Dear Imprudence: I’ll Keep My Body Hair, Thanks

Body hair has come up on Dear Imprudence before, so I thought this recent Ask Amy column might be relevant to the interests of some readers, in addition to being an example of an advice column that does not actually suck!

A reader wrote in to ask:

Dear Amy: I am a girl in my junior year of high school, and the volleyball coach won’t let me compete until I shave my underarms and legs (our uniforms are sleeveless tops and shorts).

I don’t want to be forced into something that I feel is completely unnecessary. Leg and underarm hair is a completely natural part of becoming a woman.

Is this discrimination? Is there anything I can do (besides shave)? I really want to play volleyball! — Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Ok, first of all, this high school athlete rocks. I like that she’s standing up for herself, and refused to accept the mandate to shave her body hair or else. She’s comfortable with her body hair, she doesn’t have a problem with her hair in her uniform, and she sees no reason to shave. She’s also specifically identified concerns about discrimination, wondering what she can do to retain bodily autonomy (because being told to shave your body hair is most definitely a violation of autonomy) and still play the sport she loves. Right on, Hair Today!

Amy seems to agree:

Dear Gone: I’m going to assume that your coach does not make the male players at your school adhere to the same shaving practices.

I shared your letter with Lenora Lapidus, director of the Women’s Rights Project for the American Civil Liberties Union, who responded, “This is clearly gender discrimination, based on stereotypes of how girls and women should look.” Lapidus would like to remind your coach that Title IX prohibits discrimination in any institution receiving federal funds.

Title IX is the federal statute that pushed open the door for girls to compete in sports on an equal footing with boys.

Lapidus suggests that you start by talking to the coach. “Try to work it out at school. It seems like something they should come around about because this is fairly clear-cut.”

If your coach continues to insist on this shaving rule, take your concern to the principal.

Bam. That opening line is choice, in addition to cutting to the critical point here, which is that, yeah, I’m willing to bet that if the coach also handles the men’s teams, shaving probably isn’t required (unless the coach supervises the swim team, where shaving for all genders is usually recommended for competition). If you’re going to enforce unequal ‘appearance rules,’ which is basically what asking an athlete to shave is unless there’s a compelling reason to do so (leg and armpit hair, to my knowledge, do not impair volleyball performance…any volleyball players want to speak up here?), well, you’d better get ready for someone to point out that the policy is discriminatory.

If talking to the coach won’t work, which seems probable from reading between the lines, I’d say Hair Today might want to consider going to a mentor on the teaching staff, if possible, before escalating to the principal. Sometimes a friendly word from another teacher can accomplish the needed goal without getting administration involved and causing tensions in the future. But, yes, if that doesn’t work, the principal should absolutely back her.

If the principal doesn’t help? Well, I imagine there are a whole lot of hairy feminists and feminist athletes who would be more than happy to lend their assistance to allowing No Hair to compete in sports with the level of body hair she’s comfortable with.

8 Comments

  1. When you wrote “Ask Amy”, I was expecting a sucky column, but this one is great. By the way, why is shaving usually recommended for competitive swimming?

  2. Shaving is usually required for competitive swimming because lack of body hair cuts down on friction, thus letting you swim a little bit faster.

  3. With the shaving of body hair, over here, usually not for levels like highschool-swimming though. I did that, and no one on that level even bothered wearing a cap, long hair or not.
    Norah´s last blog post ..Halloween

  4. Yeah, I can’t imagine having hair policed for something like volleyball.

    In swimming (at the high school level), we’d not shave all season until the championships and then it did seem like shave everything, but that was both the mens and the womens teams. In fact, some of the guys shaved more than the women (more guys shaved their arms than women, IIRC).

  5. When I was on swim team, everyone – girls and guys – shaved. Some of the guys didn’t bother until Championships, but most of them did then. I *started* shaving solely because of swim team and reducing drag.

  6. as someone who played volleyball for four years in high school, i can say with authority that body hair makes absolutely no difference to someone’s performance.

    now, head hair is a different story.

  7. Well, y’know, the volleyball might get… caught in the hair? Yes. We’ll go with that. *nods*

    Seriously great response.

  8. When I swam in the Navy (for PT tests, not for competition, but time still mattered) we blew off shaving for as long as possible prior to the test (in addition to wearing extra suits and even shorts, but t-shirts weren’t allowed in the pool) to create drag so that when we tested it created the illusion (to us) of being faster. My friend who was a competitive swimmer in college and also a Navy swimmer told me that the shaving didn’t actually affect time by enough to really matter, but it gave the feeling of being faster, slicker, so it is promoted. The extra clothing during work-outs did actually do this. I don’t know one way or the other, but that is what we did.

    I have never heard of mandatory shaving for sleeveless uniforms outside of the food-service industry. Even then I am not sure it is legit, but I could be wrong. Does this coach check every girl before every game to ensure clean shaven legs and pits like the military checks faces?