I lock myself in the bathroom, turn on the light, stand in front of the mirror and pick up the sharp pair of scissors in my left hand. I move my hand across my body, the blades now just millimetres above my right forearm. I take a breath. I pause for a moment and ask myself whether it’s time I stopped doing this. But then the moment passes almost as quickly as it arrives. Dismissing the doubts, I lower the scissors and start to cut.
Snip, snip, snip.
I carefully trim the long hairs on my right forearm. Then I transfer the scissors to my right hand, and do the same thing on my left forearm. Snip, snip, snip.
I watch as the hairs fall into the sink. I turn on the tap to rinse them away. Then I tuck the scissors into the pocket of my trousers and creep out of bathroom, ready to rejoin the world as the remnants of my dirty secret drain away down the plughole.
The year was 2002; the place was my university halls of residence in London. A dozen years and scores of Gillette Venus razor blades later, I wish I had known better.
If I could look back on my teenage self – that outwardly confident, inwardly insecure 18-year-old with low self-esteem and a desperate eagerness to fit in – I’d tell her that trimming the hairs on her arms does not a happy person make.
I’d tell her there’s more to life than spending hours on Google weighing up the relative merits of plucking, shaving, cutting, trimming, waxing, threading, epilating and using those nasty chemical hair-removal creams.
I’d try to convince her that life is too short to attempt the painful procedure that is an armpit wax. I’d warn her to avoid attempting to use a DIY hot-wax kit on her bikini line just minutes before a beach trip, as it’ll only end in tears.
I’d try to persuade her to resist falling for the socially dominant construct of what a ‘woman’ should look or feel like (shiny, silky and as smooth as a baby’s backside). And I’d want her to understand that her appearance shouldn’t be the subject of public distaste just because she has a bit of fuzz on her face.
I’d tell her that some are born hairy, some become hairy, and others have hairiness thrust upon them (blame it on the hormones) – but that it’s no big deal. Some women have moustaches and some have monobrows, and that that’s just how it is.
I’d ask her to read the article, published earlier this month, about the professor at Arizona State University who offered female students extra academic credit if they didn’t shave their armpits for a whole term. I’d ask her to reflect on why some of the girls who participated described it as a ‘life-changing’ experience.
I’d explain that research shows that British women spend an average of £8,000 in their lifetimes getting rid of unwanted body hair, and I’d suggest that perhaps she’d be better off putting some of that money towards a house deposit, seeing as she’ll still be living in rented accommodation by the time she’s 31.
Above all, I’d tell her not to be a hostage to hair removal, because her confidence levels and self-worth shouldn’t be inversely proportional to her hair follicle count.
That said, I’d probably confuse her by adding that just because she might choose to pluck, shave or wax occasionally doesn’t mean she can’t still call herself a feminist. That it’s her choice, as long as she understands that hotness and hairiness aren’t mutually exclusive; that she’s beautifully and wonderfully made.
But would I tell her to keep trimming her arms with a pair of scissors and rinsing the debris away down the plughole of shame? Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin.