Tag Archives: Body Hair

Dating in China [part 5]

Date says more attractive with clothes on. Does an open relationship translate to open dates? Getting an I.O.U. for accepting a drink. Women tell true stories of their dating experiences in China.

Naked couple sitting on couch, woman knitting, portraitCreativ
image from: metro

#11 

It took a couple of lonely months in Beijing, only knowing my colleagues, before I looked to Tinder as a remedy for my tiny social circle. It felt like a last resort. After a disastrously embarrassing first date, and a three-week fling that took me nowhere, I made up my mind to be pickier. I needed to be really into the guy to go out on a date. So I began my search.

On Christmas Eve I got chatting to a handsome man who claimed he’d arrived in Beijing that week. Encouraged by our lively conversation, my generosity warmed by his apparent loneliness in a new place, so I invited him to a Christmas party I was throwing. I figured it would be a safe place to scope him out. He accepted the offer; I got very excited.

He never showed, cancelling at the last minute. I was disappointed but forgave him. He was new here, and it was Christmas. That can be tough. Plus, he said he would make it up to me.

Six weeks later, I was still waiting for that first date. We’d chatted every day, bantering and joking, back and forth. Several times, we set up a date and then he cancelled last minute. I was getting irritated, not sure he was worth it, but I kept hanging on. Friends at parties asked me, “do you understand how Tinder works?” They were shocked anyone would wait six weeks for a Tinder date.

In some way, I was proud of the long courtship. I hoped that this would make “us” different. The waiting had certainly worked. He’d got me hooked. I’d made up my mind to like him before I had even met him.

In the winter holiday, just days before Valentine’s, he finally found time for little old me. On a cold, windy night we had dinner, drinks, and more drinks. He was taller and more handsome in person than I had imagined. He was funny and attentive. The reality was better than his online personality, which rarely happens. We were both super talkative. He complimented my appearance. I could hardly believe how well we were getting on. We moved on to a bar where he smoked and shared the odd cigarette with me. I wasn’t sure whether I was lightheaded because of the smoke or his smile.

Very, very late, after all the bars had closed, he invited me to his place. There was no way I was saying no after the time I’d waited. I’d already decided it would be worth it. To be honest, it was disappointing. He certainly enjoyed it. He was selfish both that night and the next morning, but I barely noticed, so awestruck was I by his body.

In the morning he made me breakfast, told me stories about an old friend he said he wanted me to meet, and walked me to the subway. I drifted home on a cloud and wrote down all the wonderful moments that had made our night special.

We continued to talk day after day. Throughout my short winter vacation I kept wishing myself back in Beijing, imagining spending every night of his lonely week-long break with him. I’d even offered to turn around and go back before my train left the station. I was hopelessly devoted.

Six weeks later, I was back at work and still hadn’t seen him again. We’d set up several more dates and he’d cancelled every time. I was angry and frustrated; worried I’d scared him off by being too keen. It gradually became clear he wasn’t interested in a relationship, or even casual sex. I asked him for an honest reason, and was astounded by his response. I finally felt the sting of that dreaded situation: he thought I was more attractive with my clothes on than nude! He found my body hair so repulsive that he didn’t enjoy sex:

“I found your leg hair distracting. I really had to concentrate to finish.”

My immediate impulse was to fight my corner, argue that women make choices about their appearance for themselves, not for men, and tell him that his opinion didn’t matter.

But I didn’t rant at him. Instead I left him alone in his small-mindedness and got on with my life. I’d blown my chance with him, which bothered me because it was over such a small thing. But what really stung was I’d been on the brink of falling for someone who allowed something so minor to affect our entire relationship. I will never make that mistake again.

– United Kingdom, 26

 

online-dating
image from: sheknows

#12

Dating is hard, especially if you aren’t really dating. Let me explain.

One fall, I met a guy the day after my birthday. He was my coworker, and younger than me by a couple of years. After spending a little time together we ended up making out one night.

The next day as he asked, “what exactly are you looking for?” I was honest, I didn’t see him as a long term thing. Both of us were planning on leaving Beijing that summer. I just wanted fun, with stipulations on privacy. “Ah ok,” he said. “I just wanted to let you know, before we went any further, that I have a girlfriend. Not all girls are cool with that.”

That knocked the breath out of me. At first I was too stunned to reply, curse words forming in my head. But I reacted calmly: “does your girlfriend know?”

“Oh yeah, it was actually her idea. Do you want to talk to her?”

So I took the risk of being in an open relationship. It was weird. Having a guy over two to three times a week cooking, watching movies, having sex, all while knowing I couldn’t f**k it up. My plan was impenetrable. Or so I thought.

Six months in, we went on our first outside date. While out at a fun bar party a cute British girl approached him. After flirting with him, and letting him know she was interested, she asked if we were together. “No” we both responded. She continued to flirt, and I found a way to extract myself. I had a drink by myself at a table in other room but could see them talking at the bar. I played with my phone for a bit.

“Hey,” he was standing next to me, looking down, a little concerned. “Do you want to come hang out with us?”

“Nah,” I told him. “I think she’s pretty interested in you though.”

He brightens. “Yeah! I think she is. You don’t mind, do you?”

OF COURSE I MIND! WE CAME HERE ON A— I caught myself before I yelled.

What were we on? Was it a date? Does it count as a date if you obviously aren’t planning a future together? Did him agreeing to accompany me out contractually bind him to me for the night? I wanted to be cool. Chill. He didn’t owe me anything.

“Nah. Go for it. I’m going to go meet up with some other friends. Have fun, be safe,” I said as lightheartedly as possible. Then, without meeting his eyes, I left.

A long walk on a chilly night is terribly symbolic when you feel alone. I wish I could say I went home and composed this balanced rational story. That would be a lie. I got drunk. I cried. Not because I was in love. But because I just wanted a real date, at which I was the center of a guy’s attention. Through much contemplation (and water) for the next two days, I decided to stop my destructive behavior. Maybe it works for others, but while I could handle and open relationship, I couldn’t handle an open date.

– United States of America, 20s

 

online-dating
image from: independent

#13

Thanks to the ever-popular Tinder app, I met a number of guys online. With some, we moved discussions over to WeChat – a platform not stymied by VPN restrictions. We would chat, occasionally meet up, and often that was it. My schedule left a lot to be desired, and made meeting for dates a large commitment on my part. Unless I was particularly interested in our conversation, it was rare I put in the effort.

But I was starting to realize how little I was actually getting out there, with dating or even just engagements with friends. So I started to say, “yes,” to a few dates. To drinks or a quick bite to eat – something to get a better feel for these fellas.

One such man had been quick with the wit and as engaging as anyone can be over WeChat. I was enjoying myself, and figured odds were high that that would translate to an in-person meeting. We picked a subway station, and I took off after work looking forward to a night out.

As it were, it actually took me a moment to find him. Unsurprisingly, it’s common for folks to use vague photos on dating app profiles, leaving the one you’re meeting unaware of what you *actually* look like.

In this case, there was little to no resemblance.

Already off to a poor start, we walked around, making our way through the typical chit-chat. He presented me with a kitschy gift – something he thought I’d like – in the form of a children’s toy. Unsure what to think, I smiled and accepted it, sliding it into my purse. Thrilled, he launched into a story about himself – one of many that evening. Though we didn’t have any plan, it soon became clear he had an idea what we’d be doing. Soon we were inside a bookstore. “You like books, right?”

“Well, yes, of course, but …”

“Yes, I thought so! See how much I already know about you?”

And off he went, directing me to section after section of all those topics he was oh-so-knowledgable about. Art, art history, architecture, Chinese culture – was there anything he didn’t know? Was there any book that his great and glorious mind hadn’t absorbed?

After nearly two hours of this, it was off to a bar nearby, where his friend was hosting her farewell party. I was soon sidled next to a few of his friends, and he was absorbed in a conversation with the other end of the table. I did my best to keep up, but their in-depth discussions on Japanese art and complex photography techniques weren’t easy topics to engage in. So I sipped my drink and listened politely.

“Want to split some food?” my date asked, remembering I was there. “Uh, no I’m OK. I’ll just stick with this drink.” “Well OK. Don’t worry, by the way. Drink’s on me.”

None of my protests and insistence that I pick up my own drink worked, so I finally accepted and thanked him profusely. Another hour passed, and I made my way to the subway. He hugged me goodbye. I told him it was nice to meet him. For me, well, it wasn’t a great evening, but he was nice and had been kind in treating me to a drink. I appreciated it, and went home happy to have given it a go.

Days passed and we didn’t say much. Then suddenly, there was his name. “Long time no chat, pretty lady!” We exchanged the pleasantries, and there it was. The inquiry for a second date, but in a way I’d never been asked before.

“So since I picked up your drink the other night, it looks like you owe me!”

“Uh, yea… lol Thanks again for that.”

“No. Really. You owe me a drink. I’ll be free this weekend, we can meet up and you can get that for me.”

As it turns out, he wasn’t playing a bit. I owed him 35 kuai, and he was calling to collect. A few more messages later – “So, about that drink …” – and my subsequent silence, he abandoned the chase. Seems he didn’t think the money was well spent. Needless to say, it took me a few dates before I’d accept a drink again.

– United States of America, 27

 

Previous instalments:

Learning that an ex is married. Walking away from a Tinder date. Getting set up by your boyfriend. [part 1]

Humiliation by comedy in a Beijing bar. Parents say, “break up with him” because boyfriend is not Chinese. [part 2]

A Chinese first boyfriend who ruined dating for years. Suffering through sleep apnea on a first date. Offered money for sex with a stranger. [part 3]

Guy uses Chinese whispers to ask for a date. Remedies for dating in inauspicious circumstances. [part 4]

These stories are shared by the women who experienced them in their own words. All stories took place in Beijing, China, unless otherwise stated. Identities are kept secret out of respect for the individuals in the stories.

Does having leg hair make me less of a woman?

Last week I shaved my legs for the first time in 9 months. Why? I wanted to see if it made me feel like more or less of a woman.

It began last summer (duh), during a bikini/beach/beer holiday with a gorgeous blonde and a beautiful Asian – the two women I lived with at the time. Our week in Croatia brought back a recurring issue for me. The pale hairy legs of the winter had to come out and face the summer sun. I have long felt required to shave/wax/epilate waaaaaaaay up to the top of my thighs because my hair grows thick and dark. (Look at that “because” – where does it place the blame? On the hair.) Ever since I have felt the presence of this obligation, I have felt uncomfortable with everything it stands for.

IMG_2461When I was 12 I was bullied for not shaving my legs. Every other girls’ mother, it seemed, had bought them razors and given them lessons in leg-shaving. This seemed like not only a rite of passage in what seemed like an instant shift from girl to woman, but also a mother-daughter bonding exercise that my mother seemed loathe to opt into. She disliked the entire concept of shaving and didn’t use razors. I was so insistent though, that she promised I could have my legs waxed for my year 7 summer disco – the end of primary education, the beginning of grown-up-hood. (I had emerged from the same disco two years earlier flanked by my two best friends who eagerly betrayed my under-cover-of-darkness disco activities to my waiting mother by spelling out: “She snogged, S-N-O-G-G-E-D A BOY!”)

I would spend that summer on a beach in Brittany reading Life of Pi, contemplating the size of my thighs and worrying about whether people at high school would think I was fat. The previous summer I had “borrowed” an older girl’s razor at camp and cut myself on my first attempt to shave my legs in the shower, then lied about it to my generously gullible (or so I thought) mother, telling her they had forced me to do it. The real impetus came from the bullying I got from the two sisters I shared a room with; it was all in their disgust at my downy 11-year-old legs. The summer after the Brittany beach I spent hours plucking my eyebrows in a tiny mirror and the half-light inside my tent. I returned to high school with chavvy, barely visible and too far apart eyebrows.

My life since puberty (perhaps before) has seemed like a constant battle between my mother’s and other girls’ (and thus their mothers’) opinions. The navigation of types of bras, deodorants, eyebrow plucking, underarm shaving, make-up wearing… everything was a contentious issue and I was stuck in no-man’s land. Short-term, other girls’ opinions (heavily dictated by advertising and celebrity culture) won out. My mother would love me whatever I did, so her opinion mattered less than the high school girls who would judge and exclude me for not following the crowd… But long-term, my mother’s talent for challenging the status quo has reigned supreme in me, and there are few opinions I value as much as hers.

These events are not simply part of the past and therefore to be brushed aside; they are cumulative experiences that affect my relationship with my body, and thus my bodily negotiation with the social, cultural and political world around me. They are part of my embodied knowledge of both my self and the other; that which governs me from within and which surrounds me from without.

In the midst of the fourth wave of feminism, women are reclaiming the female body in all kinds of ways. Australian actress Caitlin Stasey’s web project Herself, a space in which participating women’s bodies and words are openly displayed as they choose, is one inspiring model. Stasey states:

“Herself is a gesture to women for women by women; a chance to witness the female form in all its honesty without the burden of the male gaze, without the burden of appealing to anyone. Let us reclaim our bodies. Let us take them back from those who seek to profit from our insecurity.”

IMG_2448

Your body is all you’ve got (the mind/spirit/body division is redundant – its not as though the mind is some separate entity controlling the body from a remote location):

One is not simply a body, but, in some very key sense, one does one’s body and, indeed, one does one’s body differently from one’s contemporaries and from one’s embodied predecessors and successors”, states Judith Butler (521)

Whether we like it or not, the body is the only vehicle through which we experience the political, social and cultural framework we are intrinsically a part of, and this inherently affected by. As Butler states, everything we do is governed somehow by our surroundings: “the body is always an embodying of possibilities both conditioned and circumscribed by historical convention.” (521)

This is particularly potent when we think about gender. Butler points out that there is a “tacit collective agreement to perform, produce, and sustain discrete and polar genders” (522). We take it as a given that there are defining lines between ‘man’ and ‘woman’ and that these are clear and immutable. These “polar and discrete genders” divide along the biological lines of sex (male and female), and unite us within those two groups. If we think about the gendered body, ‘woman’ is expected to be significantly less hairy than ‘man’, regardless of genetic differences that actually affect the volume of hair that grows on the female body. (Where did this idea originate? It’s not as though women and men of the same racial background evolved with vastly different volumes of body hair.)

Butler asks her reader to “reconceive the gendered body as the legacy of sedimented acts” (523). Practices we consider normal, like what we do with the hair that grows on our bodies, accumulate over time to create our identity and thus our gendered identity. We begin by copying others and later reproduce these collective practices in order to create and sustain our gender. Women (particularly western women) are socialised to believe that the correct performance of their gender involves removal of visible hair all over the body.

The choice to stop shaving my legs after that Croatia trip was my way of reclaiming my body. I drew inspiration from my two wonderful companions who, sexy ladies that they are, did not feel the need to shave above the knee. Neither did they feel they were defying social requirements. Had they never felt the heat of disapproving eyes on their hairy legs because people hadn’t noticed? Had they never received comments about it because they’d got finer, lighter, less visible hair or because this was not a body issue that played on their minds? Were they so unconcerned about hair removal because nobody had ever told them they should do it or because they’d always had the confidence to tell those people to back off?

IMG_2483For me, advertising and peer pressure had been equally vicious and haunting influences upon my body image. I’d had hairy legs before (usually for the few weeks between boyfriend visits), but never shown them off in shorts or a bikini. Being hairy was (and still is) an issue I have a complex and uncomfortable relationship with. This time though, I let it grow and wore my hairy legs proudly. I spent the summer running a mile a day through busy streets wearing tiny shorts and in a bikini by the pool with my family. My initial weeks in China were unbearably hot, so shorts were the only comfortable option. The only comments I received were declarations of admiration and support.

Over the winter, my legs inevitably got paler and the hair just kept growing. For the first time I noticed how the hair grew – where it was thicker, where finer and the places where it just didn’t grow. It began to really know my body in a way I hadn’t previously. Looking down at my muscly thighs covered in fine dark hair I was reminded of my physical strength (perhaps I enjoyed the ‘masculine’ element of it?) and took courage. It felt like the real me.

The brilliant thing is that it required zero effort. My skin took care of itself underneath the hair (whereas shaved skin gets much drier and needs a lot more attention). It felt 100% natural for me to let my body be. I stopped performing my gender (in this one small aspect), and could relax.

The problems began when I wanted to have sex. In the run up to dates that could potentially go further, I interrogated myself continually. Should I shave my legs, just in case the evening went in that direction…? Or should I not allow the evening to end in sex (even if it were on the cards) so as to avoid the awkward disgust my hair might bring? I decided that any guy worth my time would simply accept me as I am, hair and all. Unfortunately, acceptance doesn’t necessarily counteract disgust.

It’s only happened a few times, but I have actually been told that my choice of personal grooming renders me physically less sexy or completely unattractive to the guy I’m attempting some kind of physical relationship with (once while actually still naked in his bed). Many people are too kind to comment, but will nonetheless expect women to have virtually zero body hair. But different men are bothered by hair on different body parts, so perhaps there are no universal expectations as such?

The existing expectations emerge through socialisation; the more we see hairless women (in real life, on tv, in magazines, in porn) the more we understand this to be the normal, natural thing for a woman to be. Butler states: “[t]he authors of gender become entranced by their own fictions whereby the construction compels ones belief in its necessity and naturalness.” (522) By shaving their legs, individual women are perpetuating the idea that women as a gender have hairless legs, and are thereby reducing wider social acceptance of hairy legs.IMG_2457

What is more natural than NOT changing your body? Unfortunately, this line of argument seems to have been lost in some twist of logic, and thus the ‘natural’ way for a woman to look/feel/be is hairless in all the right places.

Do women actually feel / look more female when they shave their legs? Does hairlessness make a female more of a woman? I wanted to try it out for myself. So I shaved my legs for the first time since last June.

I enjoyed the process because it brought change. Difference is always a positive thing, newness is fun while it lasts. But ultimately it brought me little joy and no permanent feeling of difference. I keep thinking, “I bet [insert inspirational woman’s name] doesn’t bother to shave her legs everyday.” What effect should a woman’s personal grooming habits have upon her public image? It doesn’t affect her personality; it only marginally changes her appearance… So why does it have such an impact on identity?

I’d like to extend my little experiment to women around the world. Cultural, racial and generational differences taken into account, do women feel they ought to remove their body hair and why? How does hair removal correlate to the correct performance of a woman’s gender?

Please let me know your thoughts!

Read on:

Butler, Judith. ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.’ Theatre Journal 40.4 (1988): 519-531.

Herself.com (Caitlin Stasey)

To Shave or Not to Shave; Why is that the question? Zhendegender, 2014