When I'm working, my agreement to that question almost always leads to an inquiry about my hair. Not the hair on my head, mind you, but the hair that many women choose to remove- the underarm and pubic hair. I leave mine intact and have found myself down a rabbit hole which, a few years ago I never could have imagined.
Let's start at the beginning, shall we? When I was in high school, I was pretty typical as far as loathing my body. I knew I would be very happy with my appearance, if only my body hair wasn't so dark and plentiful. Having larger breasts would be pretty nifty, too. And really, I wish I had a more angular face... if only it were different, I'd be happy with it. But the hair was my biggest complaint, and I dutifully went about removing it. By the time I was 16, I'd tried more hair removal strategies than many adults have. I'd shaved, waxed, used depilatory creams, rubbed the hair off with strange sandpapery mitts, given an epilator a try, tweezed, and bleached. I had removed hair on my toes, my legs, my girly bits, my tummy, my lower back, around my nipples, under my arms, on my chin, above my lip, and around my eyebrows. If only, if only, if only it was gone.
As I left the raging insecurities of adolescence for young adulthood, I began easing up on the aggressive removal of my body hair. I went longer between being waxed or shaving. I was less meticulous and ceased fretting about the areas where the hair was lighter or more sparse. At the same time, I was finding my way into social circles with strong feminist leanings. For the first time in my life, I was around women who I respected with body hair. Heck, no qualifier is needed-for the first time in my life, I was actually around women with body hair.
In the fall of 2004, I ceased removing any hair, save about a centimeter directly above my nose, where my eyebrows otherwise connect. I was done loathing my body, damn it! Around this time, I moved to Olympia, Washington. Suffice to say, my hairy pits had good company. Though my hair is decidedly darker and thicker than most women's, I was not a lone, furry-legged freak.
But what would happen when, about six months later, I moved to rural Texas? I had an offer for an incredible internship at a wildlife rehabilitation center and sanctuary. However, I had some serious misgivings about the wisdom of, as a hairy vegan, moving to Texas. The lure of lemurs and baby raccoons won out, and I headed south. And to my amazement, the hair wasn't a big deal. I never got dirty or scornful looks, no snickering when I passed by groups of teenagers, no subtle packs of razors left on my bed by co-interns. So far as I could tell, nobody gave a shit. I was both dumbfounded and delighted.
And so it continued for several years. Over time, I became increasingly comfortable in my own skin. I realized that truly, my hair was not the big deal I once thought it to be. Once I gave up the unyielding battle, loving my body became pretty easy.
In early 2007, I decided to experimentally remove the hair on my legs. Though I had grown quite fond of my bush and underarm hair, I was less enamored with my leg hair. I consulted the almighty internet for recipes for DIY sugaring (like waxing, for those less versed in hair removal). Shortly thereafter, I found myself mixing water, sugar and lemon juice together over low heat. And then I had at it. It was, in many ways, a mindfuck for me. But I was pleased with the results, and decided to continue.
Shortly after, I blundered into the world of modeling. In responding to ads on posted by photographers, my tone was always apologetic. My phrasing was along the lines of, "I do have a full bush and underarm hair. Hopefully that won't be a dealbreaker for you." And yet, it often wasn't. Even with the hair, I kept getting hired. I could not, for the life of me, figure out how the short, awkward hairy girl was getting work as an art model. And yet, I was. I kept waiting for photographers to realize I was a poor excuse for a model. Surely, this couldn't keep going. And yet, it did.
And now, two and a half years later, here I am. I still remove the hair on my legs, sculpt my bush just enough so it doesn't overwhelm images, and dutifully remove about an inch of hair above my nose. By most standards, my body hair is still quite epic and unruly.
But here's the real kicker. For a few months last winter, I began experimentally removing my underarm hair. I was ready for something different, and suspected more job offers would be a side perk. In those three months, job offers dropped dramatically. Just as I had been in Texas, I was floored. With my memory refreshed as to just how annoying removing the hair in that particular area is (an aside: HOLY JESUS getting your pits waxed hurts!) and financial incentive to let it grow, the choice was clear.
A few months ago, an artist with whom I was working praised my hair, "It's such an F.U. to the mainstream." He didn't quite have it right, though. By itself, my hair doesn't especially matter. It just sits there, and doesn't really have much of an impact on anything. The real F.U. to the mainstream is the fact that I'm a professional model. And for that, I am pleased.