Before sitting down to pen this post, I went through the Four Stages of Post Denial that I ALWAYS go through whenever I’m about to discuss a subject that, shock horror, has been talked about somewhere else on the Internet, previously.
“Oh no, it’s been done before, it’s been done better, readers will be bored”.
“Why should they be bored? They aren’t expecting BREAKING NEWS on AOW, they’re expecting a chat”.
“But they come here to be made to think”
“Anna K, sorry to break it to you, but you are not the first person in the world to have felt strongly about the injustice of body hair. Now make yourself a cup of tea, shut up, and write”.
Yes, ma’am. However strong my critical voice may be, my reality check voice is always stronger.
Body hair. Its relation to feminism has always been tricky. At some point, it became perfectly reasonable for women to spend time, money and sense stripping, plucking, shaving and waxing their body hair off. I was having an eyebrow wax last week and a 12-year-old was getting her legs done in the room next to mine. Twelve. At twelve, I was reading the Secret Seven and sitting in a tree. I don’t think I even knew I HAD legs when I was twelve.
I am as guilty as anyone else. From top to bottom, these are my body parts on which hair dare not see the light of day; eyebrows, underarms, bikini line, legs. I justify my (frankly extortionate, but by modern standards fairly relaxed) body-hair-removal regime because I nip into the salon for a wax on the way home, or as-I’m-in-the-shower-I-may-as-well-do-my-legs. I’ve fit this “necessity” into my life, justifying it, rationalising the removal of body hair because it feels nicer, because it’s what’s done, because it makes me look more groomed. I spend over £40 per month and god knows how many hours on this farce.
And what’s worrying, is that what I remove isn’t even exorbitant. I know women who wax their arms, stomach, feet, face. The first time I met Erika, my brilliant-yet-slightly-terrifying wax lady, she was doing my eyebrows and then asked me if I wanted my mustache done as well.
“What mustache?” I calmly queried. As calmly as you can when there is hot wax millimeters from your eyeball.
“Oh, you know, all the hair on your upper lip”
I declined. No thanks. I’m not gonig t0 remove something I can’t see unless a 600-watt light is being shone directly into my face. But it still made me wonder. Someone else would say yes to that seemingly reasonable request, and then spend the rest of their life having to wax their mustache and deal with repeated stubble growth on their upper lip. No-one needs to be pressured into that.
There are two sides to this issue that concern me. The first is that “smooth” women are considered the status quo, and to be hairy is unusual, that it’s the woman making a statement, remaining bewhiskered to make a point about feminism or the beauty myth. What if they just, perfectly reasonably, could not be arsed to shave? It can’t be just me who is sorely tempted to never, ever shave again, just because I can’t be bothered, rather than to make a complex feminist statement.
The second side is darker, and more disturbing. The more hair we remove, the more child-like we make our bodies. Is that what we seek, ultimately? Is that what the media pitches? I have tried to find a reason for it, what a hair-free body ultimately represents, why it’s seen as attractive. Turning back the clock? Control? Putting a firm, inescapable divide between men and women?
Alice, the brains behind the funny and wise blog Wonder In Aliceland has been growing her body hair for six months. You can (and should) read about her experiment in Hirsuite Suits Her (deep title envy) over on AWOT. It contains my contender for the best line about body hair ever, effortlessly merging Dad’s Army and bikini lines:
“…who drew the bikini line? How did they manage to get it so wrong? And why are they allowed to keep on invading further inwards, (I have the title sequence of Dad’s Army in mind), until some people feel it necessary to conceal all evidence that they ever underwent puberty? And to continue down this tangent, in what sort of confused and broken world is this childification of women’s bodies considered sexy?”
Now I try not to be preachy and inflexible on AOW, sometimes to the detriment of my writing (it’s a fine line between being opinionated and open-minded in posts and I’m still learning), but I am standing firm on my soapbox about The Bikini Line, that well-known line of demarcation in your knickers. I am a firm believer in actually having Hair Down There. Having nothing whatsoever, or one of those annoying, boxy landing strips is just really, really weird. That is not what you look like naturally, and yes I know I wax but for the love of God, try to at least vaguely leave a trace of a reminder that you are a) adult and b) human. Waxing to tidy up? Fine. Waxing to emulate a department-store mannequin? Not fine. You may as well shave it into your favourite national flag or engage in topiary to make a political statement. Caitlin Moran said it best in How To Be A Woman:
“…in recent years I have become more and more didactic about pubic hair – to the point where I now believe that there are only four things a grown, modern woman should have: a pair of yellow shoes (they unexpectedly go with everything), a friend who will come and post bail at 4am, a failsafe pie recipe, and a proper muff. A big, hairy minge. A lovely furry moof that looks – when she sits, naked – as if she has a marmoset sitting in her lap. A tame marmoset, that she can send off to pickpocket things, should she so need it – like that trained monkey in Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
That we expect women to conform to this shaven standard is, frankly, farcical. How long do you reckon this sham would last if it were men who were expected to wax, shave, pluck and epilate themselves into oblivion?
I’m all for freedom of choice and women having the right to get their hair-free armpits out in public. I suppose what I’m asking is for you to think, the next time you shave your legs. About why you’re doing it. Why smooth legs in the bright sunshine, to many, just seems like a nicer thing. Why an unkempt bikini line visible on the beach is seen by many as mortifying. Why we’ve justified this inane amount of effort and time because we’re women, and removing hair is what we do.