Armpits4August: PCOS Awareness & Self-Esteem
by Shay Skinner
“Hey Alyssa, real quick before you head out would you mind taking a few pictures of me?” I raise my arms enthusiastically.
Rolling her eyes, laughing, and nodding in agreement, “Sure Shay. But you know, it’s September already. News flash, August is over. I think it’s safe to shave off the fur balls that have created a nest under your arms.”
Yes. It is true. I had hairy armpits. At the beginning of August I agreed to stop shaving for the second annual Armpits4August. This London-based movement to raise awareness about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which can cause excessive body hair, irregularity in menstruation, complications with getting pregnant, weight gain, acne, and hair loss from the head.
One of my close friends had been trying to get pregnant for two years and struggled with her weight before she was diagnosed with PCOS. She was devastated. Being close with someone affected by PCOS gave me even more of an incentive to participate in Armpits4August. Besides, how hard could it be to let your pits hang out, untouched, for a single month? I had easily gone a week before – what’s three more weeks going to do?
However, my excitement about helping raise PCOS awareness quickly turned into dismay. At Day 12, I couldn’t wait for August to be over for a few reasons:
- I was incredibly self-conscious about my armpit hair – it just did not seem socially acceptable.
- My main shirt of choice is a tank top, so I quickly began to notice as people’s eyes gravitated to my armpits when they spoke to me.
- Most of all, the bush that began to grow under my arms affected almost every facet of my self-esteem.
Instead of people inquiring about why I was letting my armpit hair grow, I felt their eyes judge me for not conforming to the societal norm of shaving them. The opportunity to start a conversation with someone about PCOS had seemingly been stripped from possibility.
I began to have internal conversations with myself. If I was participating in Armpits4August, which I deemed to be a great cause in the name of an even greater friend, then why was I not getting out there and talking about it? Why was I not blogging about it like I had originally intended? Where were all the pictures I told myself I’d take? And most of all, why was I letting something that was natural about my own body affect the way I viewed myself? I couldn’t answer any of those questions.
I found myself wearing zip-up hoodies that made me uncomfortably warm because I felt ashamed. I noticed how I asked my climbing partners to coil the rope in the gym at the end of our sessions so I could refrain from raising my arms. I specifically avoided events where I would prefer to wear a strapless dress, or I’d merely just avoid wearing my favorite dress.
The fact of the matter was that I felt downright unattractive and unacceptable in society. Even more, I deemed myself as unacceptable in a social environment as long as my pits were exposed. As the last week of August came around, my self-esteem had plummeted and I was going out of my way to avoid anything that would show the treelings that had begun sprouting from my pits. Friends who knew about my participation in Armpits4August began to ask me if I was excited for the beginning of September. In reality, sure, it meant I had fulfilled my obligatory armpit growth for the month of August and I could finally shave. But… did I really participate in the event? Not really. And I felt tormented.
Why had I let something that was natural and normal about my body degrade who I was to the point of avoiding things I enjoy? The days of September started to crawl by and every day I would wake up and wonder whether I was going to shave my hairy, man-like armpits. Then, I decided. I will not shave until I actually want to shave because…well, there’s no because. I will shave when I want to shave. The hair had grown out so much that it was not uncomfortable anymore; so shaving in the name of comfort was out of the question. Really, I had no reason to shave except that I was taught women in our culture should not have hairy pits.
I looked at campaign pictures of smiling, happy women who wore their armpit hair with beauty and pride. I wanted that. Moreover, I wanted to feel beautiful about my body no matter what was or was not growing on it. I decided to try this pit pride confidence that was conveyed in the photographs I saw online. The initial response of “Ew, that’s gross!” or “Why would you agree to that?” has turned into “Dang girl, you’re really sporting it now!” and “That’s kind of admirable and pretty awesome.” Sure, I still get look, but they don’t bother me as much as they used to.
So I sit here, writing this, trying to raise my own self-esteem and love my own body for what it is. Oh, and in addition to still raising awareness about PCSO, I actually learned something about my body through this whole ordeal – I have a cowlick in my right armpit hair. Who knew?! So yeah, I’ll shave when it feels right and not just because I’m going out on the town or hitting the crag for the weekend. Besides, it has kind of grown on me. Quite literally.
Read more from Stonewear Ambassador Shay Skinner on her blog Skin Poetry (also check out her awesome photography skills!)