Drawing the bikini line

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.

Categories: Body Image, Politics and Feminism, Written By Anna
43 interesting thoughts on this

43 Comments

  1. Vivienne
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I’m a nearly £40 a month waxer also – but that’s just on my face. Sadly, dark locks against pale skin also bring dark hairs everywhere else. With PCOS ruled out, it’s just an affliction suffered by both my mothers and aunties, and not fancying laser (having to leave the hair to grow for 8 weeks and shaving in between *shudder*) or electrolysis, waxing is the most convenient option. After a good few years of persistently pulling the little blighters from their follicular homes, they are starting to behave slightly more like they should, pregnancy hormones concentrating on covering my belly in hairs instead.

    As for my bikini line – I like it tidy but relatively au naturel – it grows there for a reason and the bare naked baldy look doesn’t appeal to me at all.

  2. Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    All of the above and then… the pain. I don’t pluck/wax/shape or otherwise groom in any way my eyebrows, I shave my legs rarely (if I’m in the mood to have smooth legs, but honestly, it is rare), I shave my armpits roughly once a fortnight, and I never ever shave or wax my bikini line. Basically, I am not up for causing myself pain in order to appear more arbitrarily attractive to another human.

    Because seriously, why? It. Freaking. Hurts. Waxing hurts. Plucking hurts. Why do women exist in this conspiracy of silence against the pain? Shaving may not hurt (unless you are, like me, truly cack-handed with a razor) but it’s uncomfortable. And it’s unnecessary. It grinds women down, it tells them endlessly that they are not enough the way they are. It implies that a woman, naturally, has something wrong with her, and she has to change to be attractive. That is not okay. If you WANT to remove your body hair, then go nuts, but I beg every single woman in the world to realise that feeling that you HAVE to is a societal construct that teaches women that they are not naturally ‘okay’, and it’s bullshit and it’s unfair.

    Ahem. Rant over. I’m going to go and calmly eat my lunch.

    K x

  3. Clare
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Anna K – I’m not sure that I believed that someone could top Caitlin’s words on Pubic hair. But you?

    You have just done so.

    On AOW.

    I am so proud.

    And I love you (and your moustache).

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      I am twirling my moustache in glee.

      • Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        I have some brightly coloured beads if you want to decorate the ends, K…

  4. Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Anna you are brilliant :)

    I’ve thought about writing about this on FF recently but then declined, because frankly, nobody needs to know what their GP’s bikini line looks like, or even consider the notion. And it’s hard to write a post like this without divulging.

    I love however that you have given an airing to the idea that the ‘nude’ look is pre-pubescent…

    I know women who say they are appalled by their own body hair (location notwithstanding) and it just lead me to think, really? You are because you just are, or because some male idiot or equally idiotic beauty magazine has put it into your head that the right/sexy/attractive way to be is hairless?

    I also love that you have brought up the fact that it’s a bl@*dy ball-ache doing all this stuff and sometimes I just can. not. be. bothered. Underarms I do daily in the shower, but the legs? Well in this weather, I’m more likely to reach for the trousers and manage a swipe over the legs in haste if the sun makes an appearence. It’s not a feminist statement. I just have better things to do with my time and I know any sane woman might notice a bit of stubble fleetingly around the ankle, then get on with their own day!

    *For the record, I am not sporting a marmoset and prefer a tidy lady garden as my friend calls it ;) – I like to be able to wear very short shorts in the garden or a bikini without any surprise visitors having knowledge of areas only my husband should see!

  5. Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    PS – Somebody somewhere has always written a blog post you consider writing. The trick is to write it YOUR way.

  6. Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    The most worrying thing I’ve seen on this subject recently? Cherry Healey on BBC3 asking men whether they would rather have sex with a hairy woman or break their foot. They all chose a broken foot, disgusted to even think about looking a woman with un-shaved legs. For goodness sake, guys, are you *really* saying that if a woman got naked and offered herself to you but she hadn’t done her bikini line you would tell her to get dressed? I can honestly say that my husband has NEVER noticed whether I’ve done any kind of hair removal or not, unless I’ve literally put my freshly de-haired leg in front of him and asked whether I’ve missed a bit.

    Do you know what, ladies? If you want to spend money and time on taking away completely natural hair, that is absolutely fine with me. Just do not hide the fact and do not look disgusted if your friend exclaims that they can’t be arsed to shave their legs before going out.

    (And I’m glad you opened this topic Anna, even if it has been ‘done’ before.)

  7. Caroline
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Can we start a ‘pubic hair anonymous’ for those people who couldn’t give a monkeys what their downstairs area looks like as long as it not poking out of their bikinis? I would join. Legs and eyebrows I can get on with as other people see them but I DARE my boyf to complain about my muff garden. If he does I will stop letting him see it!!!
    And to be honest I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care/notice!

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Caroline, your comment just made me snort tea out of my nose. I love the indignant tone!

    • Clare
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      ‘I DARE my boyf to complain about my muff garden. If he does I will stop letting him see it’

      Potentially my favourite line from the comments so far today.

      • Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        C, i’m printing out that line and taping it into the shower and replacing “boyf” with “husband”

        Poor Mr K. I don’t think he HAS ever complained, yet here I am, dragging him into the fray…

        • Caroline
          Posted July 31, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

          My young man is a sweetheart (of course i think that!!) and I genuinely believe he couldn’t give a flying wotsit what is going on “down there”. He is of the breed that can’t believe his luck that someone is letting him see naked girl bits so I shouldn’t be too indignant really.
          In contrast it has taken me a fair while to not be embarrassed about having my bits the way nature intended as there is such a stigma surrounding the whole thing. Who is the first lady to have had a trim and can we take it in turns to dunk her into bath water as punishment?
          Ps I have just had to google what a marmoset looks like and I must say.. How cute! Who wouldn’t want their gardens compared to that!!

  8. Zan
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Ah body hair. It’s taken me years to make peace with mine. I think what I do is pretty minimal in terms of taming, but can’t deny that Jolen is my friend. With an unfortunate combination of asian heritage, not so dark skin and PCOS, it’s always been something I used to dwell on far too much.

    Sometime it’s hard not to – especially given the way the media deals with it. I’m sure I’m not the only one who notice the absolute roasting the press gave Pixie Lott recently for being brazen enough to have hairy armpits at the Batman premiere? I read one article that actually called it ‘disgusting’ – had to stop reading I was that angry. With those kind of attitudes floating around it’s no wonder women feel massively pressured to have hairless child-like bodies lest they be smitted down from on high by the god of waxing…… *

    Incidently I once had my arms waxed. It was nice for about 2 days then itched like anything as the hair grew back. Never again.

    *really really hoping there’s not a god of waxing…..

  9. Alex D
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Hair removal is the bane of my life! I am pale yet have dark hair. Left unattended, I would have a monobrow and a moustache Tom Selleck would lust after. Threading is my preferred method of facial de-fuzzing, and, like a lot of other readers I shave my armpits mostly every other day and shave my legs when I need to. (Mr D is SUCH a lucky man). The media sees hairy females as odd. Anyone remember *that* picture of Julia Roberts when her armpit hair was left SHOCK unattended? I’m all for free choice. If you want to plait your body hair, let it grow, never shave/pluck/wax again – go for it. If I did – I’d look like a chuffing gorilla.

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      Or the one of Pixie Lott the other day! Couldn’t believe the vilification.

  10. B
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Cleanliness, for personal reasons not for a man I’ve had it all lasered off. Saves finding time to sort yourself out when the Sun suddenly pops out.
    I don’t sit naked contemplating how old my vagina looks.

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      Is it more clean to remove it, though? I don’t have a medical degree but I don’t think having a marmoset leads to lice and dirt.

  11. Posted July 31, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m quite relaxed about my body hair, I shave my legs when I can be bothered, my pits every couple of days, pluck my eyebrows a bit, and keep things trimmed and tidy elsewhere. I’ve waxed once and I had a horrid alergic reaction, vowed never to try it again.

    What worries me is the way the hairless trend started with porn, and only then because it was easier to see what was happening rather than a statement on grooming, but it’s filtered down into the mainstream so easily that it’s now expected of women, and other porn trends seem to be following suit. It’s scary.

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      there was a really good artcle in the Times two weekends ago about what is not expected of young girls sexually, because it’s filtered down from the porn industry. It has a lot to answer for. One for another post, perhaps!

  12. Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Also, I remember a friend at Uni who was late to blossom in terms of relationships asking me what men expected things to be like ‘down there’ – I replied as long as it’s clean it shouldn’t matter.

    I did go through a phase of plucking mine into random shapes though. It was a heart for a good year or so.

  13. Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Let’s not forget the fashion element to body image that extends as far as hair and skin tone. 70s bush v 00′s TOWIE vajazzle, anyone? A fashion you can choose to follow, or not.

    I intend to teach any kids of mine that body hair is perfectly natural but it’s up to them, and them alone, whether they want to remove it.

    As for me? Well, I really wish more people were comfortable in their own skin. It really saddens me that there needs to be a sections in books devoted to what sort of topiary a woman has hidden in her pants – I’m not aware of a male equivalent – but judging by the response that subjects like this evoke, it seems that they are needed. Why do women feel the need to justify their choices? I love being a woman but sometimes I really see the appeal to being a man. On the whole, they accept who they are without this constant self criticism or concern for what others think of their appearance. Perhaps it was to do with being ill but I’ve found these things no longer bother me. I love my body for what it allows me to do, not what it looks like (whether au naturale or primped and preened), and no one is going to make me change my mind. It’s a body that allows me to live. To experience. To love. If they think I might be too hairy or smooth, too fat or too slim, too flat chested or busty,(insert any other oft-voiced concern) they can shove my acquaintance. Life’s too short for me to bother with people like that.

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Last six lines of this comment? Perfection. Might make this my mantra!

    • Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      I want to cheer and wave a flag at this comment.

      • Clare
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        When Anna joined AOW, all those eons ago, she promised flags. None have appeared as yet. I feel let down.

        • Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

          I’ve been too busy cultivating my ‘tache.

        • Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

          I’ll make some. Peach and grey with a butterfly motif.

        • Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

          I have waited for the postman *every* day since that day Anna K joined, willing him to bring me a peach and grey envelope containing a flag

          • Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

            Erm can I remind Team AOW that somewhere in your bio we were promised T-shirts too….

    • Alex D
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      If I could get away with it (am more cul-de-sac than street) then I’d say “you go girlfriend” at this comment. The last six lines especially, like Anna said. P.S. I think we need flags and/or like buttons.

  14. Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Duplicate post – sorry!

  15. Kate
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    I get my legs and bikini line (I actually get a Brazilian because it feels like better value for money!) religiously every 4 weeks but that means that for at least 2 weeks of this my legs are pretty fuzzy. I’ll still wear a skirt with no tights even if I’m overdue a wax and I often forget to shave underarms. I just don’t really care that much if anyone thinks it’s disgusting or weird, and mostly I can’t see who would notice anyway (maybe that’s me being a bit naive!).

  16. Mrs Jones
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant, brilliant post :)

    This is a much spoken about debate between my friends and I. There are various thoughts and we have all altered our opinions over the years. I tried going bare once and my hubby had a fit and wouldn’t come near me until I looked like a woman again ;) So I sport a trimmed noo noo and still look like a lady :D

    I am only majorly fussed about underarms being done all the time, I do think that’s minging to leave them hairy! Legs are a faff so only get done in sunny times or if I look and realise I look like a goat. I am lucky though in that I’m blonde so am not so obviously hairy, if I was I may have a different opinion..

  17. PiriyaP
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    I too feel strongly about this topic Anna, thank you so much for listening to your inner reality check voice! Whilst I agree with the underarm hair removal because it’s just not nice having to see what looks like another human head escaping from the tops of your arms, the way I see it is we already go through enough pain each month without having to go shredding our down belows to pieces. God gave us hair down there for a reason so bloody hell use it! :)

  18. Claire
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Good post – it always makes me laugh to hear girls talk about “just not liking” being hairy as though they are immune to the pressure that the media and the rest of society puts on us women.

    I shave my (not particularly hairy) legs about once a month in the summer and my armpits once a week. I find the old armpits are a bit more prone to pong if I don’t shave. These days I just trim the hoo ha having given up waxing after realising that spending £30 to get someone else to inflict excrutiating pain was mindless insanity. I have never met a boy who was overly fussed one way or the other as long as it is trimmed and access is not affected – I know I wouldn’t want to have to use a machete to get to the good stuff so I don’t think a partner should have to either! My husband trims his thatch as it’s only fair, and things look nicer if they are neat I reckon.

  19. Alice
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Joining the pale skin, dark hair and PCOS brigade. Hair removal is an ongoing battle. I spend approx £70 every 6 weeks or so on waxing and electrolysis. I like my legs hair free but I also can cope in between times, the hair is less than it was, with bald patches where it no longer grows on some bits. I have a “G string” bikini. Which just is a little bit higher than normal. But the pubic hair is there for a reason and I don’t understand why anyone would want no hair at all there.

    As for underarms, I wax which does leave me with hairy pits probably for longer periods than not. But at some point they will start to get less hairy and I will hopefully get them lasered at some point. I find hairy armpits most embarrassing and horribly sweaty and smelly if they are too long (so they aren’t allowed to get that long!)

    If it were not for a vast amount of electrolysis, I would have been able to be a sideshow as a bearded lady. And found it incredibly distressing. luckily never had too much of a moustache, but have been known to get the bleach out on occasion. I work as a nurse and do know of nurses who will shave old ladies chins, whilst in hospital if they are very hairy, personally only do if it is obvious that they do it already. So unfortunately the pressure never ceases how ever old you are!

    But I did come across a very odd blog post recently about a women who had had her nose hair waxed! Could not understand why you would do that!

  20. Posted July 31, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Ah ha! The old pubic hair debate. Nice one Anna. I wax and shave but am equally happy to go out in public hairy. Not in a ‘look at me! I’m a feminist!’ way but more in a ‘I literally forgot/ran out of time/couldn’t be bothered to do that and I don’t have a problem with it’ way. I just don’t care either way, it depends how I’m feeling.

    I think it is too easy to pigeon hole women when it comes to waxing/shaving/plucking etc. though. I guess it comes back to that age old problem of women being the first/worst to judge other women. It’s one thing to ask us to think about why we are/n’t doing these things but another to say if you do a certain thing it’s somehow contributing to a downward spiral of the way women are perceived in our society. I know I don’t feel any less of a feminist when I’m hair free to when I’m hairy. Do you?

  21. Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    what a post. What a great set of comments!
    I read this just as I was booking an eyebrow wax online. No joke. I am pretty rubbish with tweezers and have a hefty scar across one brow leaving me with a constant ‘Oh really..’ look on my face, so I leave it to the pros to even them out. That or live by the time my nan asked me why my eyebrow looked like one of the guys off Blazin’ Squad (top of the pops – cool nan!).
    As for elsewhere I’m pretty fair so shave the legs when I can be bothered, and tidy down there. I gave myself a bikini wax once to see what the deal was but was pretty unimpressed, I figured I could do the job myself instead of showing it all to a stranger though so never booking in for that!
    I do feel better about myself when I’ve had a could scrub, shave and moisturise sesh, though mostly spend that evening after in a big fluffy robe all glowy and shiny rather anything that emulates a porn-star!
    Lx

  22. Posted July 31, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been known to end up wearing knee high boots in summer because I haven’t shaved my legs, which actually, when you think about it, is pathetic isn’t it? Really, really wish such a stupid stereotype had never started.

  23. Carolanne
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    I am quite sure that one day, ladies of the world will look back upon a time when we engaged in overpriced, uncomfortable procedures to remove all fuzz – just as once people browned their teeth to show they could afford sugar. Tis but the fashion of the day. High five to those who are blissfully au naturel, and God speed those with one leg in the air. For every bikini line eradicated, there are fake lashes applied in their place. Like planting a tree. Right?

  24. Peridot
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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