Armpit hair: A trichotillomaniac’s romance

First published on my new baby, Kakak Killjoy:

Joan Jett: A bit of hair under there don't hurt nobody, right?

I have a pathological tendency to pluck my armpit hair out. It’s a mild form of trichotillomania, a condition in which a person gains gratification from pulling their hair out. The first few times, done when I was only 14 (you can never be too young for intensive self-grooming), hurt. But years later, the pain nerves seemed to have numbed or annihilated and I began enjoying pulling my black wiry strands out, one by one.

When each strand is pulled out, I inspect the bottom end of the roots where little bulbs of mitochondrial black ink ooze out from under the pressure of my fingertips. It’s a fascinating sight. Shaving is too easy and semi-effective. The hair will grow out into a prickly fuzz in less than 24 hours.

Despite what seems like an un-feminist peccadillo, removing one’s body hair in the name of “aesthetics” that is, I still like growing my armpit hair out. During long periods of intensive writing and research I turn into the naturally hairy person that I am, hair bursting out on every square inch of my epidermal landscape. It’s a liberating experience.

I still, however, remain a little self-conscious about going out in public in my sleeveless clothes with my arms outstretched (not any more than what’s normal) exposing – that untameable side of me. What does it take to be bold and hairy like Joan Jett (above), controversial writer Charlotte Roche, and hell, even Julia Roberts? Technically not that much as it involves zero shaving or plucking, but apparently much more in the societal and body policing stakes.

Armpit hair is an insignificant concern on a wider societal level. It’s a private grooming matter no more important than putting on lipstick or foundation. But the social prestige placed on smooth hairless bodies is no less significant than wanting to be fairer and having straight or artificially engineered wavy hair.

Warmer weather is upon us here in the northern hemisphere and I do want to overcome my irrational preoccupation with how my armpit looks. Besides, I can never win: my armpits are not even ‘white’ when they’re hairless anyway.

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