The author at her birthday party (held remotely via Zoom) during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. (Photo: Courtesy of Allie Bloom)
The first time I got my eyebrows waxed was for my fifth grade graduation. My mom said she was my age when she first got her eyebrows done, so it felt like a familial rite of passage.
As I lay on the waxing table, anxiously anticipating how it would feel to remove the center of my thick dark unibrow, I thought to myself Beauty is pain, a phrase I heard constantly growing up. When I made my freshly waxed appearance at school, it was the first time I received praise for my looks. I had never gotten so much attention from my classmates ― let alone hear them call me “pretty.”
As a kid, I was chubby and curly-haired, and I always wanted to be the center of attention. I never considered myself beautiful. When I started getting compliments on my appearance, it reenforced an idea that our culture puts in girls’ minds: You must be hairless to be attractive.
I continued to wax, pluck and thread my eyebrows. Soon I found myself spending significant amounts of money on the latest body hair removal product, desperately trying to find one that wouldn’t irritate my skin and could handle my coarse hair. The hair on my legs and the backs of my thighs, in particular, was a huge insecurity, and making sure I didn’t miss any spots was a tedious and time-consuming process. Eventually I realized I would rather spend my time doing something other than worrying about my hair, a naturally occurring part of my body. I was sick of feeling embarrassed and overly aware of my thick dark hair, and I started to question why I felt the need to remove it.
I realized I had spent my whole life as a target ― and eventually a product ― of the marketing campaigns and beauty standards that corporations have imposed upon women. Let’s face it: The so-called “beauty industry” profits off of our insecurities by setting impossible standards. Models and entertainers are placed on pedestals as unachievable examples of what we are told we should strive to be.
The more insecure we are about our bodies ― for example, the hair on them ― the more we will spend trying to alter them. In the case of hair, this means using razors, tweezers, shaving cream, threading, waxing and laser hair removal. Hair removal is a multibillion-dollar industry, and a lot of time and money is spent making sure that we’re continuously removing our hair and buying products and services to do so.
The author on vacation with her family in 2007. "I was plucking my eyebrows and waxing regularly," she notes. (Photo: Courtesy of Allie Bloom)
Once I understood how this cycle worked ― and how ridiculous it was to spend so much money and free time trying to keep up with it ― I slowly started to let my body hair grow out. During this time, I was working as a barista in a small coffee shop while getting my art degree. If there’s ever a place to experiment with growing out your body hair, a coffee shop or painting studio is it. I was surrounded by other creatives, and I started to make friends with people who were not so concerned with how they were perceived by others. I felt at home and comfortable slinging coffee with other badass chicks who didn’t care for bras, makeup or the nuisance of shaving.
Not everyone in my life was as like-minded as my classmates and co-workers. By 2016, I had not shaved my armpits in a few years, and I started to care less about my leg and belly hair. My boyfriend at the time would say things in passing to me about how my legs were so hairy that they looked like a man’s. My decision to let my leg hair grow out made him question what it meant to have a girlfriend with legs as hairy as his. Honestly, I can’t blame him, given the societal expectations of women in America and the taboo surrounding female body hair. It took some time for him to come around to this idea, and while he never fully embraced my decision to be fuzzy, he eventually became used to it and dropped the comments when I expressed how much they annoyed me.
My family members have never been judgmental of my choices, but they still mades jokes about how I didn’t shave because I was “lazy.” A family friend once whispered to my mom, “She’ll eventually grow out of it.” (No pun intended.) These comments never upset me, but in hindsight, maybe they should have.
The first time I saw someone proudly rocking their bushy brows was when I discovered the model Sophia Hadjipanteli on Instagram. She was absolutely stunning, and appeared on the cover of magazines with her strong features, bleached blonde hair and an intense unibrow. I had let my body hair grow out at that time, but I was still getting my eyebrows done. After seeing Hadjipanteli, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like if I grew out my unibrow.
I casually started letting my brow stubble grow in, but frequently wore glasses or made attempts to hide it. Growing out the hair on my face seemed like a much bigger commitment ― a statement, even ― than my leg or belly hair. It was a part of my continuing process of questioning my beliefs about beauty standards and gender norms. I was now actively asking myself why I made the choices I did with my body.
The author modeling for her ARQ collaboration in 2022. (Photo: Courtesy of Allie Bloom)
I’m not sure why it was so much harder for me to find confidence in my unibrow. What started as a kind of experiment for myself turned into a real fondness for the hair I’d been removing for most of my life. To be honest, in my day-to-day life, no one really made a big deal out of what I was doing with my hair. Sure, there were a few stares here and there, but nothing intense. I had no idea that my hair would soon become the reason millions of people knew who I was.
I downloaded TikTok, like so many other people, during the pandemic in 2020, due to boredom and in hopes of feeling more connected to others. My social media presence at that time was small ― around 1,500 Instagram followers ― but I was happy with the nice little community I’d created of similar-thinking and supportive people. When I started posting on TikTok, I was doing it simply for my own entertainment. The first video I filmed was a dance that I spent the entire day memorizing to get my mind off of COVID and recently being laid off from my job.
I never had any intention of racking up views, but I was having fun making silly videos. As I continued to post, people started to notice that I didn’t pluck my eyebrows. The more I posted, the more attention I received.
Some people praised me and thanked me for challenging beauty standards. Mothers commented on my videos to tell me their young daughters saw themselves in me. Others told me how “disgusting” and “unhygienic” I am. It was a bit shocking at first to have so many people ― most of them absolute strangers ― weighing in on my appearance, but I began to get used to it and I didn’t take it much to heart. I was still small potatoes in terms of TikTok views... until suddenly I wasn’t, when one of my videos reached 18 million views in a week.
Who knew an eight-second clip could cause so much turbulence? But it most certainly did. In the video, I lip-sync to “Woman” by Doja Cat while showing off my body hair. I wanted to make the point that even with all of my natural hair, I am still feminine. Within a few hours the video reached 1 million views.
Early responses were encouraging and celebratory. But the attention quickly turned hostile. A flood of reaction videos began to pop up, featuring people who were incredibly unhappy with my appearance ― to put it mildly. I was called “ugly,” “grotesque” and “manly.” I was referred to as a “caveman” and “Chewbacca.”
When these comments began to roll in, I just stared at my phone in disbelief. Most shocking to me was the response from men in particular, and how violent and derogatory their choices of words were. Unfortunately, I had experienced this kind of venom from men on TikTok before, though never at this scale. Once, a man posted a reaction video in which he spit at the camera and acted out beating me with his shoe. It had been a wake-up call about how bothered some people were by my appearance, but I was determined not to let it stop me. And now, despite the unimaginable onslaught of comments I was receiving from my viral video, I wasn’t going anywhere.
Instead of getting flustered and wondering if I should stop posting videos, I saw this moment as an opportunity. I wouldn’t go viral and then vanish ― I would remain relevant and use my voice. I’d gotten messages telling me I was a role model for those who are perceived as different; I couldn’t just disappear now. I knew I had to keep doing what I was doing, even if it meant dealing with vicious trolls and the mental health issues that could bring.
The hateful comments that often come with going viral don’t upset me. But I do worry about the young girls ― or anyone who identifies with being feminine ― who might see those responses, and the messages they might internalize when they see people shaming and mocking a woman who proudly embraces her femininity and questions traditional beauty standards.
We grow up being told to stand out, to be unique and be our authentic selves. But we are also told to follow these strict, binary roles ― or else. Why is it that these seemingly arbitrary beauty standards and gender expectations hold so much power over us? When you think of beauty and femininity, is it what society has told you to believe, or is it your own concept? What is at stake here? Who wins, and who loses, when someone decides to challenge the status quo? I think these are questions we should all be asking ourselves ― and each other.
The author in 2022. (Photo: Courtesy of Allie Bloom)
I have never been one to conform or allow myself to be put down by others. I will continue to spread my message of self-love and body acceptance, even if that means dealing with a few trolls and bullies ― or thousands of them ― from time to time. I am now confident in who I am, and rather than seeking approval from others, I know that I am beautiful and divinely feminine, hair and all.
Our culture’s beauty standards and stereotypes are not going to disappear overnight, but we have made some progress. Thankfully, we’re starting to see greater representation of different kinds of bodies in the media. But there’s still room for many, many more, and it’s still an uphill battle to find ― and be ― a woman who doesn’t look the way we’ve been told women should look. Whether or not you shave or wax or laser or pluck, I hope you feel empowered by your choice because you have chosen to do it without pressure or shame.
If this viral experience has taught me anything, it’s that being your truest and most authentic self often scares people. Being confident in who you are doesn’t always come easy, and it will sometimes cause some uproar and may be met with backlash and nasty words. My hope is that every girl, boy, woman, man, trans person, nonbinary person, and any person with any other identity knows that they are amazing and unique in their own way, and finds the courage to be exactly who they are.
Allie Bloom is a content creator, influencer, figure drawing life model, certified yoga instructor and advocate for self-love. An introvert yet always the loudest one in the room, Allie is a bit of an anomaly. You can find more from her on TikTok and Instagram at @avocado_allie.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.