Why I grew my underarm hair for my daughters

I threw out my razor for my girls.
I threw out my razor for my girls. Photo: Shutterstock

My kids – two girls, aged four and two – are young enough to still be blissfully non-judgemental about bodies – their own and those around them. They think jiggly bottoms and my droopy belly button are funny. It's great – but it won't last.

According to Pretty Foundation, an organisation that aims to fight negative body image in girls, more than 50 per cent of preschool-aged girls are dissatisfied with their bodies. Kids as young as three have internalised the message that when it comes to bodies, big is bad and small is good.

These are heartbreaking statistics. I want my girls to escape the trap that sees women base their self-worth on their appearance. I want them to learn body acceptance from the outset.

So, after faithfully shaving for decades, this year I threw out my razor.

Why? It's important for my daughters to understand that bodies come in all shapes, sizes and states of fuzziness. I hope that by seeing mum's hairy legs and underarms as totally normal they'll be more comfortable with their own body hair when it arrives.

I remember the first time I shaved my legs. I was 10 or 11 and decided to get rid of the fine down that covered my lower limbs. And, in my misguided prepubescent enthusiasm, my arms. I was rewarded for my efforts with a crop of dark, thicker-looking regrowth that I was stuck with for years.

When I started shaving properly in high school, injuries were a regular occurrence. I was always applying minor first aid to shaving cuts acquired in the shower thanks to blunt razors and bad technique.

When I went to university, bikini waxing became a thing (I'm sure these days girls do it much earlier). Every month or six weeks I'd book into the beautician to submit myself to the excruciating and humiliating ritual of having most of my pubic hair ripped out with hot wax.

But I wasn't sold. Maintaining a Brazilian is expensive, time-consuming and painful and I soon gave it up. I continued shaving my legs and underarms, though - it's hard to ignore the ideal female body that we see promoted in fashion magazines, advertisements and on our screens. We must be plucked, depilated, brushed, and painted to be considered attractive.

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It's not a problem faced by men of course, who have the luxury of knowing when they forget to shave, their stubbly regrowth is considered sexy. A woman's stubbly legs are viewed much less favourably; unfortunately, more revolting than rakish.

In an age of Instagram, I fear my girls will never be able to avoid images that show them how they are supposed to look.

I can't change the Internet, but I can control the example that I set to my children. Parents are an important influence on girls' body image, according to Pretty Foundation's Background to Body Image, a downloadable resource for parents.

"Parents who talk negatively about their own weight and appearance may give their daughters the idea that they need to look a certain way to feel accepted. Comments from parents about other people's body shape, size, appearance, and weight (including media figures) can also encourage their daughters to feel poorly about their appearance," it reads.

I want my daughters to think of their bodies in terms of their health and usefulness, not their attractiveness, so I try to avoid calling them 'beautiful' or focusing on their appearance above all else.

Sometimes I feel as if I'm swimming against the tide. My daughter, playing dress-ups, will ask if an outfit is 'pretty'. Other adjectives – colourful, extraordinary, interesting – don't cut it. She wants to look like a princess.

Fortunately, every day there are more resources out there designed to help send girls a positive message about appearance and self-worth.

Pretty Foundation has published fact sheets with advice for parents on how to approach body image with their daughters.

Books like The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch and Zog by Julia Donaldson feature strong, interesting female characters to entertain and inspire young girls.

For older readers, there's Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, a breakout hit that is full of stories of women who have lived adventurous lives.

Confession: now it's shorts weather, I shaved my legs. But as my girls grow up, I'll make sure that every now and then I put away the razor just to remind them just because they are girls, they don't have to look a certain way.