Why does my body hair offend you?
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
We all have it. Whether it's blonde, black, ginger or 50 shades of brown, it's there. As soon as you hit puberty, it begins to grow and doesn't really ever stop. Some people, like me, had it long before puberty. Straight out the womb. Eventually its there, and with it society gives us a set of tools, the directions reading "No pain no gain". You then embark on a lifelong mission of trying to find the perfect method of removal: Is it waxing? Bleaching? Shaving? Plucking? Veeting? Lazering? Trimming? A complex combination of everything? The world is your hair-removal oyster.
Both men and women have it. The biology is no gendered matter. Yet body hair in our society IS a gendered matter. Why?
Why is the fact that (genetically) I have darker, thicker and more prominent body hair so offensive to so many? Why do I have to spend an average of £100 a month and hours of my time trying to look like a fair, 'hairless' Western woman? Because that is essentially what is happening here. The people in our society who decide what is and isn't attractive (usually men, always the media and always perpetuated by women) basically played a game of pick n' mix. Of Mr Potato head, if you will.
The result - In 2019 we now live in a society whose notion of beauty is very rarely genetically possible. To be considered the epitome of desirable you must now have large breasts and a large derriere (but a tiny waist), thick, voluminous hair (but only on your head) a cute, delicate button nose (but large lips) and skin that is always tanned (but no darker than caramel). The explosion of commercialised cosmetic surgery over the past ten years e.g lip fillers, cheek fillers, jaw redefinement, temporary nose-jobs, permanent nose jobs, bum lifts, botox...etc. is testament to genetically-altered standards of beauty we now herald. Note that, at this point, I could delve into the multitude of unrealistic beauty standards that have been imposed upon women for centuries, but for now I will stick to body hair, for it is still very much ignored in popular discussion.
More recently, with the emergence of the Kardashian empire, beauty standards and the diversity of what is considered 'beautiful' (now with dark, olive-skinned women being included in the Western repertoire of beauty standards) have certainly advanced. We need no longer be ashamed of our thick eyebrows, thick hair and in many cases (unfortunately not my own) voluptuous curves. In fact, everyone and their dog is now filling in and dying their eyebrows! Hoorah!
However, the infuriating problem I have with the Kardashians remains. Despite them arguably paving the way for darker women to be considered in Eurocentric spheres of beauty (a sad fact that it needed paving at all) a glaring, gaping hole remains in their claim of representation - and that is body hair. By quickly doing some GCSE level biology, we can easily work out that the Kardashians (Kim, Khloe and Kourtney) are half Armenian, half American. Their entire family has dark hair and tanned skin. They do have dark body hair, which they sometimes refer to in their show (in the context of waxing it off Brazilian style, of course). Whether it's a lot or a little, they have it. It's what gives them their iconically thick eyebrows, dark lashes and dark, thick hair. But where's the rest of it?
People have often compared me to Kim Kardashian "before". I think we've all seen the photos. When her skin was much darker, her baby hairs lay on the top of her forehead, her natural sideburns weren't lazered off and her eyebrows showed subtle signs of once being joined together in glorious uni-son (forgive the pun). And yet now,
they won't be seen with even a single hair on their face or body, having gone through extreme measures over the years to remove it. No baby-hairs or sideburns remain in sight. And this is the root of my deep-seated, hairy problem.
The Kardashians have a billion-dollar, billion-follower platform - so why don't they use it for some good? Why don't they use it to fight the good fight against the thwarted stigma against body hair? Why don't they use their platform to try and normalise and shed light on the issue, to say "actually, body hair is normal. Body hair is okay" instead of feeding this toxic, expensive and unsustainable Western image that women are and should be hairless. Should be "Clean". Why don't the Kardashians try to better the lives of young girls and women like themselves, to improve the self-esteem of little girls who start waxing at the age of 10 because their classmates are comparing them to gorillas?
I'll give you the answer - it's because you can't sexualise body hair. Curves? A big arse and tits? Oh yeah, go for it! Embrace your curves! Better yet, go do some squats to get more curves! Or surgery! Either work! It's sexy.
Body hair, on the other hand... not even Kris Jenner can capitalise on that one. The Kardashians can't sell the acceptance of body hair through sex or beauty (which are their only tools in the armoury of the capitalist market) and so they discard the notion just as quickly as we do our disposable razors. They continue to spend thousands of dollars on lazer hair removal and waxing appointments, because why be an advocate when money isn't an issue and, as Jameela Jamil said, you can just sell insecurity instead?
This is what gets me. It's representation to a degree, and it's diversity within the bounds that Western beauty standards will still accept, and it's perpetuated by the very people who should be making a bigger, more positive change. People who themselves have been victimised by these beauty standards. The Kardashians may as well have "Look, I'm an 'exotic' sex-icon but I will still wax my body within an inch of it's life to conform to normalised beauty standards. Let's "revolutionise" beauty through contour but never through positive advocacy" plastered on their foreheads. It's a cop-out, and I'm not buying it.
I may have digressed from my initial point, but it is only to demonstrate the very serious issue there is with body hair in our society, in that if even the Kardashians refuse to acknowledge the issue and talk about it, then who the f*ck will? Body hair is such a taboo that even SHAVING adverts don't show it - women are shaving already-shaven legs. Any body hair on an actress or a singer and people act as if some blasphemous event has occurred. Earlier this summer I was sitting watching the Eurovision with my English housemates when Surie came on to perform for the UK. One of the first comments made was "URGHH! Look at her hairy shoulders!!". The poor woman was singing her heart out, backlit and probably freezing up there - and the comments made were not about her angelic voice but the silhouette of the natural hairs on her arms.
I asked "Why does that offend you?", a question that the toolbox of resistance direly needs. Why are we repulsed by something so natural? What and who has engrained this misguided concept that men can have body hair but women can't? Once we begin challenging our own opinions, only then can we create wider acceptance in the world around us. Perhaps then we can stop forcing over half the female population to take part in an antiquated and painful process of hair removal, and stop the equally as painful body-shaming that comes when they don't.
For a brilliant article that also touches upon many of the issues of female body hair (and the removal of) see https://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/article/should-women-remove-their-body-hair by Rachel Loxton
If you want a more in-depth, academic exploration of the stigmatisation of body hair, Karin Lesnick-Oberstein wrote the first academic book on women and body hair called 'The Last Taboo' (2010), and can be found here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Taboo-Women-Body-Hair/dp/0719083230/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1542965173&sr=8-1&keywords=the+last+taboo
Karin's book answers and explores many of the questions I pose in this article, and you can also listen to a podcast interview I hosted with her in the link below:
Jameela Jamil's amazingly inspiring and transparent video interview about her 'I Weigh' campaign and the media's toxic beauty standards (and those who perpetuate them) can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXzO0z6fmhI