July 11, 2018 denimbras

The Feminist Records of Hair Removal: From History to Sexism.

If the subject of body hair removal was not strictly regulated by society’s expectations of the female human body, the portrayal of women in media would be dramatically different.
Imagine Baywatch with body hair: hot, swimsuit babes with stray pubes or patchy underarms. Imagine Audrey Hepburn or Madonna strolling down the street in shorts, with their leg hair on display for everyone to see.
While body hair on women is completely natural and normal, these situations seem obscene. In addition to creating beauty expectations men hold women to, misogyny in media and society has also distorted the way women view themselves; in their most natural state, women have learned to be disgusted. In most recent years, pop culture hasn’t been afraid to weigh in on the debate of body hair. In an attempt to change these harsh expectations, fashion companies like “& Other Stories” have created lingerie ads that feature women with unshaved armpits. If modern-day social influencers weren’t afraid to challenge the social norms the human body, children wouldn’t grow up with unrealistic expectations and would have a choice: to shave or not to shave.
Of course, misogyny leads the history of women conforming to society’s standards by removing their body hair.
Unlike modern concepts of cavemen who are covered in hair, it was more likely that they shaved for protection. Shorter hair meant that there was less of a chance for enemies in battle to grab onto their hair for a combat advantage. Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia helped modernize hair removal from shells used as tweezers to sugar-based waxes (like those used today). At the time, both men and women would remove all their body hair to achieve a more “clean” look.
Iconic images of Aphrodite display how, for women, hair removal became a class issue more than a cleanliness issue. Pubic hair was viewed as uncivilized and primitive in the new modern society. But only for women. This is why a majority of Roman art and sculptures are without any “undesirable” body hair. Later in the 1700s and the 1800s, advertisement of social class shifted more to clothing and material goods rather than the look of the female human body. Long dresses and three-quarter length sleeves covered most of the body and women got a break from grooming standards. Men gained safer razors, and the first Gillette came out, but the razor industry wouldn’t be directed towards female consumers for decades.
Then the world was thrown into eternal war. As men went to fight in World War I, shaving companies had no one to market to anymore. As skyscrapers and hemlines rose, so did the female razor consumer market. Companies like Gillette encouraged newly shown skin to be shaved and presentable to the public. Marketing specifically targeted women to raise sales by stating that bare underarms were a necessity and that “objectionable hair” had to go. While freedom was under attack, so was the freedom of the female human body.
Fashion and World War 2 also forced women to conform to societal standards. Hemlines once again began to rise as shortages in fabric cropped up. The nylon used to make women’s stockings was hard to come by, so many women went bare legged. For the first time, women were pressured to have their legs completely shaved. Everything from tweezing eyebrows, to shaving armpits and legs, grew more and more common until it became expected. If women didn’t adhere to the new criteria of female beauty, then they became social pariahs. Of course, men were exempt from these practices, and it was even encouraged to appear more manly.
Porn, media, and fashion gave rise to the population thinking more about pubic hair. For women, their “private areas” became the center of attention. Brazilian waxes hit mainstream media, and iconic movies such as ‘Sex and the City’ depict their stars receiving waxes on camera. While women weren’t being told they were “unclean”, they were definitely being pressured in ways men just weren’t.
Women are currently very fortunate to have the opportunity to make their own individual decisions on what to do with their body hair. Recently, the austere authority men and social media have had on the grooming practice of women has lessened due to women engaging in conversation and gaining platforms to express their own narratives. It’s not about appearing unkempt or unclean. It’s about having the choice about what happens to your body or altering yourself to appear presentable to society. The fact that the female human body is not seen as acceptable is something that disheartens and alters the perception of young girls everywhere.
Normally, to create change, a group has to take action for reform to happen, but in this case, not doing anything-not shaving-is a way to take back the power society has held over women’s body for so long.

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