When society decided body hair was dirty and ugly, Élisabeth Chevillet nodded and got rid of hers. Now the French blogger and basketballer is rethinking everything. After all, to hair is human!
MY BODY HAIR AND ME
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with my body hair. As a kid, having none was my biggest burden—apart from not menstruating and being a virgin. I wanted some so bad, that I once shaved my nude pubic area because it was supposed to increase hair growth. And you know what? As soon as my hair started to appear, I got busy removing every one of them.
I would love to say that being a woman automatically makes me anti-sexist, like being a lesbian would free me from homophobic patterns. Breaking news: it doesn’t. We live in a world ruled by old white men who tell us what to do, what to think, what to want. So, just like you, I was trained to hate my body hair. And let’s be honest, the training worked wonders.
I THOUGHT I SHAVED BY CHOICE
When I decided to go for laser hair removal a few years ago (no, it’s not permanent and yes, it is painful), I had an explanation. I was not unconsciously brainwashed by men and advertising: I did find body hair ugly. So I was convinced I was choosing freely to lie naked in front of a women sending what felt like electric shocks to every inch of my labia. Spoiler alert: this had nothing to do with freedom.
Maybe you’ve noticed, everybody is talking about deconstruction these days. And it’s a good thing. Basically, it means that we are questioning our belief systems, which is rarely a comfortable process.
It was not comfortable to acknowledge my own internalized lesbophobia, especially as a lesbian. It was not comfortable to realize that I was full of sexist, racist, and fatphobic patterns. And it was certainly not comfortable to face that deciding to “permanently” remove my body hair made me a perfect product of mainstream society.
GERMAN WOMEN DON’T SHAVE
We are trained to think that female body hair is dirty. At school, I remember kids saying that German women didn’t shave their armpits—and it was supposed to be very, very disgusting. I never questioned whether it was true about the Germans or that it was disgusting. I grew up seeing women plucking their eyebrows, epilating their legs, shaving their pubis, and refusing those time-consuming, painful rituals never crossed my mind.
I never asked myself why, on top of the free labor that women were expected to do at home seven days a week, they were supposed to appear as thin, hairless, smiling creatures. I never asked myself if the so-called feminine body was a tool to maintain patriarchy. I never questioned the norm because I was too busy trying to fit in.
BODY HAIR, DON’T CARE
Last year, my cousin from Berlin visited me for my birthday. She was wearing short pants and we started to talk about her legs. She hadn’t been shaving them in five years and felt very comfortable with it. Her wife even found her hair extremely sexy, she said. Suddenly, I felt admiration for my younger cousin. I used to be her lesbian role model, but now, she was the cool one. I admired her freedom.
A few weeks later, my girlfriend stopped shaving her armpits. And I must say that my cousin’s wife was right. Gosh, her hair is sexy! I empowered my girlfriend to follow her heart despite the unpleasant comments of her conservative environment.
Each time my friends would walk around with unshaved armpits, legs and bikini lines, I’d celebrate their coolness. But I also strongly felt that I wasn’t ready to be cool myself. Again, I had the perfect explanation: I’m a basketball player. How on earth could have I played with an untamed bush of underarm hair among twenty closely shaved women?
BODY HAIR REBELLION
And then, it happened. I don’t really know how. Six months ago, I stopped shaving my body hair. I didn’t make any conscious decision—the idea silently took root in my mind. I would love to say: “It’s so easy. Come on, folks, follow the lead” but it would be a lie. The basketball part was not so hard because it was winter, which means I was wearing leggings and long sleeves.
At first, showering at the gym was uncomfortable. I’m over it now, although it feels like outing myself each time that I have to shower with a new person, because people do notice—and I see them being surprised. But what can I do? Introduce myself saying: “Nice to meet you! My name is Élie and I don’t shave my hair.”
I also struggled during physical intimacy. When my legs started to look like those of a teenage boy, I was not so eager to undress in front of my girlfriend. But everything went better after I talked about it and she made me feel really safe.
MY BODY HAIR IS HOT
So there’s only one problem left: summer is coming. I really love wearing short pants, but I’m not sure that I will be able to cope on the street. Maybe I will start shaving again. Or maybe I will do like my friend Nadine. When she feels vulnerable, she just wears pants.
Whatever happens, there’s an amazing thing about this inner journey: how my own feelings changed. When my hair started to grow, I found my legs really ugly. But I didn’t shave because I was eager to experiment further, growing body hair as an act of rebellion. Over the weeks, I unexpectedly started to like my hairy body. Today, my view has changed radically. When the water runs down my legs, I like the way the hair darkens all over my skin. There are even days where I find it pretty hot. I guess it’s what we call deconstruction: I have unlearned that my body hair is ugly. And I’m damn proud of it.
Élisabeth Chevillet is a French lesbian blogger and activist.
Follow Élie on Instagram: @eliechevillet