During Mardi Gras, conventional rules of behavior are thrown out the parade float.
In the early carnival season, known in most parts of the country as “winter,” my shaving habit had faltered. As stubble turned to scruff, I decided to take the advice gleaned from the first hour and a half of the audiobook version of Sheryl Strandberg’s famous work and lean in: I grew out my armpit hair.
In early middle school, when the peach fuzz under my arm first turned to kiwi fluff, I gleefully, and sometimes painfully, removed it, feeling one step closer to initiation into the woman club.
A year ago, as I let my hair grow fully for the first time ever, I was fascinated. I feel many things about my body, but not often wonder. I don’t usually find armpits particularly poetic, but finally allowing a function that had been denied for the past decade was in some ways awesome.
That Mardi Gras, my last as a college student, I flaunted my new underarm garden. I highly recommend glittering one’s pits while waiting in line at a Rally’s or another fast food establishment. I wore my pits hairy and glittered for every parade I attended, and a fair share of my poses in pictures from that year are pit first, an under-utilized pose in my opinion.
While some seasons have ambiguous ends, with Christmas trees staying up notoriously past Christmas, Mardi Gras’s is distinct. To mark it I decided it was time to prune my beautiful petunias.
I regretted it immediately.
Shaving was remarkably uncomfortable, like stroking sandpaper or, say, dragging a blade against the grain of your hair in an area of your body not used to many touches.
As it grew back, the discomfort continued. I was angry at razor companies for convincing me that parts of my body were wrong, a scheme I had been aware of but had not fully internalized until stabbed by my own vengeful follicles in the first days of Lent. I decided not to shave my precious pits for the foreseeable future and lumped my legs in for good measure.
During Mardi Gras, the decision not to shave had felt silly and on-theme, but post it felt rebellious, empowering, and at times, vulnerable. Walking to class, I’d feel delighted by the breeze through my leg hair, like fairies dancing across my shins, and then self-conscious upon arrival that my classmates might stare. Getting dressed to go out, I’d put on a feminine tank top, and then while examining my look in the mirror, I’d flash a pit much to my own amusement.
I prepared to have men reject me, feeling preemptively both hurt by these imaginary critics and spiteful towards them. “My body, my choice!” I’d misuse in my mental retort. However, when it came to actual romantic interests, none of them were swayed by my hairiness.
As it turns out, my attractiveness and general appeal have very little to do with my body hair.
In my current life, my legs remain generally shaved, though with far less fear of stubble than in my teen years. However, my armpit hair flows, a small act of rebellion under my conservative work attire. Though my opinion of my body changes hourly, the patch of hair under my arms reminds me that it is mine alone to live in and enjoy and adorn as I please.