Hair - be it body hair, head hair, pubic hair, facial hair, whatever hair - is totally, 100% natural. Hair is meant to be there, everywhere it grows has a natural purpose. So, why are there so many rules about what we should do with it? Why are women expected to have spotless, smooth skin all over, except for the luscious long locks on their heads? Why is untamed pubic hair deemed unhygienic, when it is actually there to protect us from unwanted bacteria and injury? Why are men judged on their decision to shave, trim, shape or leave their facial hair? Hair ideals vary throughout history, and around the world; the stigma attached to certain styles or choices fascinate me, particularly when hair growth is something entirely human and natural.
Last month, many women decided to partake in 'Januhairy', braving a month without shaving off their hair (including leg, underarm, and pubes - I presume). Many are describing this as an 'insta-trend', implying the reason for the challenge was to raise their online profile, to show off their *hairy* bods to the online world. But there is far more to Januhairy than simply taking on a challenge for social media, for the benefit of one's following. The month functioned to highlight the stigma surrounding female body hair, and I hope worked to demonstrate that judging a woman's beauty on her body hair is ridiculous. The fact that not shaving became a January challenge itself is indicative of the problem.
What would you think if you saw a beautiful woman with untamed underarm hair, hairy legs and an unwaxed bikini line? I must admit, that some of my automatic impressions are often that the woman is either lazy, dirty, or maybe even a hippy. Part of that finds its way into my opinion of myself. No woman is hairless 100% of the time, and neither am I (at all!), but when I lax on shaving my legs, or elsewhere, I find myself feeling guilty, like I am failing at something that should be part of my routine, something that defines my femininity, and that I must just be a lazy, or essentially bad person.
I have recently found myself questioning that mindset. A man isn't judged walking around with hairy legs and underarms, so why should I be? At least why would I judge myself for letting my leg hair grow out? Society tells us that a woman can only be beautiful if her legs are silky smooth - it's what we see on TV, films, online; even on shaving adverts women can be seen shaving already hairless legs! Media has been drilling into us from a very young age that it is not normal for girls to be hairy. Hair is for men (or our head), and not anybody else. So, from a very young age, we start shaving, and we get used to hairlessness being 'normal' and hairyness being 'abnormal'.
When I was at school, I used to get picked on for my, supposedly, very hairy arms, and my bushy eyebrows (when I was at school it was trendy to have thin arched worms for brows). Every day I would consider plucking my brows like some of the other girls, or removing the hair on my arms. Something held me back - I think it's because I knew my mum wouldn't approve of me doing anything to my arm hair, and I knew that
if I suddenly plucked all my eyebrows off, people at school would notice and I did not want to draw any more attention to myself. I am so glad I held back. I hardly notice my arm hair at all now, and as for my brows, well as soon as Cara Delevingne came on the scene the girls at school were praying for their eyebrows to grow back! I have never touched my eyebrows (aside from plucking the odd hair in the middle - which I have
n't done for years), and I love them so much. Now people are making their eyebrows look as hairy as possible! Sometimes you need to question why you are changing something about your looks - is it to make you more popular or to fit in as everyone else is doing it, or is it because you actually want to?
Last summer I fell out of the habit of shaving - maybe initially out of laziness, but later partly out of protest. The first time I left the house without having shaved I was terrified. That sounds like an exaggeration but I honestly thought everyone would be staring at me and judging - but, after being outside for a few hours and not having died, I realised that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, apart from me. Not shaving saves me time, having body hair does not stop me from doing anything I want or need to do in my day-to-day life. If someone finds me less beautiful, or thinks I am lazy or dirty - that is their problem and is not someone I'd want to be friends with!
I did get a few remarks - 'Oh Maddie... your legs...! You really need to shave!'
'But... doesn't armpit hair make you smell?'
'What does your boyfriend think about this?'
Although sometimes you can easily shut down misconceptions, for example explaining that 'having hair is NOT unhygienic', and 'actually my boyfriend is completely fine with it, but it's not about him!' sometimes you just need to accept that these stigmas exist, and it will take a long time to eradicate them. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, of course, but when it becomes an issue by causing upset, self deprecation, and simply taking up unnecessary time and headspace - something needs to be done. This is where Januhairy comes into play - women taking back control over their hair, and showing that they can still look good (and sexy!) with it.
As a woman in Britain, I can only speak from my experiences and perspective. I appreciate that although men are free to wear their legs and pits as hairy as they like, they still receive judgement based on things like facial hair - messy beards deemed 'unprofessional'. I'm sure men and women around the world have varied experiences across the world (a lot of men do shave their legs, but that is usually because they are sportsmen and it helps with athletics!).
On a final note, I think it's important to mention, seen as my blog is so cancer-centred, that when people lose their hair due to chemotherapy, they have to deal with a whole new lot of issues. Men lose something that could be seen as their masculinity, and are far less likely to feel comfortable filling in their eyebrows like women. And women who lose their hair (on their head!) frequently feel like they've lost part of their femininity and identity. Many also report really missing their pubic hair, and can't wait for it to grow back (others see it as a positive, though!). So next time you curse your hair or feel like your body hair is ugly, remember that it is natural, and that some people would kill to have their hair grow again!
Now for a brief history of body hair removal... How long have we been grooming ourselves so?
The History of Body Hair
3000 BC - Copper razors have been found dating back to ancient Egypt and India! Egyptian men and women used to shave their heads and wear wigs.
700s BC - Roman women used various tools such as tweezers, and pumice stones to remove their body hair. Hair removal would be seen as a sign of cleanliness.
2 BC - Ovid urges women to remove body hair in order “that no rude goat find his way beneath your arms and that your legs be not rough with bristling hair.”
1500s (Elizabethan era) - Women plucked/removed their eyebrows to perfectly shape them, often using coal to get the desired effect.
1900s - Special razors for women were designed, and they were encouraged to shave their underarms. As women started under-dressing, armpits were on show more.
1950s - Skirts getting higher, women are put under more pressure to shave their legs. (think Marilyn Monroe...)
1980s/90s - The rise of widely-accessible porn presented the idea that all women are hairless downstairs. (If you want to learn more about the infamous 'bush' which so many women painstakingly and frequently remove, watch 'Bring Back the Bush:Where Did Our Pubic Hair Go?' on Channel 4!)
2000s - Women start taking-back the power, using growing and showing their body hair as an empowering weapon.
2019 - Billie, a razor company, launches 'You do you' campaign depicting various types of women, with various levels of body hair, encouraging people to shave or not shave as much as they like. Before now, every advert for female razors depicted already hairless women. Watch the ad here !
Thanks again for reading guys, and as always I would love to know your opinion on the matter - is it okay for women to grow our their body hair? Is it weird? Is it ugly? What's your experience of this issue?
Until next time.