Women’s body hair is natural and yet we’ve been conditioned to hate it
The blood is being swept away by the drain and the water is starting to get cold but Lily can’t get out now. She has a deadline or in fact a date and so she aggressively runs the razor up and down her body. No evidence of hair must be left behind. Even the smallest part on the knee or upper thigh poses a risk to her femininity. It’s a tiresome chore but one Lily always feels compelled to do.
“No one wants to sleep with a women covered in hair.” The message that has haunted Lily ever since she first started to grow hair on her body. It’s one she repeats as she twists her body like a contortionist in her tiny shower to make sure she is smooth all over.
Lily Piper*, 26, is a young and bubbly woman. With a hectic work life Lily is much keener for casual hookups than the stressful nature relationships often offer.
But using dating apps for casual hookups comes with its own rules.
“A lot of men expect you to look like a porn star so they can treat you like one.” Lily said.
“Porn is full of women with smooth skin – no prickles or razor bumps.”
“A lot of men expect you to look like a porn star so they can treat you like one.”Lily Piper*
So, what do shaving and porn have in common? They both serve to satisfy the male gaze. The overconsumption of porn coupled with the inadequate sex education in schools has led many men to perceive what happens in porn as a reality. Subsequently, these men demand smooth skinned women to satisfy their desires.
A study conducted by Cosmopolitan in 2017 discovered that 30% of men view pubic hair as a relationship dealbreaker.
In fact, many men feel no shame asking a woman to shave.
“Last year I hooked up with a guy who offered to shave a spot of hair on my thigh before we had sex. I felt incredibly self-conscious and it ruined the mood entirely.” Lily said.
Porn and social media have normalised the practice of shaving your body hair that its now considered a part of a women’s hygiene practice. After all, shaving after a shower has become the ultimate combination.
Lily dreads shaving. “The day I’m going to do a full body shave I’m miserable. It takes so long and I feel exhausted after doing it.”
“But the thought of someone seeing me hairy fills me with much more fear and that’s what compels me to shave.”
Women’s insecurities surrounding their body hair is a mutual feeling but why is this the case?
It all started with Gillette.
The shaving brand was first introduced in 1903 and primarily targeted men. In order to increase their sales, Gillette in collaboration with women’s magazines in 1915 switched their efforts to convince women that their body hair was undesirable and to leave it growing meant they would be unloved.
Milady Decollete razor would change beauty standards forever in the Western world.
The May issue of Harper Bazaar ran the first advertisement promoting female hair removal in 1915. Manipulative language was employed such as ‘ugly, noticeable and unwanted hair’ to target women and intended to sell them an insecurity they needed to be rid of at whatever cost.
Ultimately, the purpose was to shame women and the message was clear – unshaven women were lazy, unattractive and most importantly unfeminine. Patriarchal society had once again imposed yet another rule for women to conform to in order to achieve femininity.
These tactics aren’t a thing of the past, women today continue to have pressure exerted upon them to shave. If they fail to oblige, they are sanctioned and this can include verbal abuse. Which can start as early as school.
“The changing rooms in PE were a nightmare. Girls watched each other like hawks checking for hair on your legs or under your armpits.” Lily said. “Girls would call each other gorillas or beasts if they spotted body hair.”
“It was a weird time, for so long girls refused to say they even had body hair. It was something to be hidden.”
Patriarchal society thrives by pitting women against each other, even policing each other. Lily recalled that during secondary school other girls would frequently ask her if she shaved.
A simple enough question to be asked. But upon further consideration the question is a trap.
“If I answered yes, it was a confession that you have body hair. However, if I said no, it implied uncontrollable wild hair covering my body.”
“I began to resent my body. My hair grows back so quickly that I have to shave four times a week.”Lily Piper*
“The boys in my year relentlessly teased us. One day I wore tights during the Summer term because I didn’t like the way my legs looked. But this boy in my form interpreted it as a sign I didn’t shave and so he mocked me and said no one would ever want to sleep with me.”
Such words have left a permanent mark on Lily and thus continue to sting.
“I began to resent my body. My hair grows back so quickly that I have to shave four times a week.”
One night when Lily really should’ve been asleep instead of avidly scrolling through social media, she found the Instagram account Januhairy. The account dispels myths around shaving and hygiene. Most importantly, it encourages women to embark on the journey to grow their body hair for a month and share their pictures.
“I was stunned. It was full of women showing all different types of body hair, there was no sense of embarrassment. I was in awe at how confident they looked.”
“As I scrolled along further, I began to question who I’m really shaving for? If I’m going through a dry spell, I leave it to grow but as soon as I’m sexually active again I’m back to the gruelling practice.”
“I realised from a very young age I was conditioned to prioritize male desires and pleasures which included shaving. While my own pleasure was overlooked.”
Lily’s ex-boyfriend convinced her to shave regularly. He claimed it would make sex much more enjoyable for them both.
“He told me I felt better smooth and that I’d be able to climax better if I was smooth. I went along with it because I was so desperately in love with him and I didn’t want to disappoint him. It’s only now that I can understand how twisted it all really was and how I wish I could’ve stood up for myself.”
Feeling inspired by Januhairy and a growing number of celebrities including Miley Cyrus who are adding body hair to the red carpet glam – Lily has decided that after years of countless pink razors crammed inside drawers, moisturizers and exfoliating creams that overflowed her bathroom shelf it was time to ditch her shaving ritual.
“I’m going to leave my body hair untouched for an entire month. Like a trial run for the future, I want to see how it makes me feel.”
“I’m incredibly nervous but after years of being told of what to do I’m tired of participating in a role created for me. I want to do what makes me happy.”
As Lily scrolls through Tinder looking for a potential one-night stand, she ponders if the men will be disgusted by her new look.
Lily finds a match and they quickly arrange to hookup later that evening.
“It feels like I’m going on my first ever date. I’m not sure if I’ll be rejected. Will he pull away from me in disgust?”
“It’s funny that he probably doesn’t even think about his body hair before getting ready for the date.”
A sinister double standard persists. Patriarchal society allows men to grow their hair out, shaving for them is a personal choice and ultimately no judgement is passed on them. However, women face great punishment if they stray from the norm.
“I’ve been with many guys who have probably never used a razor on their body but I can’t imagine their reaction if I quickly asked for them to shave before we could do anything.”
The decision to shave or not should be a personal choice and thus for personal fulfilment. Lily now believes that no one should have the power to make her feel ugly for her grooming habits.
“There shouldn’t be a check list of how to look like a feminist. To be a feminist you fight for equality. Who cares whether you want smooth skin or whether you want your hair to grow.”Lily Piper*
Recently, debates on body hair have focused on which decision is the most aligned with feminism.
“You can be a feminist whether you shave or not. There shouldn’t be a checklist of how to look like a feminist. To be a feminist you fight for equality. Who cares whether you want smooth skin or whether you want your hair to grow.”
“I think the debate is separating women rather than bringing us together.”
Lily wants grooming habits to be included in sex education and for teachers to stress that young girls do in fact have a choice.
“I want girls today to be free from the pressure of shaving and to be free from verbal abuse.”
Lily is set to have a hairy future.
“The natural me is beautiful and I’m excited to embrace it. If men don’t want to be with me because of some tufts of hair then they don’t deserve me.”
(*The name has been changed at the request of the source)
Photo Credit: Tony Kyriacou/REX/Shutterstock
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