Body Hair Through The Ages: Why Do Women Shave And Is It Time We Stopped?

Victoria Stokes examines where the 'perfectly smooth' trend came from, and why it's okay to be hairy.

Hair removal is choresome, but why do we do it and is it time we stopped? Victoria Stokes gets to the, er, root cause of the issue.

Confession time: Ever since the first strands of unwanted hair began sprouting through in my teens, I’ve had a complex relationship with my body hair. I remember feeling absolutely mortified when I discovered a thin line of fuzz stemming down from my belly button, an embarrassing perceived ‘flaw’ that I now wax regularly. Likewise, I still feel similarly self conscious about having thick hair on the top of my thighs, choosing to blitz it with a removal cream on a fortnightly basis.

I feel so conflicted about the hair on my body, and the ridiculousness of having to remove it to meet some silly beauty standard, and yet, I can’t forgo my razor for more than a few weeks. As soon as those tiny bits of stubble start to break through I instantly feel less than; less confident, less attractive, and to some extent, less of a woman, all because my body is following a natural process designed to keep me protected.

😂😂 deffo me!! #Spring #SpringHarvest #ItsOnTheWay #LegShaving #LackOf 🙈

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A friend recently shared similar sentiments when she explained that she’d been thinking of giving up shaving but was concerned about what her boyfriend might think. Eventually she let her body hair grow, only to discover that her boyfriend really liked it. “He found it sexy that I was just being myself,” she told me. “I guess he thought it was kind of free-spirited of me and if I was happy, he was happy.” Trouble was, she wasn’t happy. Despite wanting to stop shaving for so long, my friend confessed that she actually felt less feminine when growing out her body hair. She just couldn’t get the idea that hairy equals unattractive out of her head.

The whole body hair removal concept stems right back to Ancient Egypt. Back then, Egyptian women used tweezers made from seashells, pumice stones and sugar-based waxes to stay fuzz-free. Over time having silky, hairless skin became a marker of class. During the rule of the Roman Empire, body hair was considered uncivilised and many wealthy people (both men and women) used razors made from flint to remove it.

Fast forward to the 1990s, and the first female-marketed razors and depilatory creams hit the market, with an ad for one such product promising to remove “humiliating growth on the face, neck and arms.” The advent of modern day porn hasn’t done much to support the hairy can be sexy cause either. Unlike the full bush trend of the 70s, these days it’s rare to see a female porn star sporting anything other than a completely bare ‘down there.’ Perhaps that explains why the Hollywood Wax (AKA the ‘all off’ one) has grown significantly in popularity in recent years, according to a study published in the JAMA Dermatology journal.

Today, we’re continually seeing more and more innovative ways to remain permanently smooth and fuzz-free, from pain-free waxing and threading, to laser removal and epilation. Whatever the method though, the message we’re hearing is loud and clear: body hair is not desirable.

Of course, when female body hair has had such a bad rap for centuries, it’s hardly surprising that so many of us struggle to feel comfortable letting it grow. And yet, there are countless examples of women who do just that despite the backlash. Perhaps Madonna started it with her now-infamous arm pit hair selfie. Since then loads of women have followed suit, proudly posting pics of their hair growth online.

Twitter user Suraiya is one such example that sticks out in my mind. In 2016 she shared a picture of thick hair covering her thighs and her stomach . Predictably, she copped her fair amount of hate, but she also received an encouraging amount of support from women praising her for normalising something that’s often ridiculed and stigmatised. Her picture sent a clear message: it’s okay to have body hair and it’s okay to feel confident about it.

Perhaps times they are a-changing. In pop culture, body hair is slowly but surely becoming more and more accepted. Recently, English journalist Caitlin Moran declared that the time has come for women to rock a “big, hairy muff”, while Gwyneth Paltrow revealed she takes a “70s vibe” approach to her lady garden grooming . Even science is giving female body hair its backing, claiming that our reliance on waxing is helping to spread sexually transmitted infections.

So should you skip the razor and let those strands grow wild and free? Really there is no right or wrong answer to that question. Personally, I’m not sure I’ll ever get to a place where I’ll feel confident showing off fuzzy legs or that little stairway to heaven on my tummy, but I tip my hat to the many women who do. Why? Because they’re making the choice that’s right for them and they’re challenging the male-created vision for what makes a woman beautiful in the process.

Perhaps Suraiya says it best: “I think women should just do what they want. No one should dictate what we embrace. If women want to embrace shaving, then shave, if they want to embrace being hairy – awesome.”

This article first appeared in the August issue of STELLAR Magazine. Our September issue is on shelves now.

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