By Adebisi Adewusi
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been:
- Scolded for daring to wear a sleeveless shirt with hairy underarms.
- Laughed at for having facial hair.
- Pressured to spend hours plucking pubic hair.
Like you, I’ve been in one or two of these situations and often wondered why I needed to trim my body hair, while guys got to play #beardgang on Instagram. While you might say, “I shave for myself,” the truth is you probably don't. You’ve been conditioned to think you do.
The Scoop On Hair Removal (History of Hair Removal)
While the Greeks considered pubic hair uncivilized (that’s why Greek statues of women never have pubic hair) and Egyptian women plucked all their body hair, a significant part of the modern love hairlessness has a lot to do with Charles Darwin’s theories of natural selection. In his 1871 book, Descent of Man, Darwin stated that body hair was a remnant of our days as hairy apes, and less hairy mates (women) were more sexually attractive.
Since women had no desire to look like apes but rather wanted to be attractive, Darwin’s thoughts planted the seeds that began the war against female body hair. Consequently, by 1915, Gillette’s Milady Décolleté ad termed hair as an embarrassing personal problem, while Neet’s 1941 “Did he mean doggy legs… or doggie legs?" ad promised to remove uncomplimentary hair and compliments.
These adverts promoted the idea that hair on women was “unclean,” “ugly,” and “masculine,” while hairlessness was “attractive” and “charming.” Add the rise of clean-shaven, sexy models like Betty Grable to the mix and by the 1980s, female body hair had successfully become a taboo. In fact, between 80%-90% of American women included some kind of hair removal to their routines by the 1980s.
While the above timeline focuses on Greek, Egyptian, and American women, body hair removal by women today cuts across countries and cultures. A recent survey conducted by JAMA Dermatology states that 84% of the American women who took part in the survey had done some grooming, with 62% removing all of their pubic hair.
Similarly, a study of UK women from 2005 that found some 90% of lasses mowed off the hair from underarms and legs, while 80% tamed their brows and bushes. These figures are similar in Australia. Still think you shave of your own free will?
It's also worth noting that the current trend of hair removal in women is also associated with society’s desire for women to seem childlike by being clean-shaven. Whereas hairiness in men is seen as masculine, as masculinity is equated with adulthood. That’s why when Julia Roberts displayed her tuft of underarm hair on the red carpet (the holy site of fashion) during the opening night of Notting Hill, all of America gasped.
Was there ever a time when women could be furry without worry? Yes, there was.
#TBT: A Peek Into When Body Hair Was Accepted
While it may seem like the world has always been filled with shaved women, that has not always been the case. For instance, badass Catherine de Medici, the Italian-born queen of France in the 1500s, forbade any of her ladies in waiting from removing their pubic hair. While the practice continued, no one could talk about shaving affairs.
Similarly, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, women in Europe didn't have to worry about shaving their legs or pubic hair. Everyone, including men, had to groom their facial hair. The aforementioned ban on shaving was only for a limited period, as women went back to getting rid of their hair. However, in a world that prides itself on physical perfection, the reins on being hairy as a woman appears to be loosening.
Furry With Pride: Women Shattering The Stigma Against Body Hair
According to figures from research group Mintel, the percentage of women aged 16 to 24 who shaved their armpit hair has declined from 95% in 2013 to 77% in 2016. Leg shaving is on the decline as well — 92% of women shaved their legs in 2013, but by 2016 those numbers had decreased to 85%. These statistics suggest that more women are embracing body hair. Doubt it? Meet Sonia and Ayqa.
Sonia Cytrowska ditched the razor over a year ago and hasn't looked back. Sonia currently shares her photos on Instagram to inspire body positivity and shatter the concept that women need to shave their hair. Check her out on Instagram.
Similarly, Pakistani-American artist Ayqa Khan quit shaving her hair before college and took a stand to normalize body hair. Ayqa’s work focuses on brown women with visible body hair they have decided not to remove. Curious? Take a look at Ayqa’s amazing work here.
Facial hair, underarm hair, leg hair. Whatever body hair you’ve got, despite what Darwin and ads make you think, your body hair is amazing. And it's okay not to pluck it. Are you a fan of body hair? Let us know where you fall on the manicured spectrum below!
Adebisi Adewusi is a rock star writer and content consultant. Her work has appeared in Huffington Post, OkayAfrica, BBC’s Why Factor, and other international platforms. When she’s not helping businesses create compelling content, you can find her capturing moments with her Nikon D600. Follow her on Twitter at @biswag.