Should women have body hair?

Today, women and their relationship with body hair is becoming more and more widely spoken about. With social media’s aid in the boom of feminism, more and more women are exploring their choices and realising that whether or not they remove their body hair is their choice, and not one to be determined by their partner or society.

Growing up in an all girls school, it was imperative you kept up with grooming. Those that didn’t and were subsequently found out during our weekly swim lessons would without a doubt be the hilarious topic of conversation over lunch that day, which in hindsight is really awful. But we didn’t understand then what we can now; you just did what the cool kids did. “Why would you not trim?” “Did you see it?” Were some common, deeply troubling considerations we explored.

Then, I went to a feminist conference around the age of 17 at Jesus College, Oxford, where we were encouraged to discuss our stances on different issues. One that was raised was underarm hair, and I raised my hand to say that although I accept whatever others choose to do with their bodies, I preferred to remove it. I remember being quickly responded to by a woman who said ‘yes, but you only prefer it because society has told you to’, and that’s always stuck with me, though I’ve continued to remove it. I think it just brought an awareness about of what I freely chose and what I was coerced into.

It got me thinking whether I was just doing it for the sake of avoiding the attention and mocking that would come with not. Similarly to the way we feel the need to conform to the shapes of the women in magazines, I think there’s also a huge amount of pressure applied to removing your hair, from your eyebrows to your underarms to your pubic hair to your legs. It’s obviously not something objectively beautiful as it hasn’t always been the case that hairlessness is attractive, and I’m sure elsewhere in the world the same beauty standards don’t apply. Moreover, men have never had this concern.

I find something hugely empowering in keeping my body hair. Don’t get me wrong; I went through a far too long period of being entirely bald from the neck down, but I never wanted to. I think my resistance and frustration with removing my body hair was three fold. Firstly, it wasn’t comfortable. It made me rash and itch and took up so much time, so regularly. Secondly, it made me feel prepubescent and weird. The first time I removed my pubic hair it felt bizarre, and I knew I had only done it to avoid the mocking if word got out that I hadn’t. And thirdly, I resented being told how to deal with my own body. It was never presented as a choice. At the time, I could either keep it and be unattractive, or remove it and maintain attraction. In fairness, I knew that was ridiculous, but I wanted to remain attractive, so I complied. These days, through keeping my hair I save time that I can spend doing something I actually want to, I feel far more womanly, and I think most of all I feel powerful to make a complete personal choice about my own body, even though it’s commonly looked down on. Someone who genuinely cares about you won’t care whether you’re chewbacca or a sphynx cat, because a) it should be who you are they’re bothered with, and b) they should encourage you to do with yourself what you want freely, not what they want or ‘prefer’ (which in my opinion is a polite way of applying pressure, and making the alternative unappealing).

So I guess I’m just trying to encourage you to think about how you decide what to do with your body and whether or not what you’re doing is for yourself or for others. If you don’t have control and full say over your own body, what do you have control over? In our society, women hand over far too much of a right to our bodies that is completely out of our hands, but this one doesn’t have to be. This doesn’t just swing one way, and I’m not at all suggesting if you remove your body hair you’re not controlling your own body; all I’m encouraging is a reflection on why you’ve chosen whether to keep it or remove it and make sure it’s only and only because you want it that way.

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