These days, you can’t count on one hand the numerous ways that can remove leg hair. The beauty realm has become so advanced that laser technology is used to remove even the smallest of hairs. But women weren’t regularly shaving their legs or underarms since the dawn of time. Throughout history, sexism (and a bit of capitalism) as an institution has formed our idea of what is normal when it comes to body hair.
Breaking down the myth
Although certain ancient civilizations had body hair removal in their culture, it was only in the early 1900’s where women everywhere were pressured to start shaving. The first razor created specifically for women was advertised in a way that framed underam hair as “unhygienic and unfeminine.” Legs were next on the list with a shortage of nylon for stockings in World War II. The creation of the bikini immediately followed and so did methods to trim pubic hair. At first glance, it seems that fashion trends dictate on the next body part that should go under the razor.
Yet, an outlier in body hair removal history is the ’70s where women sported the au naturale look and where the term “’70s bush” came into existence. The following decade later, women reverted back to their hairless ways. What then continues to keep this hairless ideal is beyond trends but rather sexism as an institution.
The prime suspect is of course enforced gender norms. As mentioned earlier, body hair is associated with the opposite with femininity or masculinity. Facial hair is a rare occurrence for women and even the shadows of upper lip hair can be subjected to immense ridicule. Even men are pressured by this gender norm whenever they cannot grow out a beard or remotely touch their leg hair and automatically their masculinity and sexuality is questioned.
Another factor could be society’s love for the infantilized woman since body hair growth increases after puberty. Menstruation, wrinkles, stretch marks, and any sign of aging have their respective products to conceal and prevent them from happening. Race also makes it way into this issue. A study has shown that white women have less hair than other races, while Asian women have the most. This manifests also with how hairiness is associated with primitiveness, thus certain cultures who embrace hair are considered more inferior than those who do not.
Function vs. fashion
And yet, doctors have say that clean bikini lines aren’t the only things women get when they undergo hair removal. Pubic hair serves as safeguard for the vagina against microorganisms and infections. The process of even waxing or shaving can allow infections to fester on the pubic area due to the hair follicles that get left behind. The violent ripping of hairs through waxing can also damage your roots or the hair bulb itself, and leave your skin red and irritated.
There are procedures that can prevent this from happening but proper body hair removal can cost quite a sum of money. If we’re not supposed to be getting rid of it in the first place, is it still worth the time and money?
Moving towards self-acceptance
We’ve been seeing less commercial movements toward self-acceptance, inclusive of our body hair. Despite the increase of eyebrow hair removal stores, bushy and full brows are still very much sought after. This new trend finally has a name to it: Boy Beat. Youtuber Sara Cheung explains that it is “accentuating features that we usually would consider flaws, like rosacea, acne, dark circles, while still making it work and adding a lot of structure. It’s kind of a reversal of the Instagram perfect skin look.”
Not only does this look help finally accept our flaws but by masculinity is introduced by adding structure to the face. This then becomes a protest against these suffocating gender-norms. But as mentioned, there is a risk for this to stay as a trend and for a new and detrimental trend to arise in the following years.
There is no definite answer for that. However, it can be said that there is more hope than ever before. Even 16-year-olds such as Adele Labo, who trended the hashtag #LesPrincessesOntDesPoils (#PrincessesHaveHair), can participate in the movement. Women have never been as aware of the systemic factors that play into the normalcy of sexism.
Of course, it is never as clean cut (must I say shaven?) as this. Just like with the ethical impasse of undergoing plastic surgery, should we judge people who want to get rid of their body hair? If it really is a movement towards self-love, should there not be space for women to express themselves—hairless or not?
The importance seems to fall on one question: “To shave or not to shave?” It is not a question that existed as much in the past century. The goal should not be a new ideal of beauty but to do away with ideals and to return to women, after so many centuries, the capacity of free choice.
Photo courtesy of Pexels
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