The Economics of Hairy Women

Body hair has quickly become one of the most controversial parts of a woman’s body. The latest trends include dyed armpit hair, as seen on many celebrities like Miley Cyrus, and full Brazilians are becoming all the rage. Any woman on the street could tell you about an experience of being judged, not just by men, for having hairy legs or ungroomed underarms. Typically, the pressure to shave or wax is seen as a patriarchal duty, but women judge other women for their body hair just as much as men do, maybe even more so. But, how does this societal pressure affect our bank accounts? What is the real cost of adhering to this rigid standard of hairlessness?

 

The amount of money a woman will spend on beauty and feminine products in her lifetime is known as “the pink tax.” It not only includes products like makeup and tampons, which men don’t typically have as expenses, but also the disparity in pricing between essentially identical products marketed towards women instead of men. The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs conducted a study that found that shampoo and conditioner marketed for women cost on average 48 percent more than their counterparts marketed towards men.

Even worse, these products often contain less of the actual shampoo and conditioner than the more affordable men’s products. This is an approach called “shrink it and pink it,” which refers to manufacturers making women’s products smaller and more “feminine-looking,” thus selling less of the actual good at a higher price. These companies are capitalizing on most women’s willingness to pay more for their products, grounded in the socialized culture of women feeling like they must always look their best.

Women are under constant pressure to look a certain way, and companies take advantage of these vulnerabilities by charging more for women’s products; they know, in the end, we’ll pay what we have to in order to feel beautiful. But, how does this intersect with American beauty standards? More specifically, how does this economic principle apply to the harrowing expectation of hairlessness? Women’s razors and shaving cream on average cost 43 percent more than men’s, and often must be re-purchased by women much more frequently.

The pink tax by itself is frustrating, but when framed within the context of a 12 percent wage gap, is just absurd. Women are being paid less on average but are expected to pay more for their everyday products, on top of being expected to choose and utilize these products to best maintain a standardized level of beauty at all times.

In addition to being a major bummer, this economic disparity highlights the complacency with which our consumption-crazed society accepts inequity. Furthermore, why should women feel pressured to spend time and money they may not have removing something completely natural from their bodies? Why have we decided that it’s not okay for women to be anything less than picturesque?

Women and girls constantly face scrutiny based on their appearance, which can have adverse effects on self-esteem and self-worth. NYC Girls’ Project found that 80 percent of 10-year old girls are afraid of being “fat.” A woman’s body should be celebrated for its unshaven, natural glory, as it represents a woman’s acceptance of her body and a strong sense of self, which allow her to defy those social norms. A woman’s outer appearance, be it hairy, curvy, dark, or thin, should not be a tool for judgement or a gage of worth.

The pink tax is simply a manifestation of an underlying problem: women find too much value in being perceived as “attractive” because they’ve been trained and tutored to do so for their entire lives. These ideals are ingrained in our culture of beauty and acceptance. Fortunately, it seems that we’re moving in the right direction, with body-positive campaigns like #FreeTheNipple, and the ‘hairy legs’ movement on the rise. Women are beginning to accept themselves and each other for their detours from the typical standards of beauty as the media becomes more inclusive of all shapes, sizes, genders, and colors. As body-positivity and self-acceptance continue to grow, so shall our leg hair.