What surgery taught me about feminism

I have considered myself a feminist since I was 17 and my high school Honors Lit teacher taught me the basic ideology after I made a smartass comment about how feminism was stupid and unnecessary. I was the only person who raised my hand to identify myself as a feminist on the first day of Gender Studies in undergrad.  But even with my ardent support of third wave feminism and equity, there was always that voice in the back of my head that said the feminists who didn’t shave or wear bras were just…..weird.  I still separated myself from them.  Like “yeah, I’m a feminist, but I’m not that kind of feminist”.  I was willing to let everyone have their personal choices but, internally, I wasn’t really okay with it, no matter how much I wanted to be.  On top of that I married a man who is sorta grossed out by body hair on women and isn’t totally accepting of that in a partner (as I’m sure a lot – most? – of men are).

Well a week and a half ago I had surgery on my left shoulder.  TL,DR; being hypermobile may look cool in Instagram yoga posts, but it’s torture on your joints.  Anyway, since the slicing and dicing I’ve been pretty much incapable of even the simplest task.  I can’t tie my shoes.  I can’t put my contacts in.  It’s a five minute process to get in my car and shut the door.  A couple other things I can’t do with an immobile left arm: shave and put on a bra.  I physically can’t get my left arm up high enough to get a razor under my armpit.  I surely can’t maneuver a razor with my left arm to get the right side.  And I definitely can’t stabilize myself to shave both legs (I can’t really bend over at all really – that’s surprisingly painful) or put a freaking bra on.  Yes, I could have asked my husband to do all those things but I chose to turn this into a little experiment (cause Science).  Last night was the first time I could let my arm hang to the side enough to shave maybe 70% of the hair on my left armpit and do some pretty fantastic oblique crunches to essentially hold a razor with my left hand and shove my right side into it at weird angles.  The legs went a little better, but only a little.   So what have the last 10 days taught me about me and my relationship with feminism?

  1. It’s really not that weird to be hairy. Or to go braless. When you do something everyday or every other day for almost 20 years, you’d think the absence of it would be noticeable.  But honestly, I didn’t think about it at all until I intentionally looked.  The crazy part – neither did my husband.  I actually called him into the bathroom before last night’s shaving adventure when I realized my armpits had developed Rapunzel-esque qualities.  His response:  “whoa, that’s crazy!” and then he was back to playing Battlefield.  It just wasn’t a big deal.  Honestly, I was more terrified at the prospect of going braless but that has also not been an issue or a deal at all.  I was really self-conscious at first but that only lasted for a day.
  2. My femininity is not based on my body hair.  Y’know what the crazy thing is?  I didn’t cease being a woman.  I also didn’t lose my femininity.  If anything I feel more connected to and secure in my femininity than I ever did following made-up rules about what women should and should not do or be.  Now my choices I make are based on what I want and not what I’m conditioned to want.
  3. That said, I still like shaving and wearing bras.  While my eyes have been opened to the world of no shaving and no bras, I still love the feeling of fresh sheets on smooth legs.  I won’t lie.  Also, I sweat like, all the time as it is, and hair only makes that worse.  And my question for women who go braless all the time: how do you deal with stairs?!  Do you just go super slow both up and down every time?!  No amount of body acceptance will ever make stairs go away so, for the time being, bras still hold a function for me.
  4. Body hair preferences are just as valid as every other preference.  Sometimes I wear makeup.  Most of the time I don’t.  Many women are the complete opposite of that and that’s okay.  So why wasn’t body hair the same for me?  Before this my acceptance of other personal choices was really more of a  “yes, you have personal choice with these things because I made a conscious choice about it but don’t mess with these other things I hold near and dear”.  Now that I’ve forced myself to consider alternatives, it’s much easier to see others’ choices as valid.
  5. My identity is really wrapped up in what I do for other people.  It’s really REALLY hard for me to sit still.  Like really hard.  I have to be doing something at all times.  Probably pretty standard for someone with a PhD – I imagine a lot of people with higher degrees share that trait.  But I didn’t realize how much that “doing stuff” was wrapped up in other people.  I didn’t realize how much my self worth would be hurt because I couldn’t cook or do the dishes or help some stranger at the store.  I got some helpful advice from an aunt who reminded me how good it feels to help others.  So why would I want to take that good feeling away from my awesome husband just because my ego was hurt?  That really made me pay attention to how much I do for others without really paying attention to myself.  My body is healing and I need to let it – no I won’t be able to do things I normally do for a while.  But for the time being my “doing stuff” will have to be satisfied by letting someone feel good for taking care of me.

All in all I have a much higher appreciation for people who have actually taken the time to investigate why they do the beauty routine they do, and then make conscious choices based on that.  I think too many people, men included, go through the motions without ever considering why they do what they do.  I also realized that what my body and my preferences do to someone else’s sense of comfort is not my problem.  It’s theirs.  If someone has an issue with body hair or a woman going braless, it’s their issue to work out and it’s not my responsibility to make sure everyone around me is comfortable.  I am not impinging on anyone else’s ability to have a good time or get their grocery shopping done by being hairy – and, if I am, that’s still their problem.  So, while my choice may not have actually changed all that much, now the reasons I wear a bra and eliminate body hair are mine.

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