Tuesday, March 12, 2013

#8 Women + Body Hair = ???

When people think feminist, the image of a woman with hairy legs who never showers comes to mind. While this is a bit of a stereotype, there is some truth to the fact that a section of the women's rights movement centers around body hair positivity, and the attempt to destroy the idea that to be feminine is to be hairless. Women who decide to go "all natural" and live with body hair are often viewed as social pariahs, but usually only in America. In a sense, America has effectively brainwashed us into believing in a certain idea of beauty. There is really nothing natural about shaving body hair, and if you look at other countries and their women, you'll see that very few shave and wax and pluck to the extent of women (and sometimes men) in America. The idea of needing to be pure and "clean" was a constructed idea, and the fact that women are sometimes seen as "gross" just because they have hair on their bodies is completely ridiculous. If we truly want our youth to grow up with a healthy idea of beauty standards, one aspect of that should definitely begin with body hair.
The removal of underarm hair began in 1915. What some regard as the "Great Underarm Campaign" consisted of a series of marketing campaigns that told women that to be beautiful, they had to shave their armpits. In Harper's Bazaar, a beautiful young woman was depicted holding her arms over her heads while wearing a sundress. Her armpits were shaven, and the caption read: "Summer Dress and Modern Dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair." There suddenly became a pertinent need for women to shave, and the new fashion trend was simply a sleek, clean armpit As skirts started to get shorter and society felt a need to see a woman's legs, corporations began to ran advertisements that cited the hairless Greek statues of women, trying to embed the idea that a hairless woman was a tradition set in place since the blooming of art itself. So, in a sense, we have been brainwashed. Little girls and boys grow up to watch advertisements and movies and television shows and their mothers and their friends and their role models with their bare legs and bare armpits and clean eyebrows and shaven upper lips. They grow up to hear these individuals speak about the troubles of shaving, while still relaying a sense that it is something that they need to do. 
(Emer O'Toole on This Morning)

The reason why shaving is held with such value isn't only due to societal pressures, though. It also has to do with the potential backlash. In May of 2012, a woman named Emer O'Toole went on a show called "This Morning," and exhibited her hairy armpits and legs. Naturally, there was a large outcry. One blog post in particular stated, "Watching her I nearly parted with my breakfast." The post went on to explain how it was a woman's duty to keep herself free of hair, and that any recent people who decided to do otherwise were just dumb, radical feminists. All of this hateful speech came from a woman. It is appalling to think that even women would think to join in with society and lower themselves to the position of an object of beauty and then, in turn, call a woman 'un-feminine' if she herself does not do so. Shaving is, essentially, a part of beauty, and beauty in our culture can often have damaging effects on women. In a society where women are mainly judged on their appearance, making fun of other women who do not try to look what is considered "the best" doesn't help anyone, it only adds to the problem. Now, there's nothing wrong with shaving. If it's what a woman or man feels they have to do, then they should be allowed to do it without being mocked or criticized. But this should go across the board. If a woman or man also does not feel like shaving at all, then they too should be free of criticism. 
One body-positive article states that a woman's road to women's rights usually begins with looking in the mirror and recognizing how deeply these imaginary ideals have been internalized. Once people start recognize that these ideals have merely been created in order to be used as weapons to create a horde of buyers who will buy whatever they can to erase any insecurity created by corporations, they might begin to cease judging those who choose not to conform to that standard. A person is still a person whether or not they don't look a certain way, and a woman is still a woman whether or not she shaves.

Cecil, Adams. "Who Decided Women Should Shave Their Legs and Underarms?" The Straight Dope. The Straight Dope, 6 Feb. 1991. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
Erikson, Jenny. "Arm Shaving Is One More Way Women Torture Themselves in the Name of Beauty." The Stir. CMI, 12 Mar. 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
Platell, Amanda. "A Feminist Statement? No, Untamed Body Hair Is the Pits!" Mail Online. Daily Mail, 9 May 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
Skerman-Grey, Tasha. "Feminism, Body-Hair Activism and Anti-Capitalism." The Occupied Times RSS. The Occupied Times, 31 Dec. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.


  1. I absolutely agree. Women and men should have the right to choose what they look like and not be criticized for doing so. Just because someone doesn't shave doesn't mean they are any less beautiful. While I personally shave frequently, I do not have a problem with those who choose not to. In fact, more power to them because that just shows that they are perfectly happy with the natural look of their body and don't give in to the pressures of today's society.

  2. I agree. It isnt right to say that "not shaving" isnt natural, when really its completely natural haha. If men don't have to shave their armpits or legs, then why should we? Sometimes people, such as me, really just dont have time to shave every night. Though I like feeling clean, I don't feel that shaving needs to be a necesity...

  3. During middle school, there was a huge pressure to look good, wear branded clothes, etc. People just looked at you in a weird way if you didn't shave. Even at our high school, I was asked if it was a "religious thing" when I told someone I didn't shave - before I clarified that I do wax. It's not a necessity, although some do it for utility (swimmers, for instance). I admit that I did it to look good, before I understood that outer beauty isn't everything. I hope girls in the future aren't pressured into doing it like I was, and that social attitudes toward waxing will change for the better.

  4. I agree with your position. I do think women have way too much pressure to be well groomed at all times, but I'm so used to that expectation that I never really think about it. When I saw that picture of Emer O'Toole, it was kind of shocking because I've never seen that, but more power to her for not being afraid.

  5. In today's society, women are held to a higher standard when it comes to grooming. There is such a double standard when it comes to appearances; men don't have to shave anything and nobody cares. People often relate shaving to personal hygiene when it has nothing to do with cleanliness. As a Muslim, I do not show my legs so I don't see the point in shaving them everyday. This issue is just another example of the industry's morphed image of perfection.

  6. Oh I totally appreciate this article. I remember the instant I reached middle school everyone had shaved everything and it was a totally conforming society. I agree with Ayesha when she said that some relate shaving to personal hygiene because they do. People think that if one doesn't shave then she does not care for her looks, dirty, and or other incredibly ridiculous ideas. It's not that I find anything wrong with shaving, but I don't like how nowadays shaving is seen as the precursor of achieving the feminine ideal. Also, the media has crossed further boundaries by claiming that the masculine ideal is a shaved man. I, personally, find it weird that a man would want to shave at all, but unfortunately, that is what 'the shaving ideal' has come to in this age.

  7. I agree that it doesn't make a woman any less of a woman to not shave, but I think it will be a long time before it becomes the norm for people to be okay with women's body hair. I personally don't see why it has to be such a huge deal. Why should women have to shave to be socially accepted?

  8. I agree that shaving and grooming should not be a necessity for women, but I do feel that many women would do it anyway even if society was not pressuring them to just because they are uncomfortable. You can see this now, like you mentioned, with men that shave their bodies. Society doesn't pressure them into doing this, but some just feel comfortable with this practice.