All humans develop terminal hair all over their bodies, typically after puberty. Hair assists our body in regulating temperature and protecting us from exterior constituents such as dirt. Evolutionally, body hair protects us. Now, the majority of American women voluntarily get rid of their body hair. Not only is it inconvenient, but it is also painful and expensive. The average woman who shaves will spend more than $10,000 over the course of her life on hair removal products while the woman who waxes will spend more than $23,000. But do women spend so much time removing it?
History of body hair
The answer lies in beauty standards. The history of body hair varies among cultures over time. Archaeologists trace some of the earliest signs of razors to Egypt and India around 3000 BCE. Women in Ancient Egypt used pumice stones and flint, and women in Ancient Greece used tweezers both to remove body hair. Hairlessness became a trend in America in the early 1900s. In 1915, a woman named Gillette Milady created the first women’s razor due to the recent trend of sleeveless clothing. The Gillette razor ad calls razors the solution to an “embarrassing personal problem” – referring to armpit hair. Advertisements portrayed body hair as ugly, unwanted, and unfashionable. One advertisement wrote with the tagline, “Let’s look at your legs – Everyone else does.”
During this era, American society began to attribute body hair as an “embarrassing” characteristic. Hairlessness became associated with femininity, thus crystallizing gender into societal beauty standards. Body hair became a rough, masculine characteristic while hairlessness became a more beautiful, feminine characteristic. American society began to shame women for their body hair. By the 1950s, Remington presented the electric razor. In the 1960s, waxing grew prevalent. By the 1970s, electrolysis was introduced, and by the 1980s, American women had deeply internalized this norm.
My experiences with hair removal
Growing up in the early 2000s, many people in my life easily followed these beauty standards. Typically my white friends with thin, blonde hair had no problem removing their hair. One quick shave and they were set for the next couple days. But for me, a desi woman with thick, black body hair written in my genes, living up to these standards proved impossible. In elementary school, thick black hair covered my legs. My white classmates constantly told me that I’m “hairy like a boy.” I felt ashamed to wear any revealing clothes. I stuck to long pants and full-sleeve shirts my entire childhood. My young self did not personally see a problem with my body hair, but eventually, I became ashamed of it. And to top this, my mother refused to let me shave as she harbored a common belief that shaving would only thicken my hair.
When I entered middle school, and my mother finally granted me permission to shave, I was ecstatic. But I still struggled to uphold these beauty standards. My white friends would go a few days without shaving while I would get stubble 24 hours later, ruining my perfect, hairless body. And then again, my peers would subject me to ridicule. I used every technique: razors, wax, veet, hair exfoliators to emulate that perfect, hairless look. While it worked in the short-run, in the long-run, my hair eventually began growing thicker and thicker. By the time I was fifteen, shaving was not an option for me. My body would develop a reaction to any sort of hair removal: big red bumps all over my legs that would last for months.
Realization and reflections
During this time, I had no choice but to embrace my body hair. I started wearing shorts with my full leg hair grown out. It was uncomfortable at first, and my peers humiliated me for it, but I realized I had no choice. I could either continue to be ashamed and hide the fact or embrace a different mindset. Once I began to embrace a different mindset, I wondered to myself, why do we demonize body hair so much? After all, body hair is natural. Why is beauty attached to artificial notions of femininity? Why does society judge my beauty on a natural aspect of my body? Why do those who are able to uphold this beauty standard in their day to day lives able to judge those who don’t?
In conclusion, beauty standards associated with body hair are rooted in sexist, artificial notions of femininity. Many women who cannot uphold these standards grow up with the belief that they are inferior or less beautiful than their counterparts. Body hair is nothing but normal. In fact, shaving is abnormal. In my case, I grew a physical reaction to the act. Women should not shame other women for tending to their own bodies. Society should begin to normalize what should be normal.