Is Hair a Feminist Issue?

English: A photo of an American female's under...

English: A photo of an American female’s underarm hair. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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?

11 thoughts on “Is Hair a Feminist Issue?

      • Absolutely! I don’t know if its a perfectionist thing for me (though I definitely am that about a lot of things!) – I very much enjoy baths an grooming generally and it very rarely feels like a chore. I’m with you though – I’ve no idea what my body hair looks like. I also don’t remember my natural hair colour or what shape my natural eyebrows are!

  1. Through out times of ill health beauty rituals like many other things went out of the window, energy was used to make food, eat etc which was more essential to life. As my health has improved over the last few months so has my attention moved to grooming once again however this time around its a little more relaxed, still keep a check on the same areas but a little underarm hair here and there doesn’t hurt anyone (my husband even finds the change sexy sometimes in a Nena 1980’s style). I use my new found energy wisely but for me right now its about being comfortable with who I am and whether that means a little underarm hair or a full hollywood then its OK 🙂 x

    PS. If I ever went natural for a month I would resemble a Gorilla and probably get bananas thrown at me thanks to my natural, thick black hair LOL

    • Hey Sarah

      I admire your more relaxed approach – I’m sure mine is bordering on obsessive (like many areas of my life and personality!).

      Oh yes, I’m dark too, so would probably be a gorilla friend for you 🙂

      Great you’re still doing well. Long may it last…


  2. Our rationality and emotions can be in conflict.

    This man does not prefer hairless. I think the gender competes with the members of its own gender – women comment on women’s fasion, men watch weightlifting.

    It is possible to come to a place where both your thoughts and feelings are honoured and included. To begin try imagining a conversation between you and the part you are shaving. It can be surprising what emerges.

    Unfortunately the ‘rational’ position normally assumes that we can be uninfluenced by our environment and other people. I think this is unlikely to be true. Emmanuel Levinas tried to re-think this – good luck reading his stuff (I find it almost impenetrable).

    • Hey Evan

      Yes, my rationality and emotions are often at odds.

      The men I spoke to (friends and Husband) said even though they respected it should be a choice, they preferred a ‘groomed’ woman. But I’m sure as you say, there are plenty who don’t have this opinion. Although I totall agree that gender competes with gender!

      Oh yes, my rational position thinks it is stronger than environment, even though I know from my years of study that this is near on impossible!

      I will have to try the exercise you have suggested.

      Thank you for the interesting comment Evan.

  3. As an older woman from the US who went to college in the 1980s I lived through the tail end of the hardcore feminist movement. Not shaving was seen as a feminist act. I didn’t start shaving until several years after graduation when I started embracing my softer side and even then it was only pits and lower legs and only in summer when they showed. I think this is mostly from laziness. I have never even plucked my eyebrows (too painful: I’m a wimp as well). Grooming has never been my thing. The faster I can shower and get out of the house the better. In fact, during college, my hair used to freeze into icicles on my walk to class. Right now since I have CFS I no longer shave my pits and legs at all, even in the summer. I bought long skirts to cover my hairy legs instead.

    Several months ago a shaver ad came out where the ornamental bushes around a swimming pool changed shapes when the woman walked past them. I didn’t understand this ad at all. Then I ran across another blog talking about shaving the lady parts. Apparently the trend in porn movies has been to either shave the lady bits completely clean or into distinct shapes, hence the triangular and rectangular bushes in the ad. I find it disturbing that younger women are taking their beauty ideals from the porn industry. This shouldn’t surprise me since this is where we got lipstick, rouge and really high heels. However it does bother me.

    One more thing about shaving. Now that I’m older I’m finding that I have to shave around my mouth or I start growing a mustache and chin hairs. Part of it is the hormone imbalance from the CFS but it is also because I just turned 50 and facial hair is part and parcel of growing older. Apparently I won’t have to worry about grooming my lady bits in a few more years since the hair down there falls out. Who knew!?!

    • Hi Peg

      Thank you so much for taking the time to leave such an interesting comment.

      I really admire your attitude – and think of all the time you’ve saved over the years!

      I think you can get all kinds of shapes created, and you can have them coloured (not that I am a porn expert). Actually, if my memory is serving me correctly, there was an episode in Sex and the City, when Samantha had a red heart created. Yes.

      And as I said to you on Facebook, we also have the ‘vajazzle’ here.

      But I guess a lot of these ‘looks’ go alongside the fake boobs, big lips, heavily made-up, Barbie doll look – all a very long way from au naturel.

      And good to know I have a hairy chin to look forward to?! But also good news on the bikini line front – I never knew that.

      Hope your health is not too bad at the moment.

      See you soon… Xx

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