Body hair and body confidence
If you were trying to undermine a woman’s body confidence, what would be the best way to do it? How about telling them that something natural about their body – like their body hair – is unattractive?
Well, this is what many of us are told, and tell ourselves every day. Many women have body confidence problems, from hating their weight, to their skin to their shape. But few things seem to rank higher at being ‘disgusting’ than body hair.
A mini-History of Hair Removal
In some cultures hair removal has been practiced for centuries. Islam promotes managing underarm and pubic hair as something that should be practiced by male and female Muslims.
However in English-speaking countries hair removal was rarely practiced until the start of the 20th century. Sleeveless dresses came into fashion, and adverts appeared referring to underarm hair as ‘objectionable’. Unsurprisingly, these were adverts for hair removal methods.
Along with the invention of the safety razor, removal of underarm hair took off and became essential practice, along with leg shaving a few decades later when hemlines moved higher. From the 1980’s onwards public hair removal became more common, as did more revealing swimwear.
Hair and Confidence
Body hair is associated with being unfeminine and unattractive, and hairlessness is a symbol of beauty. Nearly all of the images we see in the media of desirable women feature hairless women. But every woman has body hair. So where does this conflict leave us?
It leaves us with the conclusion that women’s bodies are unacceptable as they are. That our natural bodies are unattractive and must be altered.
This idea, which is thoroughly ingrained in our culture (and not just in relation to body hair), understandably has an effect on our body confidence. A study of college students found that women who remove their hair the most often were likely to be the ones who had lower self-esteem. Another showed that most women view female body hair with ‘disgust’ so many of us actually react with disgust to our own bodies.
To remove or not to remove?
I would encourage every woman to critically examine their relationship with their body hair. Do you dislike it? If so, how much do you think this is affected by constant exposure to hairless media images, and cultural expectations of beauty? Or has removing your hair become just a habit? Think about the time, money, discomfort and environmental cost is it worth it, considering why you do it?
If you aren’t sure, or just want to examine your relationship with body hair, try letting it grow for a bit somewhere. I started off with my underarms, and did so in winter so I didn’t have to worry about people seeing them. I hated it at first, but after a while it grew on me (no pun intended xD). It just takes some getting used to unlearning years of conditioning that hair = ugly takes time!
Now I only shave my legs, and prefer to only trim other areas to keep them nice and neat. Contrary to the stereotype of body hair being dirty, with normal hygiene routines I’ve never had a problem, and have no ingrown hairs or stubble! But the best thing about letting it grow and getting used to it is that if I can’t shave for a while I’m not worrying about it, or filled with disgust when I look at body hair. It’s part of me, and that’s all fine.
This article isn’t meant to condemn those who choose to remove their hair – some people feel more comfortable without it, which is absolutely fine. I’m just arguing that it should also be fine to choose not to remove body hair, and be happy and feel beautiful with our bodies as they are.
Note from the Mooky Eds – there is a good chance you will see ads for hair removal appearing on this page. Ah well. We savour the irony.
Mo’nique is not afraid of looking happy and lush with a little body hair
Check it out! Sophia Loren – she of the ‘most beautiful woman in the world’ fame a few years ago – is totally allowed to post for fashion magazine shoots with body hair! What went wrong?