August 1988. I am 8 years old. My mum & I are going to spend the day on the beach with my cousin. I snap on my swimming costume, haul a summer dress over my head and... oh my Christ, what the absolute fucking HELL? There are thick black HAIRS all over my bastarding legs (Please note, sweariness is reflective of adult self, not eight year old self. I may have been a slightly odd child, but I wasn't that sweary). Urgh. Gross. From ankle to thigh, I appear to have swapped my lower limbs with those of a gorilla. How has this happened? And when? When did my legs develop this hideous affliction? There is no shitting way I am going to bare these hirsute monstrosities to the world. There's only one thing for it.
Of course, for an eight year old, especially in 1988, tights aren't funkily coloured '30 denier with lycra' flattering accessories, but thick woollen navy jobs with a tendency to bag at the knees and ankles. Sod it. I yanked them on anyway, then shoved my feet into my summer sandals. Perhaps no one would notice my winter tights if the rest of me looked summery enough. My mum gave me an odd look as I bundled into the car, but said nothing throughout the day as I ran around Sheringham beach in just my swimming costume. And tights. Obviously, I coudn't go into the sea as my younger cousin did, so I was fairly hot and sweaty, but hell, no one saw my repulsive hairy legs, so as far as I was concerned, I WIN.
Until bedtime that night. Unusually, my mum came up to tuck me in (legs safely inside pyjamas and under Pierrot duvet cover) and in a low voice she said 'Darling, I noticed you kept your tights on today.'
Bugger. Not as inconspicuous as I'd thought.
'Is it because you've got hair on your legs?' Mute with shame, I flushed scarlet to the roots of my hair (of all varieties) and nodded. 'Ok. I'll buy you a razor. You can just shave it off. Have you checked your armpits?'
What the holy fuck? ARMPITS?
'You've probably got hair there too.'
'Have a look tomorrow. Don't worry, you can shave that off too.'
OH MY GOD. I AM HAIRY. I have hair on my legs, in my armpits, oh sweet Jesus, on my private parts... What fresh hairy hell awaits me in the future? The following morning, armed with soap, a shaving brush and brittle Bic razor, I hacked away at my legs and armpits (not my private parts, because, well, they're private, and no one is ever going to see them, ever), spending a good half hour checking and double checking that all of this vile and unsightly hair was gone. I took quite a few chunks out of my shins too, and was faintly horrified at just how freely shaving cuts bleed. No matter. Beauty is pain.
And that became the routine for the next twenty-five years, pretty much. In my midteens, there was a sudden explosion in the ways in which women could deforest themselves – waxing, Immac, sugaring, threading, epilators... but I stayed steadfast and loyal to the trusty razor. I upgraded, obviously, shamelessly tarting around with whatever brand was on special offer, or threw in some kind of freebie, or boasted three, no, four, no, five, no, INFINITE blades that promised the cleanest, smoothest shave possible.
In winter months, I often let my inner mammoth take over, and would sometimes go as long as TWO WHOLE WEEKS without shaving my legs. But never my pits. No. Hairy pits were beyond the pale. Every two or three days, without fail, swipe swipe, revolting armpit hair gone. My attitude was hardened as a 14 year old, when an older male friend had a Slovakian girlfriend with full on pitmuffs. Blonde, fluffy, luxuriant pitmuffs. Listening to him and his friends talking about it, it was clear that to be considered attractive by men, body hair must die. In fact, it should be obliterated, wiped from history. Women were not hairy. End of discussion. And within a few weeks of taking up with him, the Slovakian girlfriend no longer had pitmuffs. Lesson learned there.
And that was that. Until August of this year, when Mumsnet Bloggers Network got in touch to ask if I'd heard about Armpits for August? And would I, perhaps, be interested in taking part? And letting them know how I got on? I gave a mental shrug, and thought, pfft, why not? Reverently, I removed my pink lady razor thingy from the shower symbolically and bowed my head at the thought of the challenge that lay ahead. Then I remembered I could still shave my legs and chucked the pink lady razor thingy back.
'Hey, Alistair! Mumsnet asked me if I'd grow some pitmuffs for the month! Cool, huh?'
A very, very worried look on his face, followed by the sort of face you involuntarily pull when you see someone vomit in public. 'Seriously?' A slight shudder. 'Well, you needn't think you're getting any for the rest of this month.'
Something Alistair fails to realise about me, despite fourteen years together. I can be an absolute contrary bastard at times. 'Fine. Don't blame me when you come in your pants with sexual frustration.' Then I took my hair out of its customary ponytail and tucked the tufty ends into my pits. 'I am pitmuff agogo, matey boy.'
Now, obviously, I had never grown out my pit hair before. But judging by how quickly it sprang back into life after being shaved off, I fully anticipated having armpit hair the size of a baby's head within in a week and people crashing their cars just from seeing me. This conspicuously failed to materialise. In fact, by the end of week one, it was just a bit stubbly. Week two: could be described as 'long stubble'. Week three: 'potential to be described as almost hair'. Week four: 'Very, very, very, very short hair that is surprisingly soft and not unpleasant to the touch.' Reactions from other people: None. I had to repeatedly bark at Alistair 'LOOK AT MY PITMUFFS! TOUCH THEM!', which, sighing and yawning, he did. 'NOW TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK OF ME, QUEEN OF NOT SHAVING MY ARMPITS.' 'It's actually not that big a deal, is it? I thought it'd be gross, but I'm really not bothered.'
This was unacceptable. I had contravened the basic rule of being female! I was subverting all societal norms! I WAS BEING A HAIRY WOMAN. Why am I not being railed against online? Why are normal, right-thinking people not covering their eyes and whispering at their children to keep away from me? My contrariness reared up once more and I (very deliberately and attempting to be provocative) attended my nephews fourth birthday party at the end of August in my most beautiful and glamorous summer dress, which required armpits to be on display. Standing, not at all comfortably or naturally, with both hands on my hips, I attempted to control the minds of the other parents present 'You will look at my hairy pits, you will look at my hairy pits, you will look and you will be repulsed and I will then publicly take you to task, asking why you are so threatened by a woman in her natural state, upbraiding you for your lack of feminist principles and for conforming to what society believes a woman ought to be, look at my pitmuffs, look at them, you will look, you will... Why the mascara arse is no one looking at my hairy pits, perhaps, I should lift my arm over my head, yep, and NO ONE IS LOOKING!' The only person who commented was my sister who called me a wookie. And she only noticed because I bloody well told her and flashed one hairy armpit at her. This was simply unacceptable. I felt like a teenager all over again. I am rebelling! Look at me rebelling like a rebellious rebel! Isn't it shocking?!? Over here. I'm here. Rebelling. Oh for fucks sake...
I didn't even manage to have an argument with my children about it. The Girl just said 'Mummy, you are silly. Girls don't have hair.' and went back to dancing around the garden singing about princesses. The Boy sighed, rolled his eyes, and ignored me. 'Boy, look! Mummy's got hair in her armpits, just like Daddy.' 'Yes, Mum.' 'Isn't that strange? But it's totally natural! The hair should be there. Girls can be hairy too! It's completely fine and natural.' 'Okay.' I pursed my lips, hoping someone would challenge me about it. No one did. Bastards.
But I felt strangely protective towards my pit kittens. Despite the fact that their existence was down to me doing nothing, I felt I had cultivated them, and derived enormous pleasure from charting their growth and development, probably more so than I did with my own children as newborns. I also took a worrying number of armpit selfies that are still lurking on my phone even now. And when it got to September, and I was officially off the hook in terms of Armpits for August, I resisted saying goodbye to my new friends. Until the first day back at school, when it was 30 degrees and I wanted to wear a summery dress.
And, then, because I'm a contrary bastard at times, I shaved them off without a pang of regret.*
*Rumours persist in our house that I have, in fact, started a fibroblast with them which is growing day by day in the cellar. Utter tosh, I have done no such thing. That noise? No, didn't hear it, and even if I had, it would have come from outside, and definitely not from...the...cellar... I'll be back in a minute or two...