Female Body Hair: Stigmatized, Stereotyped, and Societalized

When I was ten-years-old, I snuck into my mother’s bathroom and stole a razor, proceeding to roughly dry shave my calves in ragged lines. I vividly remember the confusion I felt at the pain of dry shaving – why wasn’t shaving off body hair a magical experience like in the commercials I saw on cable? Growing up, I was inundated with ads selling razors or shaving cream that featured gleaming female legs, bereft of hair.


In addition to these ads, there was always a plethora of at-home waxing strips for women’s mustaches, pubic hair, armpits or eyebrows available at any given grocery or convenience store. Spas advertised their eyebrow, leg and Brazilian wax treatments.


Celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Pamela Anderson and Sarah Jessica Parker starred in movies and TV shows that glorified shaven female skin. They’d show off hairless legs, nude armpits or brag about smooth genital regions that lacked one stray pubic hair.


The purpose of these shaving products and Hollywood icons revolve around a hairless female body. I was convinced that being a woman and not shaving was not an option. As a teenager, I wasn’t even aware that a woman was “allowed” to refrain from shaving.


Grace Madigan, a Loyola Chicago senior, also remembers her first time shaving being a big deal; “Growing up, I saw my first leg shave as a rite of passage. It essentially marked the first act of being a woman. I think I was twelve when I first shaved.”


An unwritten misogynistic rule persists in U.S. society that women need to remove their body hair in order to be acceptably feminine. Even female children are taught that they should start shaving around the beginning of their teen years.


Why is U.S. society so afraid of hairy ladies?


More than a hundred years ago, in 1915, “The First Great Anti-Underarm-Hair Campaign” was released by famous shaving brand Gillette. At the same time, sleeveless dresses became appropriate for women to wear. Exposed armpit hair became socially unacceptable, a fact encouraged by the Anti-Underarm-Hair movement.


Photo found on Vox


During World War II, there was a shortage of nylon that left women without their daily pantyhose. Advertisers focused on this, encouraging the already normalized removal of armpit hair and the removal of leg hair to make up for lack of pantyhose. The 1980’s introduced Brazilian waxes to the U.S., in which almost all female pubic hair is removed except a very small strip.


These trends endure in mainstream U.S. culture today. However, there’s one thing to note here: women are the only ones being targeted.


“Generally, males don’t have as much pressure to shave anything but their faces,” Madigan said. “While female razors are marketed toward women’s legs, armpits, or ‘bikini lines.’ Such products and advertisements reinforce the skewed idea that males should have body hair and females should not.”


Women having to consistently remove a natural part of their body in order to be acceptable asserts that female bodies aren’t normal. Women need to strive towards something that will make them feminine: lack of body hair, in U.S. societies eyes.


“The presence of body hair disrupts the idealized feminine figure by introducing something as human and genderless as body hair,” Zion Banks, a Loyola Chicago senior, said. “Men are allowed to be human. Hairy armpits, un-mascaraed lashes. Cis men's bodies are seen as normal. Through the patriarchal lens, female bodies are meant to be perfumed, poised, and postured. These standards are harmful as they do not allow women the room to be human.”


Shaving is yet another beauty trend placed upon women while most men remain unscathed. Meaghan Tomaziewicz is a Loyola Graduate Assistant and student in the Women’s Studies and Gender Studies department. She views shaving as a symptom of gender norms.


“Gender norms that are more visible in U.S. dominant culture include norms around clothing patterns, colors and styles, shaving, and hobbies,” Tomaziewicz said.


In a nutshell, gender norms are individual traits or trends that belong to either men or women. Pink belongs to women, blue belongs to men. Doing the dishes is more feminine, mowing the lawn is more masculine.


Men who choose to shave their legs or chests because they want to are scrutinized as well. Hair is a “masculine trait,” just as lack of hair is a “feminine” one.


Personally, I am sick of unhealthy beauty trends forced upon women.


Madigan chooses not to remove her armpit hair. She even dyes it fun colors sometimes.


“When I went home for summer break after freshman year with blue armpit hair, my mom was repulsed and demanded I shave it,” Madigan said. “It’s responses like that that make me feel more in control of the way I choose to feel about letting my natural body hair grow.”


Photo by kropekk_pl on Pixabay


But pressure on women to appear a certain way persists even with people who are confident in themselves.


“I usually shave when I'm about to have someone with whom I'm romantically/sexually interested in come over,” Banks said. “If it’s a guy I’m into, I am 66 percent more likely to shave than if it’s a girl I'm into. Women understand the stupidity behind shaving more than men.”


Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with women choosing to shave. However, there is something very wrong with women feeling as if they need to shave to be beautiful, to please a partner, to please society.


Women and men alike should have the option to be natural or not – hairy is beautiful too.


“Some people choose to shave for different circumstances, people, places and at different points and times in their lives,” said Tomaziewicz.


It’s undeniable that shaving is an elaborate (you expect me to shave my what?!) expectation specifically placed upon women. But as time goes on, remaining hairy is becoming more acceptable for females.


Women are beautiful just as they are. We can’t let society tell us how to be beautiful any longer. Shaved ladies and hairy ladies unite!