Body hair plays a huge part in managing the temperature for us. But each person keeps their body hair for various reasons. And despite all of the cultural differences, society loves ridiculing the idea of body hair. It is quite evident that both men and women have to deal with judgement, but it is the women who have to deal with most of the shame.
“Back In Our Time”
It isn’t unusual for people to grow out their body hair. There may have been certain situations where I decided to let my razor take a break while I rocked my unshaved legs. But no matter how confident some of us are, people tend to have a negative opinion towards body hair.
However, despite all this, many women don’t let the society decide what they should do with their body. Even though I was growing out my Quarantine Fur, I ironically am writing this post after having shaved it all. Even though it isn’t supposed to be gross or dirty, that’s all it felt like for me.
Now before we move any further, let’s try to understand what having hair means for us.
Like I mentioned earlier, our body hair plays a very crucial role in regulating our body temperature. How? When it’s cold outside and you have goosebumps all over, that happens when tiny muscles surrounding the hair follicle cause the hair to stand up and trap the heat near the body. The same goes with your eyelashes and nostril hair that prevent dirt from entering our body.
So why does society prefer their women hairless, and men hairy?
We’ve All Been Hair
Hair removal has been a part of history for a very long time. According to the Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History, Hindus in Ancient India would shave their faces and privates to prevent lice and also keep cool. It was the same with men and women in Ancient Egypt, except they shaved their heads. However, they either waxed or shaved themselves, so, depending on what method they chose their tools would vary. If they chose to wax, they would use caramelized sugar. But if they chose to shave, it would have to be an early form of the straight razor.
It’s evident that hair removal has been around for centuries now, but they existed for a different reason back then. People still consider shaving right now, but for various reasons. They could either be cultural, sexual, or even fashionable. Let’s have a brief look of each of these?
Every culture has their own set of rules or customs, this includes body hair as well. For instance, around the 20th century shorter dresses and bikinis became a lot more popular. So what did marketing decide to do? They realized this could be profitable and somehow found a way to make the women believe that lady hair is gross, and stinky. This standard obviously didn’t apply to the men. This also led to a few women to shave their bikini area until Brazilian waxes made their way to the West.
However, in some other cultures body hair is welcomed. For instance, many Nigerian women are unshaved as a sign of adulthood. So it isn’t too weird for them to have any amount of body hair. There were also all these misconceptions about French women not shaving their pits. And while there is nothing wrong with a little fuzz over there, the French shave their bodies twice as much as women in the West.
Even though the fairer sex have been shaving what is considered to be gross and unnattractive, many men in the West initially would shave their facial hair because they quite preferred the clean shaven look. However, some even shaved their beards off because it was either patchy, or the colour didn’t match the hair on their head.
There are various reasons for a man to keep or shave their facial hair. But when it comes to their bodies, the consensus is still out. Most men are naturally hairy while some barely have any on them, and this is where personal preference plays a huge part. And even though most younger men are encouraged to shave their body hair since it equates to better hygiene, I’ve come across many men who have had to deal with ridicule for the same.
When it comes to cultural or religious reasons, in India when it came to Hindu traditions, if a family member had passed, either the eldest or the person conducting the last rites would shave their heads. However, I’m not too sure about how things are right now. As a part of being ostracized, even widows had shaved heads back in the day. While the practice may not be as common, it is still quite prevalent in certain rural areas.
But there are various religious or traditions reasons for men or women to either shave or embrace their body hair.
However, there are other reasons men in the West seem to shave their locks off. It could be a fashion statement or just a way to escape their imminent baldness. The same goes for women. Many women have been leaning towards a shaved look for either a political statement or a fashion statement.
Apart from what I’ve already mentioned, there are various other reasons for hair removal. But we still haven’t touched the core of why hair removal is preferred so much by a large number of people?
To Shave or Not To Shave?
We’ve already established that hair removal has been around since the B.C. era. But we’re going to analyze and see how hair removal has truly evolved.
I wanted to talk about something interesting I’ve come across. During 1400, women and goddesses were showcased without pubic hair, partly due it being considered too lewd with the hair but also because hairlessness was a sign of class back then.
Doesn’t that seem odd to you? Most images or statues would showcase them being completely in the nude. However, it would only be lewd when something equally natural is evident.
We’ve also discussed how pubic hair removal was mostly done for hygiene purposes initially, but that gave birth to the merkin (vagina toupee), and I’m glad to say times have changed.
However, the first time women came across the pressure to shave their body was when sleeveless dresses were first in style back in 1915. When Gillette’s Milady Décolleté became the first razor women could get their hands-on, they sold millions of those by 1917.
Now before anyone groans and says SJWs or Feminists, I’m just here to talk about how body hair became a beacon for women fighting for equal rights back in 1972.
Remember how we talked about paintings being too lewd if it showcased any pubic hair? Well in 1994, an album called Amorica was released and showcased a woman’s bikini line. What’s odd about that? Nothing. However, a bit of her pubic hair was visible. Still not strange, right? Wrong. Because you wouldn’t be able to find this particular album in a Walmart.
However, five years later Julia Roberts shocked all of America by showing up at the Notting Hill premiere with unshaved pits. It was quite refreshing to see a mainstream actress show up with unshaved pits, even if it sounds quite ridiculous right now. However, it also showed American women that unshaved pits weren’t gross and that they could rock this look as well.
The trend shortly after involved various actresses from all over the world showing off flawlessly smooth skin, even encouraging it in certain movies or sitcoms. And with more pressure came a variety of ads with women shaving their already shaved legs. But all of that slowly started changing when more and more women started showing off their unshaved pits.
Around 2015, when Miley showed off her pits, the hashtag #armpithairdontcare started trending with women colouring and showing off their pit hair. With the likes of Gaga, Madonna, Paris Jackson, and more, the list was quite long.
However, in 2017 Adidas released a Superstar campaign showcasing model Arvida Byström sporting some sick kicks with unshaven legs. Pretty normal right? Unfortunately, the public had to say otherwise. Not only did Adidas receive a lot of negative comments, but Byström also had her share of multiple rape threats to deal with on social media. For just having unshaved legs. And this was back in 2017.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I remember when I was in college back in 2014, I had a female friend who I won’t name. What’s so special about her? Apart from being an amazing friend, she also had to shave her face quite often because the amount of testosterone in her body produced more hair than usual.
And I never mentioned it because I assumed she wouldn’t like it if I did, but this is exactly why I need to start this conversation. Because even though hair removal has been around for such a long time, it’s appalling how society still shames women for their choices.
We as a society have decided that it is natural for men to have a naturally hairy body, while women are supposed to replicate a Sphynx Cat. But it doesn’t just end there. Men who go to the gym or maintain a fit body tend to shave off some of their hair to showcase the body they worked so hard on. However, men who don’t have either of those have to deal with negative comments.
Women’s hair has been considered unhygienic, gross, stinky, even unattractive. But some of the most liked attributes in men can be their beards, or even how hairy they are.
From my understanding, since society has decided what an ideal woman’s body should be like, most women are insecure in terms of body hair. And those that aren’t and rock their unshaved arms, legs, or even pits have to deal with a lot of negative ‘feedback’ and comments that can be so unnecessary. However, if you do have an opinion about the amount of hair your partner should have on their body, then communicate but don’t impose or force your opinions down their throats. And you don’t need to act on that ‘advice’ or ‘opinion’, but it is good to keep an open mind about said conversations.
I gave in to this ‘societal pressure’ probably at the age of 15, and I still abide by it. Because even though I enjoyed growing my quarantine fur, the fact that it’s gross or unhygienic still stayed at the back of my mind. However, I hope you enjoyed reading this mess I call a post, you can check out more of my work here.