Sex, friends and strangers: what to expect when you stop shaving

Contrary to what you've been told, the world doesn't end when a woman stops shaving.

In 2013, deciding to keep your body hair feels like a small revolution, a political rebellion: it sends a message, and is the equivalent of walking around with a placard saying “I’m a scary feminist, and almost certainly left-wing”. Not that I mind: I personally am both of these things, but had been told from the beginning of puberty that I had to remove everything apart from a vague triangle between my thighs, or face never getting laid and never having friends. In fact, it took me several months to get my head round the idea of throwing away my razor for a few weeks, and see where it'd get me. I am, however, very happy I did, and lived to tell the tale. If you're ever considering to stop shaving (and you should), here's what to expect:

I guess the most telling incident I had was, when walking around an estate in East London, a man walking behind me shouted that I had nice legs, “love”. I ignored him, as one does, but he felt the need to add “you should probably shave them though”. I instantly got angry, but as I was about to turn around and respond something not publishable here, he concluded “Yeah, actually I don’t mind”. I was so gobsmacked by his honesty (and his obvious tendency to just think out loud) that I simply walked off without saying anything. And if you ever stop shaving, this is exactly the sort of reaction you’ll come to expect from random people: surprise, possibly disgust, then realisation that it really is nothing. Heartening.

Sadly, friends can be a bit harder to deal with: I’ve heard absolutely everything on my apparently terrifying armpits – from feminist fistbumps to outright “I don’t want to be seen in public with you” – but the funniest probably is the hypocritical enthusiasm. It’s an easy one to notice: just take your jumper off, and the person will start with a shocked “Oh!”, feel guilty about said exclamation, and proceed to spend about fifteen minutes telling you “Yes! No ! Really! It’s great! I wish I could do that! In fact, YOU’RE great!”, when the only thing in their minds clearly is “ew”. You might also get an “ironic” razor for your birthday, or get asked “jokingly” if you’re really going swimming like that. You’ll want to tell them that it’s fine, they can be honest and stop pretending and that you’re not going to cry if you don’t feel validated by every single person you know, but chances are you’ll just smile politely and move on.

Now we’ve covered most social situations, let’s get down to more serious business: sex. The first time I got into bed with someone after ditching the wax, I panicked. I clearly remember thinking “Jesus, I’m going to take off my tights, he’s going to scream, jump off the bed, call his mum and start crying”. Except, well, he didn’t: in fact, I’m not even sure he noticed – and if he did, he didn’t mention it. Nor did any of the lovers that followed. When I quizzed a male friend on the subject, he told me that he was normally too happy to have someone getting naked in his bed that he sincerely could not care less whether she had some hair on her body or not. These wise words were echoed by nearly all the men I asked, which, when thinking about it, hardly is that surprising. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never brought someone back to mine, only to scream in surprise and run away because their chest was a lot hairier than I was expecting it to be. In fact, the conversation I seem to be having practically every time with women is whether men get terrified to go down on you. Newsflash: it doesn’t even really change anything – I’ve slept with women before, you can take my word for it. And pardon me for being crude, but if someone is disgusted by the idea of getting down on a woman who doesn’t wax, he probably doesn’t lick the right bits – all in all, it merely is a matter of personal taste (ha, ha).

On a more serious note, my point here is that throwing away your razor really isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be a big deal. Standing naked in front of a mirror and lifting my arms up felt weird at first: I felt a lot less attractive, and nearly ashamed of my body. Then I got used to it, and started wishing that other women would do the same.

In fact, I'd just like it if it could just become something a bit more normal. Just like wearing heels, dresses, or make up, shaving should become more of a personal choice again: something you do because you feel like it, not because the thought of having three hair on the side of your bikini would fill you with shame or uneasiness. Though sadly, I should probably warn you beforehand: your legs will not feel any warmer during the winter.

 

[Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

Marie le Conte is a freelance journalist.

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser