Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Pits are Political

This winter, I let it all grow out. Usually at some point there'd be a social event requiring shorter sleeves and I would succumb, begrudgingly making my way to the nearby waxing salon. But somehow this year I managed to cultivate my pit-pets undisturbed.

Personally, I've always found natural pits sexy, on both genders. It's like a primal surprise that is usually hidden away, a little like the titillation of exposed skin in eras and cultures where covering up is the norm. It says to me "ah, pretend all you like, but we are primates, we are wild, we are sexual. And no matter how much you try to cover it up with faux-civilised demeanour, with tea-sets and buckled shoes, with sophisticated idioms, with cultural systems designed to keep the peace and the law, a simple raised arm will reveal our tussled, glistening, soft plume of animalistic shame". To me, it says truth.

And yet, relatively recently, about 100 years ago, following on from the Suffragettes' struggle for women's right to be heard, seen and treated equally to men, the 1920s' fashion brought forth its own version of freedom for women - the freedom to be unashamed of their bodies, to relish in unencumbering layers of fabric, not being forced to hide yourself away. Although part of a process still in its infancy, a mere sign of things to come, there was significance to it. Alas, it came with a price - yes, you were now granted the freedom to frolic near-nude, but in exchange you would have to diminish signs of sexual maturity. If you were going to act care-free, you had to be child-like, hence the figure in vogue was that of a young girl, scrawny and bosomless. It stood to reason that any visible post-pubescent hair had to go too. Fashion magazines and manufacturers of hair removal products cottoned on and sublimated the message further.

With the era of war re-shuffling priorities from the superficial to the utilitarian, it's taken another 40 years for body hair to make an appearance again, this time in the form of outright rebellion as part of women's lib of the 1960s. Then - nothing. Other than the occasional RCF (Really Crazy Female) such as Juliet Lewis or Courtney Love, and of course various kooky Europeans, we didn't get another gander at the furry friends until recently. Post-post-modern Nu Punk and social media where discussions on feminist issues finally found a more global stronghold, coupled with the need to constantly escalate the shocking and push the boundaries, lest we desynthesise so badly that we *gasp* switch off from our smartphones, brought on one of the latest "campaigns" - along with no-make-up-women - to proudly grow and display your pit hair. Often having dyed it for additional effect.

Global media's reaction has been to tolerantly roll its collective eyes and sigh, being as it is a fairly harmless call for wimmin's right to be who they are, unshackled by convention. Or is it indeed unshackled... for the focus is still fixed firmly on looks - this underarm hair is dyed, coiffed and displayed by those meeting the accepted paradigm of attractiveness, thus containing it within a safe margin - 'relax everyone, they may have a bit of pit hair but at least they're hot! Women's highest duty is still being fulfilled'. If you're ugly, fat, or old, you're only a step away from ostracisation if you dare to fail on this count too. Still, at least the door had re-opened for discourse.

All that background notwithstanding, considering my current conundrum proves trickier than I'd like to think. Firstly, it's the constant reaction my locks are likely to invoke, on the street or on any random social encounter, because people always seek the unusual as a talking point. There's an inherent need to assess levels of oddness in others and therefore the possibility of danger - possessing pits that are out of control is clearly a breach of convention and therefore one step away from criminal insanity! Or even simply as an opportunity to break the ice with jokey or frank chitchat - either way, it's bound to come up more often than not, becoming the inadvertent pivot of my summer. What a bore!

When sampling opinions on the subject from various acquaintances, the overwhelming majority response is a resounding 'yuck', an arbitrary 'it's wrong', 'it just looks horrible' and a complete inability to provide a solid justification to the double standard of men not having to dispose of theirs. It's amazing what a hundred years of public opinion conditioning can do.

In addition, I find myself considering the odd notion that it may not constitute appropriate work attire - would it be cause for HR involvement if I turn up sleeveless? And what about my chosen sport - would my training buddies, those who on occasion make direct contact with my oft-sweaty pits, feel put off and disgusted? Would I be putting them in an unfair situation? Some of them sport a full and pungent pit-mane themselves, why should I be deprived of the right?

These are questions I feel I shouldn't be having to ask, but do regardless. Waving the follicled pit flag seems to require a degree of real commitment, taking a stand. A political and involved stand, one which denotes more than it ought to. Every choice comes at a price. Looks like this one will be decided by a hair’s breadth.

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