Body Hair: why the stigma?

Photo Credit: Fabia Wood. November, 2017.

It is a social expectation that women must shave their “undesirable” hair, including armpits, legs and vaginas. Young girls have been taught that in order to “fit in” and be “beautiful” they must remove their body hair, whilst the boys in their class are encouraged to brag about the development and growth of their chest hair.

I ask you this question, why do women have to eliminate hair yet men can grow theirs?

The reason I am bringing this topic to your attention is because one of my female friends, Amelia, is comfortable with embracing her body hair, and even though she loves the way her body naturally forms and grows, she still receives negative comments.

I’ve asked her some questions about some of her experiences and this was her response:

When did you start growing your body hair?

I have never felt the need to shave regularly, it was always for an event. I only ever shaved when I needed to, such as sex, going out and summer. But I fully gave up shaving when I was about 17.

What made you decide to stop shaving?

It is itchy and uncomfortable, I don’t like the fact that the hair grows back thicker. I don’t think that anybody’s opinion of my body hair is worth me being in pain and being uncomfortable. I don’t understand why boys don’t have to shave but because I have different genitals I’m expected to behave a certain way… I think it’s bullshit.

Are there any areas in particular that you still do shave?

The only body hair I maintain is the hair on my head, and my eyebrows — but that’s only because I believe it shapes my face better than if I leave them to grow out. Although I am going for more of a natural and bushy eyebrow look so they’re trimmed, but they don’t look fake and unnatural.

Who around you makes the most negative comments, and what do they say?

My parents, boyfriend, work colleagues and friends. Although there can be a light-hearted banter around the subject, I am often described as a tramp and disgusting. People tell me that I need to shave and that I’ve only chosen to let my hair grow for attention and say I’m showing off. Bullshit.

How do these negative comments make you feel?

It makes me angry towards the thought of bringing a daughter into the world where she is expected to act a certain way, in order for her to get respect from her partner and her peers. It kind of makes me want to say fuck you, I’ll do what I like. I think people are ignorant and they aren’t looking at the full picture. Comments don’t effect me personally as such, but the only person whose opinion I do value unfortunately is my partner. Although his outlook on this is also ignorant, I can be ignorant back because I don’t respect his outlook in return — but his opinion is present just because of society. It’s interesting to see if we go into other cultures and see how men aren’t as phased by body hair on women.

Does it make you feel like less of woman?

No. It’s not about femininity, it’s about me being me. What is feeling like a woman? Is it sexy? Well, the question you should’ve asked is, does it make you feel less of a person? Because gender shouldn’t be a factor that influences it. For example, my boyfriend shaves his feet, his armpits and he threads his eyebrows; and that’s something he wants to do and I don’t think that makes him less of a man, it’s just something that he wants to do for himself. It makes him more of his own person regardless of gender, regardless of society and regardless of opinions.

Did it effect your casual sex life?

If a boy wants to have sex with you, he will have sex with you. And personally, I didn’t give a fuck. Why would I shave for somebody who isn’t my boyfriend when I don’t even shave regularly for my boyfriend now? From my experience and those around me, half the time boys can’t even make a girl orgasm, so why should I put in the effort to look good when he can’t put in the effort for me to feel good.

Has it effected your relationship?

It hasn’t effected it as such, at the end of the day I know we both respect each other’s values. Although I do know that the only times I have ever fully shaved my body is for him and for a special occasion related to him. Relationships are about compromise and I knew that he found me sexier when I shaved when I entered this relationship, even though it doesn’t change my perception on how sexy I feel. I know that he is that type of guy that associates sex with one of the page 3 girls and I understand that, that’s fine with me. I think that in this day and age women and little girls look at these models and compete with the expectations of society instead of just being themselves. For girls and women who shave their body hair, I think they want to receive love and respect for the image they portray of themselves, and not for who they are inside. And I’m sorry but if that’s what you’re thinking about during sex then your orgasms aren’t going to be as good.

Would you ever consider shaving regularly again?

I’d always consider it because I like being open minded, but I can guarantee the answer will be no.

Has it effected your personal hygiene?

No not at all. If anything it has made it better. This is if we are comparing two people who wash daily, one with body hair and one without, I can promise you that the one with hair will sweat less and therefore have less body odour. The hair is there for a reason, if it didn’t have a reason it wouldn’t grow.

Is there anything else you’d like to say on the body hair stigma?

Especially female friends who might discuss the subject with me state that they do it for them, which is fine and if that is the case then great. However, I feel like this in itself is brainwashed into them by society as thinking it’s a normal thing. What makes you sexy isn’t the lack of hair on your body but the morals and values that circulate in your heart and brain, and how that correlates with how you treat people — that’s what being sexy means to me, and it’s a genderless definition.

Whilst I was talking to Amelia about her hair and opinions I discovered that a lot of people around her judge her choices, but I don’t understand how this could be a factor inside our friendship or a reason to discriminate her. As somebody who does shave, I have found myself acknowledging that I shave more reguarly in the summer time or when I am seeing my boyfriend, and now I am questioning whether this is for me or for society?