In my ninth grade Health class, we watched a video of a woman giving birth. Although this video had been eagerly anticipated throughout the semester and was meant to raise a whole host of questions and issues for our class, for the next few days there seemed to be only one thing on everyone’s mind: hair. You see, the woman who had given birth in our video had pubic hair, and this was NOT OKAY. Frankly, the class agreed, it was disgusting. Though this was not the first time I had been introduced to the idea that some women shaved their pubic hair, it stands out in my memory because almost everyone I talked to about it seemed to be in consensus that not shaving *down there* was lazy, unladylike and unattractive.
As any woman will tell you, body hair is an issue fraught with fears, with mocking and alienation. While we are expected to have shiny, thick hair on our heads, hair anywhere else–on our faces, on our legs, between our legs–is not acceptable. And there is a lot of shame surrounding it. I find that, at least among the women I know, body and facial hair are not often discussed. If we do discuss it, our discussions are usually short or somewhat abstract. Even among the women I know best, I hate admitting that I have hair where I am not supposed to. Not because leg hair, pubic hair or facial hair is unnatural, no, but because it’s unladylike, it’s masculine, it’s gross. The number of elaborate products and painful procedures created to remove our hair is staggering. Have you ever waxed, tweezed, cut yourself shaving? Removing hair fucking hurts.
Why do we do it? Why is there such a stigma on body or facial hair? Do you remember how revolted people were when Julia Roberts came to a movie premiere with unshaven armpit hair?
A quote from the linked website:
The question – Can the attractiveness of a female celebrity overshadows her armpit hairs? Too bad, the answer is no…So, gentlemen…..be prepared for some photos. I am not responsible for what happened to your lunch, ok?
I think a great deal of this has to do with the idea of control. Women who are hairy where they aren’t supposed to be are not only unladylike, they are lazy. They cannot or will not maintain control over their body’s natural impulse to be disgusting, so other people feel that it is their place to do so. And I think more than most other deviations from the “norm” of beauty, the decision not to remove facial or body hair is considered political or even radical. It is a rejection of popular “requirements” for femininity, of the idea that bodies need to be controlled, groomed, pushed past their natural appearance in order to be beautiful.
I’d like to end this post with a call to ‘go natural’, but the fact is that I love the feel of my freshly-shaven legs, the arch of a tweezed eyebrow. Maybe rather than categorically rejecting hair removal, we should think critically about it. Removing our hair should be a choice, not a requirement for being considered beautiful. If I want to shave my legs because that makes me feel beautiful, happy or satisfied, I should be able to. If not shaving them makes me feel those things, I should be able to not shave them without anything being read into my character, sexual attractiveness or political beliefs. We shouldn’t let our hang-ups about hair overshadow more important things. My ninth grade Health class should have been talking about pregnancy, about birth, about parenthood, not about pubic hair. It’s up to us to reject the idea that our bodies are naturally gross, that we must remove our hair to be beautiful–or that we must keep our hair to be good feminists. We must free ourselves to do what makes us happy, with or without hair.