Hairy, Lairy, Scary

Recently, there has been a massive increase in women advocating ‘going natural’ with regards to body hair on social media. There’s even been advertising campaigns by the publishing network And Other Stories featuring women who don’t shave. It brings me so much joy to see women doing whatever they want with their bodies and caring about what other people think. For me, this year marks the three year anniversary since I stopped shaving. It has been a long and bumpy (pardon the pun) road of self-discovery and radical self-love. Now, I am writing this article to explain why I chose to stop shaving, not to try and pressure anyone in any way. After all, I am a feminist and I firmly believe in the concept of ‘my body, my choice.’

When I first decided to give up shaving I was naturally expecting a bit of controversy and, maybe the odd insult from guys in my year. However, this did not happen (openly at least). The only people who openly mocked, laughed and ridiculed me were other girls, many whom I considered my closest friends. They said it ‘wasn’t sexy’ and that I’d ‘never get a guy’ because I ‘looked like a lesbian.’ Now I look back and laugh, but at the time those comments really hurt.

You might wonder why I continued to not shave. Well, the reason I initially stopped is because I didn’t care anymore. I was sixteen, bespectacled and suffering from seriously bad acne. I was sick of caring what people thought, sick of the anxiety, the pressure, and sick of the tears. Initially my not-caring was simply giving up, but then I decided to turn it into something positive - liberation. Liberating yourself from society’s beauty standards and expectations of young women is a wonderful feeling. I implore you to try it. Just one day, go out and consciously not give a single damn what anyone thinks – really, it’s spectacular.

I really struggle to think of any reasons at all why women should shave, but I understand everyone has their own reasons. But, for me it’s part of a system that encourages women to spend more money on things they don’t need so the people who profit off beauty products - products which are marketed by telling women they need to change themselves - can get richer whilst symbolically infantilising women and enforcing a gender double standard. After consulting Google, these are apparently the top reasons why women should have to shave:

It’s not sexy (or for bonus heterosexual misogyny: men don’t find it attractive): To answer the latter point and to reiterate the obvious: women do not exist for men’s pleasure. Repeat again please, women do not exist for men’s pleasure. Got that? Excellent, let’s move on. What makes someone feel sexy is individual and personal to them. If a woman feels sexy when she shaves, go for it! If a woman feels sexy when she doesn’t shave, go for it! What bothers me about the idea of shaven being sexy is that is sets a homogenising ideal of what sexy is, inexorably linked to society’s beauty standards for women. Women who don’t shave are shamed as not being ‘sexy’ and teased for being a ‘lesbian’ (which is not an insult).

As a result, women are pressured by the media to shun their hairy bodies. Not only can this pressure have adverse psychological effects but also we seem to be forgetting that these are razors. It is actually dangerous. Slip and the pain is unimaginable. Trust me, I’ve been to A&E twice from a slip. Throw off this beauty ideal! Stick a middle finger (or hairy leg) to these ‘sexy’ standards, feel sexy however you want to. Now I understand the sexual appeal of a freshly shaven leg (so smooth) but to me this hairlessness represents the infantilising of women, something I do not feel sexy about. This leads nicely on to the next point.

Symbolic significance: When I think of naturally hairless humans the only ones I can think of are children. The fact that women are being encouraged to look like children is, to me, disturbing.  Women are purposefully infantilised across society in an attempt to negate their power and undermine their intelligence, thus perpetuating patriarchy. Just think how many times you’ve been called or called someone else a ‘girl’ when they are over the age of 18. Society’s beauty standards are that of a pre-pubescent white, able bodied girl: thin, petite, hairless. Encouraging women to look like children furthers their powerlessness and therefore their objectification.

Gendered double standards:  Finally, the most aggravating argument that I have come across is that body hair, especially armpit hair, is ‘unhygienic’ on a woman. Let’s state the obvious here: this is a ridiculous double standard. Deodorant is available to any gender. Soap and water are available to any gender. All genders sweat. Yet when a man has underarm hair it is normal, but a woman? Nope, it’s gross. The purpose of underarm hair is to flick to sweat away from the armpit to avoid a build up a bacteria; it’s a natural part of the body. Technically, to take it away is more unhygienic. What angers me especially about this double standard is that it reveals the deeper gendering of hair on the body: body hair is considered masculine. Therefore, to remove it is feminine and because women are the ones having to alter their bodies they are further ‘othered’. Moreover, this double standard is especially harmful for trans men and women. Trans men who can’t afford (or don’t want) hormone changes have less body hair and are thus considered less masculine by society which may affect how they feel about themselves or cause bullying from others. For trans women they are often doubly criticised for not removing body hair as they’re not ‘feminine enough.’ I realise that I’m living in a utopian dream land when I argue that we should de-gender body hair so all genders can chose whether or not to have it and not be criticised for their choice. However, I think it’s worth a shot.

Sadly, I have many more reasons to not shave (time and money being just a few) that I don’t have room to rant on about in this article. But I hope what I have written has changed some minds and opened some others. If not, just take this from me: do whatever you want with your body and don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks.


Illustration credit: Maxine Sarah Art