I look down at my legs and I feel embarrassed. I forgot to shave and threw on a pair of shorts as I flew out the door, already late for school. All day I glance down, examining and wincing at the sight of it. I hope nobody notices and my head hurts from worrying. As soon as I get home, I jump in the shower and shave it all off — I feel relieved.
I must admit that I’ve had many days like this. The stress that consumes my head space because there is visible hair on my legs is inevitable. I am still trying to move past feeling like this every day. But I know I’m not the only one— women across America and the world feel embarrassed of their own natural growing body hair. My question is: Why?
Razors were first marketed towards women in America around 1915 by Gillette to remove underarm hair. From then on, as skirts and sleeves got shorter and shorter with time razor companies used these rapidly changing fashion trends to encourage women to remove their body hair. And every since then it’s just been the norm.
It is not just in recent history that the pressure for women to get rid of their body hair existed. In Ancient Rome, having no body hair was a sign of “cleanliness,” and in Ancient Egypt, possessing it was a signifier of the “uncivilized” — but only for the women.
All the while, men were able to do whatever they pleased with all their body hair. Grow it out, cut it off — it was merely a choice for men whereas for women it was an expectation.
As times have changed and progressed though, the line of what is acceptable and what isn’t is blurring with every day — but this line is still visible to the naked eye. Women all around the world have uniquely difficult struggles with body hair — whether it being darker and more visible to the removal of it being ingrained into a cultural tradition of sorts. Writer Duriba Khan explains in a Huffington Post article.
“As a 12-year-old, I remember specifically looking forward to getting my eyebrows done. My arms waxed. My legs waxed. I wanted to be ‘normal,’” Kahn wrote.
I can understand on a personal level, as many women could, the strenuousness of overcoming the pressure, expectations and shame that is pushed by the media surrounding female body hair. My mind immediately turns to a woman I have admired nearly my whole life — Frida Kahlo. A beyond-talented artist, inspiring individual, feminist icon and embracer of her body hair. Even famous for it. Although Kahlo is known for her artwork, her unibrow and light mustache is what makes her recognizable. Kahlo’s facial hair is a reminder to question and defy patriarchal standards set for women and to do as they please.
There is this false sense that body hair on women is “unfeminine” when frankly it’s the exact opposite. Body hair on women is one of the most naturally feminine things I can think of. Because that is exactly what it is — natural.
It is synonymous to the perpetuated shame and embarrassment women face around menstruation or breastfeeding. Girls are taught that they should hide their tampons in a special pouch and nonchalantly slink off to the bathrooms to change them, and women told to excuse themselves to rest areas to breastfeed their child — this is the same shame that conditions women to feel the “need” to shave their body hair.
Ultimately, all that matters is the choice, and women in America are able to choose to their heart’s content— mostly. Whereas women in other countries have much more extreme limitations on them.
Although we are lucky to be able to choose, the next step is the destigmatization of female body hair. We must truly embrace our natural, feminine selves without shame and without fear— whether that means growing it out or cutting it off. Women, know that you have a choice.