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May 24, 2009

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… 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.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Ashley permalink
    May 24, 2009 2:25 PM

    Ahhh, body hair. This is a subject that I find myself often discussing and writing about. I don’t shave my underarms or legs (and have never brought a razor anywhere near my bush; I remember being kind of mystified when I realized that I was expected to shave my pubic hair in some way). And I suppose there is a little bit of a rebellious undercurrent to it but more than anything it was a…why am I doing this when I don’t want to kind of realization. I don’t want to shave my legs or my underarms and feel incredibly comfortable and sexy with the hair there. However I have some hair that grows under my chin and on my neck; I find it itchy and uncomfortable and I like my neck to be smooth so that, I get rid of. I find unshaven and shaven women both beautiful and feel very much that it should be a CHOICE, like you said; if it makes someone feel sexy to shave, by all means. And I get sometimes frustrated, sometimes amused when people (including my own mother) say, “But well, it’s unhygienic and dirty!” It’s interesting, but not very surprising, to me that when a woman has body hair it’s unhygienic but your typical man is expected to be a hairy beast. I’ve tried, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much, to explain to people that body hair is not dirty; if you clean your body on a regular basis body hair is no more resistant to being cleaned than the hair on your head.

    The stigma against body hair is an annoying one to me. It bothers me that my femininity and personal hygiene habits will be gauged by how hairy my legs are rather than how often I actually clean my body. But I’m very proud of my hair, in an almost perverse kind of way. I like to wear dresses that show my legs and sleeveless shirts that show my underarms because, despite the fact that lots of people would be disgusted by it, I feel so incredibly sexy when I show off my body hair.

  2. Lisa permalink
    May 24, 2009 4:34 PM

    Freshman year in high school, I stopped shaving my legs. I was mostly inspired by two of my best friends who had also stopped shaving after going on a month-long camping trip. For me, shaving is more an annoyance than anything else, so it was liberating to stop. But I did get weird looks and nasty comments. I remember one time on the school bus I said that I had more leg hair than a boy there, and everyone had reactions like “ewwww,” “that’s gross,” and “women shouldn’t have leg hair”. I always hated the way that people felt like they had the right to impose their standards on my body. Like they had the right to judge me, and the right to be offended by how I chose to keep my body. If you don’t like leg hair, then shave your legs, but leave my hair to me.

    After about six years of hairy legs, I did start shaving again, mostly on a whim. Since then I’ve gone through various periods of shaving, waxing, and doing nothing to my hair. I do shave my armpit hair, mostly because I feel cleaner when I do (not that armpit hair is dirty, I just like the way I feel when I shave it).

    I’ve never even considered removing hair from my genital area. Hairless vulvas look like little girls’ to me, and I really don’t feel a need to groom my body to look like a prepubescent girl. Plus it just seems like it would be painful, and I’ve never had any complaints ;).

    • Becky permalink
      June 4, 2009 5:32 PM

      More idiocy from FML:
      “Today, I hooked up with a girl from the bar. We went back to my place and started making out, I took off her shirt and bra and started kissing her breasts. I felt her chest hair tickle my tongue. FML”

      Seriously? Does he really think women are hairless?


  1. My body, my hair, my fucking business. « Pussy Goes Grrr

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