This week I’ve been at Metal Culture in Southend-on-Sea on my first big artist residency, supported by Arts Council England. Being directed by Talia Randall, I’m making my first spoken word show, called Groom. It’s about grooming and beauty culture and how women experience shame.
So far I’ve been trying out lots of new things. I’ve got a loop station and I’ve been playing around with creating vocal soundscapes with words. I’m also gonna incorporate some lip syncing dances into the show, devised with Josh Hawkins of HawkDance Theatre. It feels good to experiment and have access to the tools and guidance to try things I’ve only ever dreamed of. I feel like a proper artist.
I’ve always tried to be unapologetic in my writing: speak about how I see the world in a visceral and vulnerable way. And the subject matter of grooming and beauty has always caused a conflict in my head, which writing the show is helping me navigate. I believe in dismantling the patriarchy. I believe in doing this by interrogating the illusion of choice and being uncomfortably honest in acknowledging contradiction.
I started working on Groom in November 2018, and around the same time I stopped shaving. Everywhere below the neck. At most I sometimes trim my pubes if they irritate me, but that’s it. There have been times where I’ve worried about being seen or whether I should shave, but in writing my experiences on why women do things to their bodies, I can comfortably say I don’t feel ashamed of the hair my body grows and that I made this choice for me.
But it was winter, so they were mostly hidden. Now it’s summer and I can’t avoid acknowledging that I still feel uncomfortable with the thought of strangers noticing my body hair. So today, Talia and I went to the beach and swam in the sea and it was the first time I got my full hairy legs etc fully out in public.
It wasn’t a glorious, sensationalised, liberating moment. But it was nice, being in the sea was lush, and it did solidify in my mind that I’m at a place where I don’t give a fuck. My only worry now is the risk of my safety in being visible with these choices.
Despite the clickbait title, this isn’t meant to be interpreted as “look at Charley, she’s so brave, rejecting the male gaze and beauty culture” because that’s untrue. I still pluck my chin and neck hair, I still wear make-up most days. This is me trying to articulate some of the thoughts that are emerging as I delve into the show and how writing it is transforming me. I still see myself through the eyes of other people, but I worry less about the contradictions of trying to be a good feminist cis woman. Being problematic is okay. A friend once said to me “anyone who is left wing fundamentally has to accept they’re a hypocrite”, and I think that sentiment is true here. Mostly I hope that rambling on about this stuff might help someone else navigate their own hairy hang ups.
P.S. shout out to Talia for being the best company and an empowering collaborator.