When I was in the third grade, I asked this kid Tim to the school dance. Well, I asked my friend to ask him for me, which was the elementary school equivalent of messaging him on OKCupid (i.e. definitely silly but it protects your feelings somewhat, right?). He said no. Nay, he said “hell no.” Why, you ask? Why would somebody not have totally fallen head over heels in love with this face? No, it wasn’t because I already wore weird high-waisted shorts with patterned tights; it was because I had fuzzy arms and legs.

So I fixed it! Because for some reason, it had somehow already been engrained in my system that if somebody didn’t like something about me, change was the only option.

Keep in mind, I was in the third grade. At age 9, children often aren’t really allowed to have scissors on their own, let alone use razors to reduce the extremely little hair they have already to nil. But shave, I did. My arms and my legs, every day until I was 13, at which point I added my underarms. Sure, it was annoying to always take so much time in the shower, but that’s “what women do,” so it made sense to me. It was written in the books I read about puberty and everyone I knew did it, which were good enough reasons for me.

At 14, I self-Brazilian’d – using tweezers. I was too afraid to shave that area, so I literally plucked every single hair until I was as hairless as I had been five years before (and it hurt — I would seriously rather get scarification once more that ever fucking pluck that area again). I did it because several of my friends told me that that’s what you’re “supposed” to do as you get older. Otherwise, it was commonly known that boys would never want to hook up with you and girls would make fun of you.

It’s strange — not to mention confusing — how, as you’re a little girl trying so hard to become a woman, it’s expected that you’ll make yourself look like a child again in order to do “adult” things.

As I got older, I kept shaving day in and day out. Even though I have extremely sensitive skin (thanks, psoriasis), I just kept doing it because I am a woman and I was under this weird impression that if I stopped, I would be the only one on the planet who didn’t. It would trigger my skin to get hives or be red and blotchy or simply throb for a few hours, sure, but I thought it was totally worth it to prevent any judgment.

Plus, I was really fucking fun to be around.

Although I never really felt comfortable shaving my entire pubic area, I still did it because I was terrified that if I stopped, nobody who saw me without clothes would ever think I was sexy again. Hair, after all, is sexy on men while the absence of it is equally sexy on women; at least, that is the assumption I operated under every time I stepped into the shower.

However, every summer starting in 2009, I would stop shaving my legs. After all, I was always in relationships with people who were far away (again, I did it considerably due to my significant others). I loved how short my showers were, how much I saved on razors and the way my skin was never irritated. And, to be frank, I even more loved the fact that I looked like an adult with my clothes off as opposed to the uncomfortably bald childlike parts I saw every time I looked down after shaving.

Without being too explicit, I still do some maintenance, but I don’t remove everything because I feel so incredibly exposed. Perhaps it’s in part because of my past, but I feel extremely uncomfortable when men tell me that they only like having sex with women who don’t have any body hair. I can’t help it; I think it’s inherently creepy to prefer your partner to appear prepubescent. Even if that partner isn’t a creep, it still gives them a creepy factor to me and I don’t like it.

Nor will I wear a silly little hat. (Okay, maybe.)

In fact, the elimination of body hair below the belt is probably the one I take most issue with being dictated as some kind of femininity requirement. It’s one thing if you prefer your body that way, so please don’t think that if you get Brazilians, I’m somehow calling you strange or insulting your habits! It’s just an entirely different one to be a man criticizing women who prefer their pubic area to show signs of development past their preteen years.

Upon recently writing about a survey I did regarding many women’s shaving habits, I received a comment from a man who stated that he “expects women to be clean and groomed” for himself, as though it’s somehow unhygienic to not shave. And it’s not really okay to “expect” anything outside of basic hygiene for your partner’s appearance; if you don’t already enjoy that person the way he or she is, why are you banging them? I get that people have preferences, which is fine, but insisting on altering your partner’s choices is different. If I had a nickel for every time I had heard a guy friend state that they found it “gross” when females didn’t shave, I could probably buy those fellahs each a trip to the spa so they could feel how awesome and totally pleasant it is to rip your hair out of its follicles. (Men, read: IT FUCKING SUCKS.)

It’s become a sort of filter for me. While I have yet to meet a guy in California, New York City or elsewhere who didn’t want to be with me because of my anti-shaving habits, if I were to encounter one who expected me to shave, I would instantly know that they weren’t my type. Any sort of person who refuses to accept the decisions I make for myself is not the type I can be with.

By no means am I trying to judge people or be all holier-than-thou towards those who do eliminate their body hair! I mean, I still shave my legs once in a while (especially if I’m going to wear tights because static = ouch) and everything else occasionally, but that is only because I’ve chosen to do it entirely based on my own desire to. If you happen to wax your entire body, I am absolutely not going to judge you; in fact, I admire your pain tolerance more than I can say! But do it because you love how it looks or feels, not because you’re afraid people won’t be into your body as much if you don’t or because you feel obligated. If you love sugaring or using depilatories or just good ol’ razor shaving, go for it; if you want to stop, then stop. It’s all up to you because it’s not your partner’s legs or underarms or bikini line: it’s your choice.

Stars like Mo’Nique and Amanda Palmer have had that decision made famously public simply by not shaving. Even though they’ve faced quite a bit of criticism for that choice, they still know that it’s theirs to make, as is yours. Sure, some people might get needlessly upset, but others will recognize that it seriously doesn’t matter and has no bearing on whether or not you’re awesome.

Indeed, Agent Palmer.

As a kid, I was afraid to stop shaving because no one would ever think I was pretty or sexy or feminine again. Oddly enough, it’s sort of raised my self-esteem and made me stop feeling so self-conscious about the way my body naturally exists. Now, instead of even caring if people find me pretty , I’m focused on whether or not I feel healthy and good about myself. And — to use a terrible pun — I will say that it makes for smoother sailing than any kind of shaving ever did.

[Pics via Amanda Palmer and MGM]