The War on Female Body Hair
I recently started and stopped waxing. For those who have never done it, waxing your entire body is borderline ritualistic. You dedicate a day. You bump Beyoncé on the speakers. You wrap a mirror in Saran Wrap so nothing drips onto it. Then, you contort your body into advanced yoga poses all to successfully wax yourself down into the hairless cat you know you are at heart.
Little did I know, this particular time, I had ripped the wax off in the wrong direction. In the following days and weeks, my armpits would become completely covered in ingrown hairs. They stung like infected splinters. I couldn’t sleep on my sides. I couldn’t even rest my arms against my body. Eventually, I had to see a dermatologist and get injections into each pussing pit.
Okay, so remind me again why the f*ck we do this?
Hair removal as we know it began as a giant marketing campaign. Most American women did not shave their underarms or legs before World War I. Then, in 1915, Gillette created a razor for women and launched what is known as the first Great Anti-Underarm-Hair Campaign.
Advertisers sought to introduce and normalize hair removal. Many ads insinuated that armpit hair was something to be self-conscious and embarrassed about. Others harped on hygiene, stating that armpit hair was unclean and uncomfortable (for women only, of course). Fashion ads showed carefree women throwing their hands up in the air sporting smooth armpits and the latest trend: sleeveless dresses. The goal was to make women feel supremely awkward about something they had never previously worried about.
Let’s talk about power. Who controls society’s impression of femininity? What is the significance of demanding women change their bodies, but not asking men to do the same? Why are women more susceptible to this kind of toxic marketing than men?
What is touted as feminine is strategically at odds with what is natural. To present oneself as an acceptable woman in Western culture requires a lot of maintenance and money – which makes sense from a business perspective since embracing women as they are would not sell any razors. It’s brilliant marketing, really. Companies have brainwashed entire populations into believing their products are inextricably linked to the female identity.
Since body hair is branded as something inherently masculine, visible body hair on women threatens traditional gender roles. As a result, women are expected to change their bodies.
Women learn that they must anticipate and adjust for male expectations, and that their bodies are imperfect and unfeminine unless somehow modified. On the other hand, men learn to assume this consideration from women, and that their natural bodies are wholly masculine in themselves and need not be a source of persistent attention and surveillance. Though subtle and subliminal, these messages are incredibly significant – and they represent a dynamic that exists outside the realm of hair removal.
The fact that women are more likely than men to be targeted by these campaigns is emblematic of greater sexism, namely the suggestion that women exist to please men. Society teaches women to evaluate themselves in terms of the male opinion. As described in a much-cited essay by Sandra Lee Bartky, a sort of “male connoisseur” resides within the consciousness of most women. The woman views herself from his perspective and under his judgement at all times.
This is the exact dynamic that companies and the media latch onto and exploit. Since society frames the male opinion as so important, the media then makes women worry that they will be undesirable to men in order to make sh*t tons of money.
Look, I’m not saying that women should never shave another hair on their bodies for as long as they live. What I am saying is that when we worry about what a man will think of our body hair or whether he will desire us less for it we should recognize that as sexism. When we find ourselves disgusted by our own natural bodies we should recognize that as for-profit companies affecting our self-concept.
Women should feel as powerful and as comfortable as men do in their natural bodies. It is time we came to terms with how we look because the way we think we should look is fabricated by the media and made possible by sexism.