Recently I have been looking like a King Kong tribute act - I am hairy, really very hairy - as part of a journey to learn to love my body hair. I've been growing everything for a comedy documentary about hairy women. My friends don't understand why I am doing it. I've told them it's for the money but really it is for the challenge - because I didn't think I could do it. I have been a serial hair remover - waxing, shaving and plucking - since I was 14, when I should have been learning about the speed of molecular activity in an equilibrium reaction. Instead, I was bleaching my moustache. I have never known anything else other than being smooth and lovely. To me, being hair-free is associated with being feminine, beautiful and sexy. Could ditching the razor, tweezers and wax help me change my mind about body hair being unattractive?
My journey begins in Hove, Britain's hairiest city (we know this because we looked it up in the Yellow Pages - Hove has the most beauty salons that get rid of the most amount of hair). I dress up as a gorilla and roam the streets, asking people what they think of hairy women and what parts of the body women most remove hair from.
Most men say they think facial and body hair on a woman is disgusting, with comments including: "I wouldn't go out with a woman who was hairy, that's just lazy", "It's disgusting", "It's unattractive". It's a good job they can't see what is really hibernating underneath my gorilla outfit.
And the women? Most say they remove almost all body hair - arms, legs, underarms, Brazilian, upper lip, chin, eyebrows. I meet one woman who had her pubic hair waxed in the shape of a heart, then dyed red with diamante stones on it as a Valentine's Day gesture. I wonder if her boyfriend did the same in return. And what next? A python? An elephant? What happened to being natural?
I had assumed that a lot of women were doing this for men and because of men - but it appears women can be just as ruthless towards other women. Every morning I go swimming, and in three months of hair growing, while men have rarely battered an eyelid at the bush hanging out of my leopard-print swimming costume, women certainly have. (I think the men just assumed it was part of the costume.) I walked into the sauna the other day and the two women in there did a double take and walked straight out with their backs against the walls. I didn't mind - I had the sauna all to myself.
But I am not so confident when I visit Loaded magazine. When I walk into the office with six weeks' worth of body hair, a young, confident writer comes over: "Hi, come through to my casting couch." Apparently, this is where girls are auditioned. Audition? The office is plastered with pictures of Abi Titmuss, Jordan and other glamour models with extraordinary sized breasts and not a hair in sight. The air smells of pure testosterone. I sit like a 15-year-old boy, mouth wide open, very confused. Could I be in Loaded? They look at my face: "Yeah you're all right". Then they look at my legs: "No way! Why have you got hairy legs?" Then I show them my underarms: "That's disgusting! I can't believe you left the house like that. You've painted your toenails and you've got hairy legs, what's that about? Our readers don't want to look at something like that!" Hairy women, it seems, are more suited to fetish magazines.
I can't believe the prejudice and stigma attached to hairy women - it makes me want to grow my body hair even more, and continue to wear sexy, revealing clothes. But it's not just the lads mags who demand immaculate, smooth-looking women. We take a visit to the National Gallery, to see if women have historically been painted with hair - but even as long ago as the 16th century, nudes were hair-free. Look at Renoir's A Nymph by a Stream (1869) - smooth, perfect, and without any trace of facial or body hair.
To me, there seems to be something both worrying and obscene about society's requirement for adult women to remove the body hair that proclaims them sexually mature adults, and turn themselves into facsimiles of pre-pubertal girls. So I decide to organise a fashion show to celebrate women's body hair. The artist Tracey Moberly offers to design and make lingerie made from natural body hair for ordinary women to model on the opening night of London Fashion week. It sounds disgusting.
It is actually amazing. I make an appeal for hairy models on Channel 4's Richard and Judy - and more than 200 women ring in. (Afterwards, my dad calls me to say I have brought shame on the family by revealing my hairy armpit on national television. I say I could have showed him a lot worse.)
Monday February 12, and the Cafe de Paris is filled with hairy women with no idea of what they might be modelling. When I tell them they have to model lingerie made from the body hair of (among others) Richard and Judy, Howard Marks, Mark Thomas and Daisy Asquith, spun with raw silk, I think they might all leave. Incredibly, they stay. Four hours later, having learned how to strut down a catwalk in lingerie, these women walk out to a crowd of 300 people - happy that they can be their hairy selves.
And me? Now body hair is no big deal. If I let it grow, it grows. And if I get rid of it, then I get rid of it. It is only hair, after all.
F*** off, I'm a Hairy Woman is on BBC3 in March.
Caption: Shazia Mirza with one of her hairy models backstage at the Cafe de Paris, London. Photograph: Linda Nylind
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