Hung up on Hair

Hung up on Hair

Freelance writer Eleanor Forrest talks about the pressure she felt growing up to remove all traces of body hair and explores hair removal throughout history.

We’re all familiar with the concept of female body hair. A source of anxiety for many, female body hair is usually a badge of embarrassment as women and girls find themselves unable to fit into what’s viewed as ‘one of the seven pillars of femininity’. It’s therefore no shock that the beauty industry, which offers an array of techniques such as shaving, waxing, plucking, dying and laser-ing, is the multi-million pound business that it is today. 

Whether its a political statement, demonstration of societal class or fashion statement it’s fascinating how obsessed we are with our body hair, something that we actually have no real control over.

As a woman who had bushy eyebrows, way before Cara Delevigne appeared and convinced the world they needed them too, my own body hair was a source of ridicule at school. Though now I don’t recognise that anxious person (I haven’t threaded my eyebrows in months - cba), I still remember the unrelenting pressure to eradicate my upper lip hair, obliterate my peach fuzz and only buy long sleeved tops to hide my arm hair, all this just to go to school and I didn’t even like going!

"I still remember the unrelenting pressure to eradicate my upper lip hair, obliterate my peach fuzz and only buy long sleeved tops to hide my arm hair, all this just to go to school and I didn’t even like going!"

I’m not saying that I have hiritisum or any real extreme hair growth, but I had just enough to receive the titles of Gorilla or Man.

As I am neither a man nor gorilla, last time I checked anyway, it stands to assume that I didn’t fit the body hair standards for a normal girl (how boring!) and as wiki puts it I underwent “perceived social acceptance problems”, either that or everyone had eye sight problems at a young age, perhaps there was something in the water?

Its a common scenario for many women, but why all the fuss? why is something not that abnormal treated as such and why on earth do so many women spend so much money and time removing it? Of course, regarding myself that is, a lot of this plays into wanting to feel attractive and feminine and though I hate having to admit that I’ve been conditioned that way it is something that plays into my mind occasionally, really I should be more appreciative of my one constant in life.

In an attempt to understand why so many of us are hung up on hair I rifled through the past to find out why we care so much and how it came about.

The first instance of hair removal was in Ancient Egypt as they viewed it cleaner and healthier but unfortunately they didn’t have Gillette so they used a pumice stone on their skin. At this point hair removal was seen as a practice of the upper classes, basically those who had the time, and this class aspect to hair removal continued right up until the invention of the straight razor by Jacques Perret in 1760, making it easier for men to shave. The ease of this instrument made its way into the worlds of a few women but it would be another three decades before hair removal was marketed to women.

In 1915, evening gowns became fashionably sleeveless and Gilette decreed that women must have hairless armpits to go with them and conveniently provided their razors. Titled Milady Décolleté, 1 million of them were sold in 1917 and this is where we see advertising and fashion joining forces to create the necessity of female hair removal.

In fact fashion does play rather a dominant role from this point onward, as it became more acceptable to wear shorter skirts and ditch the corsets, our body hair become a new issue. Viewed as inappropriate to leave your leg hair visible, the arrival of waxing coinciding with the mini skirt in the 60s.

The inappropriateness of all female body hair was most certainly promoted. Whilst promoting razors adverts in the 1930s would dare to be as obvious as portraying a conversation between a man and a woman exclaiming with horror at a woman with upper lip hair. Though not as obvious now, the shaving and waxing adverts today all rely on this theme of becoming the better you, for example the Gillete Venus likening you to a literal Goddess after a shave in the shower. All these messages pile up to enforce an idea that the real sophisticated, intelligent you is just under those few millimetres of hair growth.

Unfortunately it’s not hard to join the dots. The whole obsession with hair removal does have its roots in wanting to be sexually appealing to men, as if a man would throw you out of the door because you missed a strip of hair at the back of your leg!

It’s easy to think that female body hair removal is just what you do and what has always been done and that’s life but that’s why societal conditioning is so powerful. Science has yet to prove that it’s actually hygienic to remove every ounce of body hair but that’s not to stop you from removing body hair - either way do what you want to do.

The point is to not feel as though you’re sub par because you haven’t and that you’re in some way unsightly for leaving your pits and pubes intact, with many other aspects in life, it’s best to relax. Of course that’s difficult if you’re immediate environment doesn’t replicate that opinion.

But we may be heading for a change, if this article has proved anything its that nothing is static. In 2014 a UK Medix survey reported that 51% of women didn’t groom their pubic hair and 62% of women said their partners preferred them natural - so there !

Just as we’ve been conditioned, relatively recently in historical terms, to remove all body hair we may soon switch to a more positive attitude.

Keep up to date with more of Eleanor's writing here.
All illustrations by Venus Libido.

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