With summer coming, I’m preparing to tame both my overgrown leg hair, and my now free-growing stomach hair. I will, inevitably, spend an evening waxing my legs, only to see it re-appear a couple of weeks later and start the process all over again.
Women’s body hair feels like a secret that we must keep between ourselves. Of course, men are aware this is part of our beauty regime, but considering how few women I’ve seen with hairy bodies, be it legs, backs, or faces, it can sometimes feel like a myth.
I used to enjoy the yearly cycle of wild hair in winter which I could keep hidden, and my smooth legs in summer that I felt were ‘worthy’ of showing off. But recently I’ve become more aware that the worth I place on being hairless is merely because I grew up seeing this is what it means to be feminine, or beautiful.
Both teenagers and adults alike, unquestionably pursue this ideal of beauty despite the pain and time required. Many girls as young as 12 begin to do so, which is too young to navigate through hair-removal options and be self-conscious about their bodies. Society starts objectifying girls too young, especially as we go through puberty earlier than boys. Girls are altering their bodies to fit ideals of what it means to be an ‘attractive woman’, rather than enjoying childhood.
Increasingly, women are choosing not to remove their body hair, but this choice is often surrounded by controversy, not to mention the stares. As soon as this decision is made, it appears to be some sort of political statement which others feel they are allowed to have an opinion about.
Why is it that a man’s choice about body hair, be it hairless or hairy, is accepted to be due to personal preference, but we women are not allowed that same level of command over our bodies. And it hurts; waxing, razor cuts, hair removal cream burns, or epilation; none of these are pleasant experiences.
Hairlessness is still seen as a defining characteristic of being feminine– men lacking in body hair are, wrongly, considered feminine and women who have it are considered masculine. Masculinity and femininity are perceived to be polar opposites, and this is a requirement that is used to categorise and label.
Artist, Helen Plumb, recently made a short film about this topic with poet Anam Cara titled, “Feminism: A Prickly Subject.” Through the poem, Anam Cara acknowledges the emotional conflict when one goes unshaven: of liberation and the shame which can ensue. Anam Cara describes the fear that summer brings, which resonated with me as when I was young, I used to wear jeans in the boiling sun until I waxed and was hair free, instead of being carefree as one should be during summer.
Helen Plumb elegantly portrays hairy women as feminine, beautiful, and normal, representing us in this way will hopefully be a step towards changing both men and women’s perception about what it means to be feminine or a hairy woman. And, it should mean nothing.
As an Arab woman, I have luscious, thick, very dark hair. This does mean I love my eyebrows, but I am also blessed with a moustache. Sometimes, if I’m feeling confident, I will leave my moustache alone and embrace it. But, it doesn’t take long for me to look around and realise that no other women around me has one, and I end up caving in by waxing it all off.
When boys become teenagers and their moustaches first grow, it’s praised and celebrated; it’s a natural part of puberty and growing up. Ours, which is also a natural part of puberty, is still shrouded in judgement.
When reading women’s experiences with their body hair, and thinking of my own, words such as shame and fear are repeated, thus preventing us from acting how we wish to. Discussions around body image and confidence rarely consider body hair.
While retail brands are (very) slowly using a more diverse range of women in their advertisements, they are yet to cast hairy women as their models, unless the hair is Cara Delavine style eyebrows. If this were to be done, it would normalise the idea, and stop the vulnerability associated with having ‘excessive’ amounts of hair.
I hope this summer more women will feel the decision is theirs, to choose if they want to wax, shave, or grow their hair, and that they still feel feminine.