The Body Hair Issue: Conflict And Judgement In Physical Appearance

Hair! Hair! Everywhere!!! We all have it, regardless of gender or sexual orientation or the multitudinous ways in which we choose to categorise each other as humans. Unless, of course, there is a medical reason behind why you don’t have it, the majority of human beings will have lived and died with its imminent growth their entire lives, those alive on the planet today and going forward in time being no exception. It is an entirely natural occurrence, one that is scientifically substantiated from an evolutionary point of view and, that varies and is affected depending on your genetics, environment and, also any chemical changes that may happen within your body in your lifetime, from, to name a few examples, stress and diet right down to the topical products you use and ageing, which is one of the most constant and fundamental ways through which your body changes. It is a part of our being that is, again, completely natural, yet it is and, has for so long been viewed by modern humans with such disgust and disdain that anyone looking at our species from an outside perspective would think that it is entirely self-inflicted, as this is the overriding attitude that is projected.

The roots of this attitude, pardon the pun, as with many a derogatory point of view are historic and, due to numerous factors that have repeatedly caused them to be pulled into the proverbial firing line, these views have, more often than not, been concentrated towards women, through each society’s changing views of what beauty in women should be. That is not to say that men themselves have not been and are not bullied and belittled regarding the subject of hair, age-related hair loss, male hair length and beard density being among the most common points, but this seems more widely to be the opposite reaction, of the ‘inability’ to grow hair, again, as if it is something that can be helped and is identical for everyone, rather than being berated for having it in spite of society thinking that you shouldn’t. The latter, in itself, is a huge point, that a lot of people, women in this case, are viewed as being ‘dirty’ and ‘untouchable’ if they choose to grow out their hair or, simply because they naturally have body hair, doing so only as a way to spite society by making themselves ‘less appealing’ and ‘less desirable’ to others by not adhering to ingrained and regressive and, frankly, patriarchally-enforced ideals of beauty. The definitions of beauty around the World are variant, however, the idea that women should be smooth and hair-free seems to be one that is becoming more and more universal as this inherently Western concept of ‘beauty’ increasingly infiltrates contrasting global cultures and, is in itself very mutable and, I find it an incredibly oppressive and dangerous thing.

To bring this issue to a domestic level, as always, I am going to start by addressing it from my own experiences and point of view. I was born in England to a family of North Indian descent on both sides and, because of this, I have fairly dark hair. I say ‘fairly’ as, comparatively to the rest of my blood relatives, the hair on my head is more brown-toned than black- I have never dyed it- and, I am also fairer-skinned than most of them (at least the ones that I know), however, the hair on the rest of my body, my face included, is a number of shades darker than that on my head and, also varies significantly in texture from it. This combination of dark hair and light skin has culminated in my body hair being more visible than it would be if my hair was lighter or my skin was darker, by contrast. I have never, to my memory, had any pressure to remove my body hair from any of the females in my family and, certainly not the males as this is very much and, has always been, a no-go area, perhaps as a result of cultural mindsets and traditions and, with regards to this subject, I completely agree with the absence of involvement in it. However, I must emphatically address that, if societal views towards body hair on women had never been an issue and I had never seen a hair removal product or a preened and hair-free woman in the media, for example, even without a direct pressure from people within my proximity, I would probably never have removed or had any kind of desire to remove any hair from my body in any way and, I am certain that this is true for other women as well.

I have so far in my life (I am now 26) at one point or another shaved my armpits, arms, legs, hands and feet, removed hair from my upper lip through both plucking and the use of depillatory creams, plucked and, embarrassingly as a teenager, over-plucked my eyebrows, ‘shaped’ my pubic hair (why and into what shape I don’t know) and, even removed virtually non-existent sideburns from my face using depillatory cream, often burning my already sensitive skin and, almost immediately or a few days after, have still felt like a hairy ogre and, dare I say it, ugly for having to go through this in conflict with my own body, my own hair. And, while we are on the subject, women get hair around their nipples too… In fact, the more hair I have seemed to remove, the more distressed and dissatisfied I have become through then seeing new hairs on different parts of my body, places that I would never have considered as being hairy or, in need of removing any hair from and, thankfully, I have never proceeded to do so in these parts. This sounds completely insane, but I do think it is vividly illustrative of the problem in society of shaming people, women in particular, based on something that grows naturally out of their pores and, I am utterly disgusted by it and slightly disturbed by the recollection of all of these practices.

So damaging is the mentality of body hair being ‘undesirable’ and ‘unwanted’ that it has led and continues to lead women, as detailed in the example above, into a spiral of increasingly drastic, expensive and obsessive measures in a bid to rid themselves of one of the most intrinsic and evident examples of their humanness and, controversially to many, their womanhood, as the appearance of body hair is a definite sign of the transition into becoming a woman and part of the state of being an adult woman, physically, at least. The fact that long hair on the head of a woman is classically seen as a sign of good health and fertility, yet the actuality of body hair, regardless of its length, being viewed as something repulsive and unnatural is deranged to me and, further reinforces the thought that the glorification of a hairless state, with regards to the female form, has everything to do with a sick motivation to preserve females in a state of ‘innocence’, like doll-like artefacts in museums, in their pre-adolescent, child-like forms, whilst at the same time viewing a hairless body as something that is sexually alluring and appealing to others in this way, ‘nice to look at and to touch’ for the same reasons- if that is not fucked-up, I don’t know what is.

To draw on an earlier point, it must also be stressed that there is an awful lot of money to be made from monopolising on the public humiliation tied into having body hair, by companies that create products intended to eradicate this ‘problem’. You need only to look around you to see the endless brands of razors, creams, home waxing kits, epilators and, now, light-based gadgets communicated as ‘treatments’ for body hair- anything that allows you to shave, pluck, rip and burn your way out of this natural human state, approached from a marketing angle as solutions to the ‘disease of body hair growth’, like a poster for an old B-movie. And so many women, myself included, have bought and continue to buy into it as it is conveyed as a method of cleanliness and personal grooming, but it has absolutely nothing at all to do with hygiene. I read an article a few months ago in one of The Guardian’s supplements about the difference in price between products targeted towards men and women and, how items used by both genders, for example, razors, are manufactured in exactly the same way, but to visually identify them as being made specifically ‘for women’, by colouring them pink, for example, means that the same product will cost more, even though there is no discrepancy, apart from the colour, in the way they have been made and what they do. This is not the only example of how women are commercially targeted with messages to injure their image and self-esteem- attitudes towards menstruation and the related products being a ‘luxury’, for a great one- but they are continually disguised as being for our benefit, to ‘improve’ us and to make us ‘better’ in whatever unrealistic, unattainable, ever-changing and subjective way that may be. It makes you feel like you are just part of some colossal experiment, humorous to those who are devising it and, as long as your image as a woman can be trivialised and exploited, that you will never be taken seriously as a woman in society and, it is not only a number of men who are responsible for this. Observation of the world around me and personal experience has opened my eyes to how ingrained these controlling and disparaging attitudes are in women and, it makes me feel ashamed to be a part of the same gender, even though I do not support or substantiate the views of women like these.

I got married in 2014 and, a few days prior to the wedding ceremony, booked myself in for a full leg wax. The woman taking the appointment, who was also the owner of the salon that I chose, seemed to be from a similar background to me, based on her name and the frothy conversation we had about Indian relatives and their conventional and comical behaviours during weddings, that sort of light-hearted and uncommitted, yet generally relatable thing. After I had removed my trousers and set myself down upon the salon chair (which, for all intents and purposes, was a gurney with padding and a paper sheet over it for hygiene purposes, perhaps, but not intentionally, demonstrative of the ordeal to come), upon seeing my legs, she rather brazenly asked me, “How does your fiancé put up with this?”. Being almost a year and a half ago, the exact wording of the question may have been lost, but the essence of how my other half ‘tolerates’ (and it may have been this word she used) my leg hair was very much that direct and answered with an equally honest and blunt, “It doesn’t bother him”, after which she continued with the job, but with a look of palpable uncertainty in her eyes at what I had told her. There are several points about this incident that are significant, no one more important than the other, the first being that the hair that she was so outwardly repelled by is part of what allows her to maintain a salon business in the first place as people in need of hair removal go to her for a service she provides, which also includes other forms of body waxing and eyebrow shaping by various methods, including tweezing, waxing and threading, to give a few examples. Secondly, why she felt that my natural growth was something that would make my soon to be husband and, then partner of three years, less attracted to me and, by the manner in which it was conveyed, something that she thinks I should be gravely ashamed of when she knows nothing about what or how either of us think and, furthermore, felt involved enough to vocalise it astounds me and, I’m sure this is a reaction that a number of her clients have put up with too, to use her own words. I have absolutely no idea what possessed her to do this, but I can hazard a guess that this haughty and presumptuous attitude has undoubtedly been born out of the ones in society of body hair being ‘repugnant’ and anyone sporting it being ‘undesirable’, so very wrongfully, as I have mentioned. The fact that this came from a woman and does similarly from so many like her for reasons of validating themselves by trying to demean other women, or also because they are incapable of viewing and accepting varying life perspectives intensifies the problem, I believe, as it internalises and encloses the attitudes within the gender that unites so many of the natural things that we share. It upsets me, as factors that should provide a common ground between women are being used as a means of competing against them in order to propel their own image forward and, it is nothing more than a form of bullying in itself. Needless to say, I have not been back there and will not do so.

As far as hair removal goes, the only things that I personally do now on a regular basis are pluck my eyebrows, remove the hair from my upper lip and shave my armpits, doing them both when I have the time and when I can be bothered with the chore of them and, this has remained my routine since my late-teens. I very rarely shave my legs or attempt to remove the hair from them in any way unless an event calls for it and the circumstance of having to uncover them is unavoidable. Even in warm weather, unless I am by the sea or go somewhere public where the heat is unbearable so I can’t cover my legs, I will continue to wear trousers of some description or wear tights with a skirt that are thin enough to let my skin breathe, but dark enough so that my leg hair won’t be noticeable and, again, this is the way that it has been for years (and, sometimes, I just enjoy wearing dark, patterned, or coloured tights). It may sound incredibly arduous and inconvenient and like I am compromising wearing certain things for being conscious of the hair on my legs and, I am not going to lie, it can be both of these things. However, if the act of removing the coarse, dark hair from my legs wasn’t so time-consuming and tedious and offered a sustained amount of permanence with regards to smoothness, I would take it in a heartbeat. But, also, if the attitudes towards body hair had never existed or been made such a huge deal in our society, then I probably wouldn’t feel the pressure to remove my hair at all, as I mentioned earlier on in this post. With regards to facial hair, ever since my aunt first plucked my eyebrows for me upon my asking her to when I was fourteen, I have loved the way neatened and shapely brows make me feel and, the immediate lift and luminosity that they give to my face and features in a way that makes me happy to look at myself in the mirror, likewise with removing the hair on my upper lip. There is also an argument in this point, of women removing their body hair because they maintain that it makes them feel good to have smooth, hairless skin and, that it makes them feel more ‘feminine’, however, the entire impetus behind this piece was to raise the issue and thought of whether having body hair as a woman would be such a source of contention if it had not been advertised as a problem to be dealt with for the reasons discussed and, I hope I have addressed it well.

There is now a rising trend of women, young women particularly, who seem to be rebutting the embedded and accepted ideals of beauty by growing out their armpit hair. Although I think that this is a move in the right direction of destigmatising the reality of body hair on women by being open and initiating the discussion about it, I believe that the manner in which it is aporoached must be changed, as it comes across, especially through social media, as an act that is done to promote the self and the image that one wants to portray through sharing photos captioned with text detailing virtuousness, but, in my opinion, the fact of doing so dilutes and falsifies the cause and, I have come across a great number of these women who will neither address nor respond to the genuine curiosities of others when confronted. It is a very real issue anchored with conflict of society and self- it really shouldn’t be, but it is and the thoughts of one person, or any number of people, cannot remove prejudices or educate without people, fellow human beings, being prepared to support them in challenging ingrained views, in men and women alike.

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