Women have had a difficult relationship with their body hair for decades. Keeping our legs perfectly shaven became the social norm in the 1940s, and since then the expectation to remain hairless and silky smooth at all times has persisted tenaciously.
The pandemic saw a new wave emerge. One that gave women the privacy, time, and space to let their body hair grow to their hearts’ content. Are women’s relationships with their body hair changing for the better? Or has the unsurmountable presence of social media content damped any hopes of feminine body hair becoming anything more than a niche pipe dream?
Before armpit and leg hair removal became popular, hair removal advertisements primarily focused on facial, neck, and forearm hair.
In the 1920s, the idea of a woman shaving her legs was newsworthy. Why on earth would a lovely, delicate lady want to rid her legs of their natural body hair?
Around the same time, shaving under the arms was becoming ‘fashionable,’ with a quote from a 1922 ad in Harper’s Bazaar reading, “The Woman of Fashion says the underarm must be as smooth as the face.”
It’s hard to pin down whether advertisements are to blame for the new standard of shaving for women. As the decades went on, shaving became less of a fashion statement and more of an expectation.
In the 1980s, public hairstyles became popular. Now, women weren’t just expected to remove their facial, underarm, and leg hair– they also had to ‘style’ or completely remove their public hair.
Meanwhile, men were left alone to grow their body hair in peace.
A Hairy Lockdown
When put in isolation for over a year, women were left to think about how and why they presented themselves to the world and themselves. Amongst other questions, many stopped to ask, “Who am I really shaving for?”
According to Refinery 29, many women decided to let their hair grow freely during quarantine, and in turn, learned to love it. Removing body hair can be expensive, painful, and time-consuming.
One young woman said, “Before, I’d remove my arm hair and facial hair because I’ve had friends say that it’s ‘too much’ but being alone with my body has made me realize that it’s just hair. While I do remove my facial hair now things are lifting, it feels liberating not to have to remember to shave my arms. Previously, I’d spend so much time and money on hair removal but this summer I’m trying to be less bothered.”
Finding fuzzy spots to stroke or admire on our bodies is comforting, not unattractive or masculine. In reality, only children are completely void of any body hair. The pressure for women to be youthful-looking, hairless, and docile is disturbing and points to deeper issues our society has with adult women.
TikTok and Instagram are home to several accounts of women celebrating their body hair, but they are minorities in a perfection-obsessed virtual dystopia. Facetune and filters can make women look completely poreless. In some corners of Instagram, there is no room for a pimple or ‘out of place’ mole, let alone leg or underarm hair.
So… What’s the Answer?
Unfortunately, women’s body hairstyles, like their body types, are used as trends to exploit and profit from. While it’s difficult to single-handedly change fashion trends, we can speak up against crushing gender norms that leave women to spend hundreds of dollars a year on body hair removal products and services.
The pandemic taught us the joys of growing our body hair. As things begin to reopen (fingers crossed), the decision surrounding whether or not to keep that grown-out body hair will become unavoidable. Removing or growing out one’s hair should be a personal choice rather than a result of patriarchal societal pressures. Hopefully, acceptance for body hair will grow so that women feel empowered to choose to embrace or erase the fuzz on their own terms.
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