What do you like most about your hair?
The gloss? The sheen? The shine?
The fact it gets ripped out of your skin every month and/or shaved off with a blade each night?
Sorry, we are talking about all of our body hair, aren’t we? We’re not differentiating between the stuff that grows on our heads and that which grows under our arms… are we?
Hair: one word, many types. I’m sure you’re familiar with the brushing and washing and styling of that which grows on top – that is to say, your official ‘hair’ (plus eyebrows and eyelashes). Conversely, you’re probably also familiar with attempting to rid yourself entirely of the type growing elsewhere – above the lip, between the thighs… you get the picture.
There are many reasons us women choose to extract hair from certain parts of our bodies. For some, it’s the desire to abide by ‘accepted’ standards of beauty or cleanliness. For others, it’s to do with religious practice. Some of us do it because our mothers did. Others just prefer the way it looks.
Of course, women all over the world have been removing hair for centuries. As is noted by Victoria Sherrow in Encyclopedia Of Hair: A Cultural History, women of ancient Egypt are thought to have purposefully removed their body hair, whilst those of ancient Greece thought pubic hair of any kind was ‘uncivilised’. By 1500, such thinking had arrived in Europe; some historians believe European women had a go at pubic hair pruning too. By the Elizabethan era, they were plucking most, if not all, of their eyebrows off as well.
In the late 19th century, when Charles Darwin published The Descent of Man – where the idea that humans evolved from animals made for unsettling reading – perceptions of hair began to change, for the worse. As Rebecca Herzig observed in Plucked: A History of Hair Removal, in the States, hairiness became a subject for circuses, through such characters as ‘the bearded lady’. By the start of the 20th century, doctor’s notes revealed women were increasingly anxious about ‘excessive’ hairiness on their faces and necks.
An anti-underarm hair ad was published in Harper’s Bazaar in 1915, which – as a video by Timeline suggests – served to popularise the idea that armpit hair was shameful and hair removal, a good idea. By the Second World War, women had taken to shaving their legs to make up for the shortfall in nylon stockings, which meant they had to go without. In the Sixties, waxing strips were introduced (although, interestingly, waxing itself dates back to ancient Egypt with beeswax) and it was in the early Nineties, that seven Brazilian sisters opened the J Sisters salon in Manhattan, which brought us ‘the Brazilian’.
Where are we now? In a place where Madonna’s 20-year-old daughter, Lourdes, hits the beach with armpit hair and it makes tabloid headlines. It might have taken a century or two to make the news, but the message is loud and clear: body hair is not OK – still.
Yawn, yawn, yawn.
Has the feminist revolution, currently underway, done nothing? Did no one read the backlash against criticism of Julia Roberts’ for revealing underarm hair at the Notting Hill premiere in, hmm… 1999?! Did no one see Miley Cyrus’s neon-dyed pit hair in 2015 and think, ‘So? And? IS THERE EVEN AN ISSUE HERE?!’
Why are women who refuse to shave, pluck, wax, laser (WHATEVER) still subjected to such scrutiny? It’s ludicrous. Not least because, considering the various processes involved, who actually enjoys having any of them done? Who looks forward to a good old wax? (No, not the way it looks afterwards, the actual waxing part... The feeling as that hot, sticky substance rips those little hairs straight outta their roots in all the sensitive, delicate parts…?) Who never tires of shaving their legs and hasn’t fantasised of not caring about stubble or leg hair standing to full attention in the cold? Who doesn’t stare at themselves in the mirror, tweezers in hand, frantically tugging away at that bastard micro hair on our lip, asking ‘WHY, universe, WHY?’.
I am one of those women. I do not like much of the hair on my body and in view of which, I try to remove it. It’s a pain and I loathe it, but I do it all the same. Crucially, it’s my choice. If someone else chooses not to do it, well, that’s their choice. It’s not right that they should be photographed and splashed all over the internet as ‘something to see here!’, like Lourdes was earlier this week.
In short, it’s high time we put a stop to this tiring subject matter and realised that not getting rid of one’s body hair is just a none story. Pack away that judgement, paparazzi: let’s let our hair down on this one.