So a friend and I were talking about our routines for body hair removal, and it got me thinking about my body hair in general. First some context: my body hair tends to make me feel quite dysphoric. The thickness and amount of my body hair made me feel incredibly dysphoric, so I shaved it off. Since being on hormones my hair has started to become finer, with less of it growing, which has made me happier. However, it still makes me feel dysphoric, albeit less so, so I still shave it off.
What got me thinking is the question of “why does it still make me feel dysphoric?”. I know that different hormones make your hair (along with other bits of you, like your skin) different, which is what I always used to understand why my body hair made me so uncomfortable. So, now that my body hair has been changed by my change in hormones, why does it still make me feel so dysphoric?
The answer which I came up with is, in its shortest form: patriarchy and Western understandings of womanhood.
The longer form takes a bit more explaining. I grew up as a white person in the West, this means that I was constantly bombarded with a lot of messages about what white women should look like. These messages were many, varied, and ultimately very oppressive, and unfortunately I ended up internalising a lot of them.
One of these messages was about how much body hair white women should have, ie none. Now what really got me thinking is how much these messages which I internalised and my dysphoria interact. I feel I should make it clear here (before any TERFs pile in and use this to say that gender dysphoria doesn’t exist) that my dysphoria is very very crushingly real. However what I am talking about is how these patriarchal messages interact with my dysphoria, and how they amplify it.
Gender dysphoria can be understood as your physical body not aligning with how your brain perceives your body should be. Where patriarchy gets into this, is when I think about how my brain created its image of what I should be. It didn’t create this image in a vacuum, but rather in this sea of internalised messages about what a woman should look like. This isn’t just trans women trying to “imitate” “real” women, this is about pervasive cultural messages and how everyone, trans people as well as cis women, internalises them and are affected by them.
In the case of body hair, as I mentioned above, there are differences in body hair caused by different hormones, so some form of dysphoria around body hair is understandable. But I feel the reason this dysphoria continues to exists is because of years of being told that women like me don’t have any body hair. Therefore not conforming to this conditioning, by having body hair, still triggers my dysphoria, even with the (lovely) changes caused by my shiny new hormones.
This doesn’t just apply to body hair of course. My muscles, particularly my arm muscles, have a similar effect on me at times. Again I think because of Western patriarchal messages that white women shouldn’t have large muscles. I think it is important to understand how damaging for everyone these patriarchal messages are, and how they continue to affect us throughout our lives, in many new and inventive ways.