, after he ghosted. Six weeks came and went. My roommate ordered at-home wax strips. Told me I should have invested in laser, as she had. I considered returning to the supermarket aisles for ‘disposable’ razors, but something stopped me.
The hair grew, eventually stopping at its fullest length. At first I felt ashamed, hiding my skin while I did pilates in the living room under long-sleeved tees. Then one day I stopped in front of my full-length mirror while dressing. I flexed. The biceps I had carved through hours of weights and pilates classes curved elegantly above the long, dark hair from my underarm. I realised this was the first time in my 31 years that I had ever seen it fully grown. It sent a small shiver of rebellion through me.
After that, I noticed how soft and silky the hairs were – not like the prickled stubble I was used to. When I walked naked around my room after a shower, soft hair stroked each shin in a gentle caress.
At the start of the year, I went to a lecture at the University of Melbourne on self-objectification and sexual expression. It examined the contrast between the nude female body and the naked female body.
The nude body is the observed body: The paintings and sculptures of art galleries. The tender leering shots of sex scenes in art-house movies. The Playboy centrefold.
The naked body, on the other hand, is the private body, the innocent body.
Was it even possible to observe our own female bodies, asked the speaker, without seeing a nude? We are so trained to see with the straight male gaze. Our innocent naked bodies, once the occupants of baths with our siblings, of paddling pools and rivers, of the summer garden, are destroyed as we come ‘of age’. They are replaced solely with a nude and sexual body.
But here in lockdown, looking at my own legs, stomach and arms as they were re-forested with hair, I felt a sense of my own nakedness again. Whereas my freshly-waxed legs always give me a sense of sensuality, of desirability, this was different.
I thought of how women must have looked before advertising and movies insisted we were girlishly smooth. It made me think of the Amazons of Greek mythology, of wilderness regrowing.
This is how I would look if no-one other than me ever looked at me again, I thought. I have had an uncomfortable relationship with my body – depriving it of food, of rest, always judging it as ‘not good enough’.
Now I have paused my monthly ritual of hot wax and pain, and instead I smooth moisturising cream into my pale, silky-haired limbs. I have accepted the softening of my waistline and muscles – and my body hair.
This body is just for me – not an object to display for others. And in being hidden from view and scrutiny I am experiencing a sense of freedom and ownership of my body. I am able to see it (sometimes) without the overlay of the male gaze. I am able to see myself in a way I would not show to anyone else.
Lockdown has given me this gift, this period of enforced rest from view, of privacy, of naked solitude.
Hannah Copestake is a British writer and dedicated nerd whose work explores pop culture and desire. She holds a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham and has previously been published in Archer and Silkworms Ink.