As I go through my morning de-fuzzing rituals, I start laughing to myself. I wonder what I would look like au naturel – I mean, how hairy am I? I’m not sure at what age I first fell out with body hair: 14? 15? I guess when I started experimenting with make-up I also became aware of hair, and more significantly, its new status of ‘not welcome here’. Underarm hair and leg hair were the first to go. But at that age I didn’t understand the implications of the act: I was trying to fit in and trying to grow up, and that was more than enough to be dealing with.
As I stepped into the world of boys and sex (no, I am not telling you what age I lost my virginity!) I became aware of the next unwelcome member of the hair possy – the bikini line.
And that was it, once I learnt the art of hair removal, I never looked back. I am a groomer, not a do-my-legs-when-the-sun-comes-out, or do-my-bikini-line-because-Husband-is-on-his-way-home. I am an all year round, always ready, always hair-free, type of gal.
I tell myself I do it for me, which is true – kind of. I’m so used to seeing myself like this, I just can’t imagine seeing myself any other way – and if I’m honest I don’t want to see myself hairy.
But the interesting question to me, is where have I got this image of what I should look like? Of course, like all of us, I’ve spent my life being influenced by society on how a woman should look. And in this country, the going look seems to be hair-free legs, hair-free underarms, and grooming of the bikini line (even if that is just a trim, and not a Brazilian – ouch). And I have adopted that as my normal; as my base line for what is acceptable.
Of course, this is not a new debate, women have plucked and tweezed for centuries. For ancient Egyptians a smooth and hairless body was seen as a sign of beauty. In the Roman Empire, hair removal was often seen as a sign of class, with wealthy women removing their body hair.
The UK joined the hair removal party later, but made a grand entrance when the first women’s razor came out in 1915. And in the same year Harper’s Bazaar magazine featured a model wearing a sleeveless dress and smooth armpits. Then the 1920s sleeveless flapper dresses paved the fashion way for underarm hair removal to become the norm.
In the seventies the fashion to be hairless became a feminist issue, and whilst some women in protest did let their hair run wild and embrace their natural look, the fashion to be hairless has essentially remained with us.
I think I am at the upper end of the attention to hair grooming scale. Most of my friends do follow the legs, underarm and bikini line hair-free protocol, but they may lapse from time to time, without stressing too much. For me it is an every day, don’t-leave-the-apartment-unless, have-never-seen-my-hair, type arrangement. This is not that surprising, when you think I’m also the girl who always has her nails painted, has hair appointments every four weeks, and doesn’t go out without at least a dab of concealer and blush.
But even if we put my extreme commitment – obsession – to one side, I suspect the average woman is following some kind of hair-free strategy. And for some women, alongside the legs, armpits and bikini line, there is also the upper lip, arms, eyebrows, or any other part of the body that has dared to sprout what is deemed by society as inappropriate hair for a woman.
And I also suspect, if you asked most men, they would prefer a groomed woman.
I do have one friend who doesn’t partake in any grooming rituals: her legs, underarms and bikini line are untouched and au naturel. I don’t like the look – but I do applaud her choice. Because that’s what it should be, isn’t it – a choice?
But the trouble is, our choices aren’t made in a vacuum, are they? However strong, independent and intelligent women are, we are inevitably influenced by society’s norms and expected standards.
Yes, I could choose to let it all grow tomorrow, but I don’t want to; I don’t want to see myself hairy. I associate hairiness with unattractiveness, and *gasp* as unfeminine, even though I know rationally this is not true; and even though I am intelligent enough to grasp that the hair-free woman is a stereotype entrenched in years of society norms and media representation.
So as much as I like to think I keep my skin smooth and hair-free for me, it’s the me that has grown-up with this as the expected standard, it’s the me who has spent her life surrounded by hair-free women, it’s the me who has not seen her body hair for something like twenty-five years.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this… Do you embrace the au naturel? Or are you more comfortable with smooth and hair-free?