Two years ago, I underwent several sessions of laser hair removal for a Brazilian effect. That’s right—I had the hair that I normally would’ve had waxed while kicking and screaming at a monthly salon appointment permanently lasered off instead. That doesn’t mean that all of the hair was actually permanently removed, however. Just the vast majority of it was. My hair is naturally dark brown, but it turns out I had blonde hairs in my nether regions, too. The laser does not work on light hairs, only dark ones. However, it is still a vast decrease in the amount of hair I had there previously, and I could not be happier about my choice.
Now that I have divulged more private information about my body than you needed to ever know, allow me to explain why I consider electing Brazilian laser hair removal a truly feminist act.
First and foremost, feminism is a philosophy and lifestyle that centers on giving women equal standing within inequitable societies.
In practice, feminism promotes the idea that women deserve choices, just as society allows men to have choices about how to live their lives. When it comes to beauty, this means giving women the choice to express their physical appearance however they wish.
In an equitable society, women may make choices that conform to societal standards or they may make choices that rebel against them; they also may choose to do a combination of conforming and rebelling. Some of these choices may be conscious political acts. Others may be based on personal preferences or expressions of cultural values based on race, ethnicity, religion, class, or other identifiers. Everybody likes what they like and, as long as a beauty or fashion choice isn’t harming anyone, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t wield whatever bits and bobs we want.
Here are two examples of beauty choices I have made in a society that is becoming increasingly equitable for women, even if things are not completely equal yet.
One is my choice to wear my baby earrings into adulthood. Because my mother is Latin American, I had my ears pierced as an infant. Many people of Aztec and Mayan heritage pierce their baby girls’ ears before they leave the hospital. Then they outfit them with gold earrings to protect them from evil spirits. Even if parents don’t think evil spirits exist, this act is a popular tradition. I wore my baby earrings, which are simple, round gold studs, into adulthood not because they were stylish (really, they are quite plain) but because I am proud of my cultural heritage. I disregarded mainstream fashion trends for other earring styles out of appreciation for that heritage.
Another beauty choice I have consciously made is to wear my hair curly. In a culture that beckons European straightness and smoothness, I have kept my corkscrews, my volume, and my frizz. The few attempts I made to straighten my hair in the past were always half-hearted ones borne out of curiosity. What would I look like without my natural texture? Not myself, honestly. Farewell to straightening irons and relaxers, I say. The pin-straight look was never for me and never will be.
But you don’t have to reject all mainstream beauty standards to be a feminist.
Again, feminism comes back to giving women choices and the opportunity to actually act on them. That is why when it comes to body hair, I have chosen to remove most of it much of the time. I’m more relaxed about my underarm and leg hair, but I get my eyebrows threaded because I do believe the eyes are the windows to the soul (thanks, Ovid). And I had my nether regions lasered because I think being bare feels more comfortable in my undergarments, especially in the humid summertime where I live.
It also promotes female sexual pleasure.
Cunnilingus is not ubiquitous the way fellatio is and that’s because the patriarchy does not prioritize female sexual pleasure. While the word “cunnilingus” has no widely accepted slang equivalent, blowjobs even get their own initials. Every adult (and, heck, plenty of children) knows what a BJ is.
Mention blowjobs and you probably immediately conjure images of Bill Clinton. Mention cunnilingus and there is no immediate association. It’s as if cunnilingus isn’t supposed to happen, even though women should be equally entitled to pleasure from oral sex. We even say “vagina” colloquially instead of “vulva,” as if female genitals can only be viewed in terms of how they will serve a penis and, by extension, male pleasure. Well, I didn’t have my vagina hair lasered off. I had my vulva hair lasered off. The payoff: clitoral stimulation is more direct and intense without my curly bush getting in the way.
And that makes this feminist very happy.