Musician and UniSA student Nicole O’Rielley discusses how growing out her body hair led to a deeper acceptance of self and freedom.
My lady-fur is the Puratap of social encounters. Accepting, open, loving people see the Persian rugs I store under my arms as I place my hands onto my head – my pose of comfort for some reason that’s beyond me – and that’s all there is: a moment of seeing. Because these people don’t give a fuck about what I’m doing with my body. They pass through the Puratap. I feel at ease.
But these filters do their job. Some conversations are dotted with tension as I watch their eyes continuously flick back to my underarms. They eye them as if they’re a junkie kicking up a fuss on the street: you want to keep an eye on them, but you dare not look too long in case they turn on you. And I can hear the rebuttal starting up: people are looking because it’s strange, different, they’re not used to it. But let me ask you, if a person cannot come to peace with a simple patch of hair how can you trust in them to accept all the other strange and different things about you?
Like my anxiety with people. My anxiety that manifests in so many different ways. Sometimes it’s silence. Sometimes it’s sending all my guards to defend the borders. Other times it’s animated bluntness, or nervous laughter, or babbling without breaks. It’s ripping up a piece of paper into a million squares of confetti as we talk so I can keep myself grounded. It’s walking into the room with a darkness that everyone can sense. It’s saying ‘I don’t know’ when I bloody well do know. It’s running so fucking late because I woke up with a passionate hate towards myself.
I am highly in-tune with this roller coaster. They’ve made a fortune out of me, continuously riding for the past 21 years. The hardest part, however, isn’t the whiplash my emotional state is inflicting upon me, it’s the eternal fear that people won’t like me because of this quirk of mine. I am your lucky-dip friend.
So I ask myself: if a person cannot come to peace with a simple patch of hair, how can I trust them to accept all the other strange and different things about me?
The answer is I cannot.
My experiment of growing out my underarm hair has seemingly coincided with an improvement in regards to my generally dismal self-esteem and my anxiety. For the sake of me not writing until I shadow a Game of Thrones novel (I did mention my tendency to babble), let me just get into the two sources of happiness my underarm hair as given me.
The body and mind is connected. When I feel less apologetic about my body, I feel less apologetic about me.
The hair came in stages. It gathered momentum when I was house sitting for my cousin a while back. I was a bit of a sad sack during that time. I was spending a lot of time alone. I stopped shaving and I didn’t care. I saw close friends in my prematurely hairy stage but I found that when I went to attend a more public event, a night out on the town, I reminded myself that I needed to shave. Needed. To. Shave. Needed… What a fucked up thing to think. I began to question myself and I didn’t have to dig that deep to conclude I didn’t shave for me, I shaved for society.
Lately I’ve found myself to be more social. I’m doing things my anxiety once prevented me from doing. I’m going to events by myself. I’m floating around rather than staying safely inside my bubble. I’m hanging out one-on-one with new friends (which is massive in my world: a world where I normally have to know someone for an upwards of six months before I’ll be able to tackle the ‘dinner date’). And of course this is all subconscious. But now that I’m allowing myself to analyse my behaviour I really think it’s to do with the rebellion I’m hosting underneath my arms. Because if self-conscious Nicole can grow her own socially-shunned rug, self-conscious Nicole can go out and experience new people – even when the roller coaster is in motion.
Committing to something ‘unattractive’ challenged me to reevaluate beauty.
I’m a size 6. Quite often I struggle to find clothes that even fit me properly without swamping my frame. But those facts didn’t matter to my mind. In my mind I was fat. I saw fat. I saw flaws. I always needed to be thinner. Even when people were saying I looked unwell; I felt too big. When my boyfriend at the time said he thought I looked better when I had some more meat on my bones, I was certain he was lying to me, that it was some sick ploy to make me fat so he had a reason to leave me for a more beautiful girl (even though that’s completely unrealistic, that’s how fucked up and consuming my obsession with fat on my own body is).
I’m not claiming to be saved. Such a toxic relationship is hard to dissolve and I’m sure it will always be a part of me in some minute way, but yesterday I did something worth celebrating. I weighed myself. I weighed myself and I didn’t get upset. I didn’t get upset even though I’m 4 kilos heavier than my ‘ideal weight.’ And I stood before the mirror in my underwear and felt fucking baben. I mean, yeah, I’m still on earth, I don’t feel perfect. I’m quite aware year six girls wear a bigger cup size than me and I see men on the street with more curvaceous hips than me. But when you hit the streets in a strappy top absolutely owning your armpit hair, your other body parts that don’t match the societal ideal of the female form become less important to you.
Whether or not I keep this hair forevermore is redundant. What matters here is that I took control. Rather than saying to myself ‘my body, my choice’ while I continued to shave every time I showered because HEAVEN FORBID ANYONE KNOW THAT I DESCENDED FROM AN APE AND I HAVE HAIR ON MY BODY – I just threw my overly self-aware self in the deep-end. And aside from the fact that I feel a bit more sweaty and find I need to apply deodorant more often, me and my hair are feeling empowered exploring female taboo.
Words by Nicole O’Rielley.
Images by Elise Prestia.