No Body’s Business: No Shave November

The month of November is infamous for many things: pumpkin spice, beginning of Christmas decorating, and Thanksgiving. Another such is No Shave November: a month-long holiday epitomizing gendered double standards. While some may argue that it is for a good cause (as it began as a charity fundraiser), so-called ‘Movember’ has long since departed from roots. Recently, it has oxymoronically been capitalized by shaving company Billie, as well as been adapted by feminists. 

In reaction to the recent Billie add, a woman (or any person who is shaving) might feel empowered or believe they are buying from an ethically progressive company. I argue this boils down to the commodification of body liberation, something done by many mainstream companies (one in recent discussions would be Nike through plus-size mannequins). Now, I am not arguing that these diversifying and inclusive campaigns shouldn’t exist (I wholeheartedly believe in them), I only urge you to consider who your money is going to and what they support. 

Billie’s and Gillette’s norm defying ads are not the first to redefine social expectations of what a woman’s body is and should be. In fact, it was not commonplace for modern women to shave until the 1930s. This can be traced to several factors, including rising hemlines from cloth rations in World War I as can be seen in flapper fashion. However, the arguably biggest players was simply capitalist greed and the need to control and oppress women’s bodies. Historically, one can connect waves of female empowerment to waves of physical oppression. As theorized by Naomi Wolf, diet culture was invigorated in the 80s and 90s as a response to the women’s liberation movement: where women began to resist politically domination, society resorted to emotional and physical control. 

The same concept could be applied to the 1920s and 1930s, when Gillette and other grooming companies targeted women. Aggressive ad campaigns bombarded women with messages telling them that they were unhealthy, gross, unattractive, unfeminine, and so on, just to improve their bottom line. 

This even put people’s lives in danger. You’ve probably heard of the Radium Girls, women in WWI who painted watches with radioactive Radium eventually discovered to have caused cancer among other severe health problems, but you may not have heard of women who joined that generation because of the razors they used. Radium razors were used for decades, starting in the 1920s, until the side effects were discovered, and a measurable number of a whole generation of women contracted radiation poisoning, fatal or chronic illness, and cancers. ‘Beauty is pain’ has been taught to masses of women, proving that no matter the era, beauty standards are dangerous. 

Generations of women have learned that their body in its natural state, that to grow hair, is defective, unsanitary, and completely taboo. Besides being hit with the usual "that’s gross" and the such, I have been told that I wouldn’t find a boyfriend, and even called a (femi)nazi. Simply because I have hair. And this happens to almost every femme who chooses to quit shaving. 

Society and the patriarchy have socialized women (predominantly, but not exclusive of queer communities and some minority cis men) to believe that their decisions to control their own bodies are a reflection of how they value themselves and their moral character. When I first stopped shaving, it was because I believed I ‘Let myself go,’ a dominant narrative. I thought that investing in myself meant looking ‘pretty’, prepping myself to please other people. After years and years or razor burn and last minute shame and panics of I forgot to shave!, I realized that investing in myself did not mean taking parts of myself away. 

I had stopped shaving after a family vacation in July almost two years ago. I couldn’t tell you why, except that I was exhausted. The pressure of college, school, and the present future hit me. I noticed that my relationship with food and clothing was changing too. The problem was never food, food was just a symptom. Food was the physical manifestation of my struggle to assert some control over my life and body, a misguided way to set goals and find purpose. In almost all senses, I lost control of my body. 

And, in order to regain this control, I turned around that belief that I was giving up on myself and began to own my body, starting with my leg and armpit hair. And that terrified me. In no way is not shaving an absolute solution to issues with disordered eating and body image, but for me, it was a start.

 

To be continued… I will finish in my next article where I will more deeply address body image and disordered eating as a continuation.

P.S. The issue of hair goes beyond just the body, as women of color and black women have faced centuries of systemic discrimination for wearing their hair natural or in protective styles. 

If you would like to learn more on the topic, I highly recommend reading Gross Anatomy by Mara Altman and @januhairy on Instagram.

I am not body shaming anyone, simply sharing my personal experience. Do what is best for you… :)