Here’s the truth about shaving: it wasn’t considered the societal norm (or even a necessity) for women until the turn of the 1900s.
Granted, hair removal has come in and out of style throughout the centuries, with the Ancient Egyptians pioneering sugar wax and Medieval women tweezing their brows out of existence during the Middle Ages. However, none of these trends were quite as prevalent globally as the top-to-toe baby-smooth look we revere as a society today.
As an activity, hair removal in all its forms is time consuming, inconvenient and, at times, a little painful (hello, ingrown hairs). So, why do we do it?
The history of hair removal
It all starts with a man named King Camp Gillette, a (still) familiar name in the razor business who, through clever marketing, would go on to make the multi billion dollar shaving industry what it is today.
To set the scene, at the beginning of the 20th century, the only people who shaved regularly (and thus the only regular consumers for Gillette’s products) were men. The female fashions of the time were very modest, with stiff petticoats, floor grazing skirts and long sleeves, all of which left no skin on show. So, naturally, it was unnecessary for women to shed the fuzz because 1) no one could see and 2) no one cared all too much.
That all changed with the Roaring ‘20s, where flappers showed a lot more skin as shorter hems and sheer, sleeveless dresses came into style. Gillette took advantage of this change in fashion, and in a bid to double his consumer base with the introduction of women he advertised a razor as the perfect accessory for the metropolitan lady, pushing the idea that a woman’s unshaven armpit was ‘embarrassing’ and ‘unfeminine’.
Gillette’s advertising (and every marketing campaign and fashion spread that followed suit) made shaving a new and unmistakable part of being a woman. As the times went on and more and more skin went on show, the number of body parts women were encouraged to shave went up with it.
TL;DR: women started shaving because it made a man (a lot of) money.
So do we really need to?
Full disclosure: I don’t shave, wax or epilate my body hair. It’s not that I’m particularly against it; if I happen to feel like it I’ll give my legs and pits a once-over, but I’m just not as motivated to remove my body hair as I used to be.
It wasn’t an active decision, nor a big decision at all; I just got lazy and didn’t care enough to constantly keep myself silky smooth all over. I certainly don’t mind having hairy pits or stubbly legs, and generally no one seems that invested in my body hair—as it should be (except for my mum, who reminds me every day that I am a stinky wayward girl)—so I bask in my hairy goodness.
Although I agree the sexist connotations associated with shaving are problematic, growing out my body hair wasn’t and isn’t a radical move towards female liberation for me; I am just quite happy with myself as is, especially since it takes no effort at all (and means I cut down my grooming time considerably).
I’m not the only one who has taken a step back from meticulous body hair removal: the narrative has also been shifting gently on a wider scale, with more women embracing their body hair. In fact, even celebs like Rowan Blanchard, Miley Cyrus and Madonna are skipping the shaver and going au naturale.
However, look at any of the comment sections on their posts and you’ll find tons of comments renouncing them, or calling them ‘disgusting’ or ‘repugnant’.
It’s a little bit ridiculous, the notion that someone’s body hair can have such an adverse affect on others. Actually, it is ridiculous and unnecessary. That aside, opinions are opinions (however hurtful), but do they have any real bearing? Is there any evidence to prove that hairlessness is more hygienic, more attractive or more feminine?
With regards to aesthetics, if the need to shave is truly rooted in the belief that it is more hygienic and attractive, why is it that men don’t experience the same backlash for having body hair that women do? Why are we so reviled at the sight of hairy legs, pits and pubes on women, but not on men?
Spoiler alert: it’s because our notions of femininity were born and maintained out of patriarchal beauty standards.
Further, with regards to hygiene, having body hair isn’t inherently unhygienic—it’s natural! That said, in defense of shaving, having more armpit and pubic hair inevitably means more body odour.
The reason behind this is that there are two kinds of sweat glands, eccrine and apocrine. The eccrine glands secrete water and salts which don’t produce any odours, but the apocrine glands, (found only in the armpit and pubic areas) secrete fluids rich in proteins, lipids and pheromones. When bacteria present in the area break them down, it causes body odour.
However, none of this should matter considering we live in a world where regular showers and deodorant exists. Just give your pits a little swipey-swipe with some roll-on deodorant and shower daily and you’re good to go!
All that said, as much as there is nothing wrong with having body hair, there’s nothing wrong with removing it either. Some people just don’t like the look or the feeling of hair, and so they choose to remove it.
And that’s just it—they choose to do so, on their own free will, because at the end of the day, the way your body looks is ultimately your choice. Body hair is simply not a big enough deal to justify the negative connotations against it. Just do whatever makes you happy (and stop giving people sh*t for the way they look).
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