Women: it’s your duty to remove body hair

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Since YouTube absolutely refuses to let me sign up this blog for posting I’ll just link to this post from Faux Real that contains a video of British talk show hosts Richard and Judy interviewing a woman who’s decided to grow her damn body hair instead of spending thousands of pounds removing it every year.

Salient points:

  • Blonde Judy questions how it can cost thousands of pounds to “shave your leg”. Oh, Judy, do please try to think outside your own experience. The guest was not white: she looked Pakistani or Persian. But even among white women, there are those of us who do not have blond body hair. At a millionth of an inch long, our “stubble” is visible. Sometimes that hair is very coarse and hard and painful to the skin. Sometimes it’s curly and tends to ingrow and cause disgusting cysts under the skin. Sometimes it’s on arms, bellies, even chests and so on. You have no idea what we go through trying to remove this hair. So do shut up. Aw, I know I’m being mean, but if I have one more blonde insist that I’m being melodramatic when I tell her I have to shave every two days or I can’t sleep because the stubble’s so rough, I won’t be responsible for my actions. If you lack the life experience, please assume you don’t know what you’re talking about instead of that the other person is making up stories. Thank you.
  • Man Richard explains that leg hair on women makes him nauseous. When pressed, he describes a woman who used to cram long leg hairs under nylons. Okay, now I’ll admit that is something I can understand finding repulsive. But naked leg hair without the nylons? He was too repulsed to touch the guest’s leg when she invited him to. It was a beautifully shaped calf, too, with lovely medium brown skin. The hair was hardly darker than the skin, and it lay flat. It really wasn’t unattractive at all. But to Richard, it was gross.

Which means that Richard doesn’t actually like women. He’s not truly heterosexual because he only likes women who’ve been altered in certain ways, and that deserves an orientation category all its own. It’s like being oriented only toward women who used to be men before a sex change operation. Would you call that straight? Gay? Bi? Or just a sick fetish?

That’s what this shaving thing has become. A man is no more or less a man depending on whether he shaves his face. A woman is no longer a woman if she lets her hair grow like nature designed it.

Personally, I detest body hair on both genders. If it were up to me, men would shave everything below the eyebrows until they were as aerodynamic as a squirt of toothpaste. But that’s just me, and somehow I manage to accept that bodies grow hair, and no one has a duty to remove theirs to please me.

I do appreciate Richard’s honesty, though. I suspect he’s expressing something many (perhaps most?) men feel, which enables us to get it out in the open and talk about it. Men should be expected to cope with the female body as nature made it, since women are expected to cope with the male. And since it only makes sense, really.

On a side note, I wonder how lesbians and bi-sexual women feel about body hair on women? If they echo Richard’s revulsion, I wonder if they think that’s a true, natural preference of their own or something they’ve inherited from society?

Comments

  1. Patrick says

    How troublesome body hair removal would be is obviosuly something that depends on the individual. I have to shave my face twice a day, and can grow a full beard in a week. I inherited my hair from my mother’s side of my family, and have learned from my mother and my sister that their hair is no fun to remove.

    As for attitudes toward body hair – I’m not sure to what degree is cultural or personal. Body hair removal is found in nearly every culture (but then, so is patriarchy, so that hardly speaks for it as natural).

    Personally, I find most body hair below the chin icky, on men or women. And I do have body image issues regarding my body hair. But… I’m nor culturally obligated to remove it. When most people to see me in shorts or a kilt, they think “he’s pretty hairy,” not “that’s disgusting.”

    On women, I’ve noticed that I have no issues with the hair on women’s arms, but hairy legs bother me. Is this cultural? Probably. Most of the women I know remove their leg hair, but I don’t know of any that remove their arm hair.

  2. says

    I remove my arm hair (and know a lot of other women who do). I’ve let it grow before and no one vomited on me or anything. But again, *I* hate it, so I remove it. (And I do feel pretty sure that my dislike of body hair isn’t purely cultural, because I also dislike it on men and have the impression I’m “supposed” to like some chest hair. And I just don’t.)

    What bugs me is this sense that other people are entitled to have me shave my legs. Why? Can’t they just not look? I mean, maybe I’m having trouble not staring at their giant nose, but I don’t feel entitled for them to go to a plastic surgeon and “get that taken care of”.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    Er, I should clarify that my arm hair is dark, and so is that of most women I know who remove theirs. Dark arm hair is generally not considered ladylike, and tends to get you teased in high school by both genders.

    Since then, no one’s ever said anything to me about mine, but I don’t know if that’s because they outgrew the attitude or just developed manners.

  4. says

    Yet another area where my boyfriend and I have an oddly gender-reversed relationship. I shave my legs rarely; basically not at all in the winter, and only every other week or so in the summer–I have dark hair, it grows quickly, but I just can’t be bothered. And while my face isn’t super-hairy, I do have a unibrow; it’s taken awhile, but I’ve come to terms with that and I’m not going to pluck, wax, or otherwise get rid of it. I’ve been told I’m wierd (though not disgusting), but I’ve got better things to spend my time and money on. (I also only cut my hair once every other year or so. I don’t wear makeup. I hate shoe shopping. I have been told many, many times that I am a freak and/or not a girl.)

    My boyfriend, on the other hand, is naturally super hairy, and has had laser removal of his back hair, and before a beach trip a few weeks ago, shaved his chest. He thinks it’s worthwhile, it makes him feel more comfortable, so kudos to him, I guess. He was a little disappointed that I honestly had no opinion either way, I think.

  5. Mecha says

    Two related thoughts:

    1) Being a bisexual _male_, I don’t, as far as I know, have any ‘ew gross’ issues with female or male body hair (that isn’t my own, at random moments when I think about it.) I do have a visual preference for smoothness, but it is also 99.9% of what I’ve been exposed to on torso and legs in media, for both women _and men_. If you’re any sort of uncovered on screen, for the most part, it’d better be smooth and/or sculpted. I’ve never been told that hairy is ‘good’ for guys (unless you’re a bear subculture sort), and womens’ preferences for even facial hair run the gamut, let alone elsewhere. (I have, in fact, been expressly told by a number of women that chest hair is very bleh. Maybe in specific parts of the world women can’t say that, but I think it has very little to do with body hair, and more to do with power/dominance/general sexism control stuff.)

    2) All of that leads to the me being somewhat disturbed by the concept that being grossed out by various natural things of our or others bodies is an orientation. I would hope that all of us can think to at least one situation where we find ourselves or someone else gross for something completely natural, and it having little to nothing to do with any sort of orientation, or even a kink. See my rhetorical 99.9% comment up there. In my mind it’s mass socialization we’re talking about here. If you’re naked on television, you’re near ‘perfect.’ And that’s sleek and hairless and usually with some degree of tone/muscle. (I am reminded of the Buffy S2 episode involving Xander in a small swimsuit. A male friend of mine watching yesterday was just, ‘… what? He’s a geek and he looks like that?’ My only response was, ‘He’s Californian, and an actor.’ I’m sure we can all think of that happening for women, too.)

    -Mecha

  6. Mecha says

    I just had to look up the Paki thing, too, with Jess bringing it up. I didn’t realize there _was_ a racist meaning to it: I thought it just a colloquial shortening. The slur seems to be more a British thing. ( http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Paki )

    The more you know, I guess.

    -Mecha

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    Jess – I am so sorry – I didn’t realize that was a racist form! I’m relieved Mecha expresses the same confusion, because for a minute there I thought “How could I be so uninformed?” IIRC, I picked it up from British TV in contexts which probably did not make it clear to me the term was derogatory because they were intended for an audience that would know that.

    Thanks for the information – I’ve altered the term to “Pakistani.”

    • says

      (I realize this is an old thread, but I’m under a compulsion to add my two cents’ worth. I discovered your blog a few months ago and like it so much I’ve been doling out small portions of your backlist to read so I don’t run through it all too fast.)

      Totally tangential to your post…

      “Paki” in Pakistani means “noble.” The country name is the usual one-true-noble-great-and-good-people kind of name everyone always gives themselves. In Pakistan, “Pakis” refers to Pakistani people. The “stan” part refers to the land. So, rather like the Danes coming from Denmark.

      The fact that it can be used nastily by some nasty Brits doesn’t make the term racist. We need to stop giving racists and pornographers ownership of every word they touch. Admittedly, usage can eventually give them that ownership, but by giving up when the majority usage is still non-racist all we’re doing is helping them along.

      tl;dr: Your usage wasn’t racist and there was actually nothing wrong with it.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    Reb - that’s how it should be, IMO. You do what makes you comfortable, whether that’s keeping the hair or not. And other people should shut the hell up about it.

    Mecha, do we know for sure that heterosexuality isn’t a case of mass socialization? If it’s so natural for people to only lust after the opposite sex, how come there’s so much brainwashing to make sure we all do just that? ;)

  9. Mecha says

    Beta, all I can say intelligently about that is:

    http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/Articles/000,015.htm

    (Okay, I can also note that I have a fairly different personal perspective on sexuality than I’ve seen in the wide world, being that my mental position about my sexuality and interaction is, as I explained to my brother, ‘If I’m interested in someone, what sex they are really doesn’t matter.’ He replied that, ‘That wouldn’t make sense for anyone but you.’

    However, by itself the ‘brainwashing’ sets up a norm, which shames deviants, which keeps people from expressing inherent beliefs and attitudes, etc, etc, etc. We know how white male heteronormative works, whether against race, sex, gender, orientation, or whatever. ^_~ )

    -Mecha

  10. says

    “The guest was not white: she looked Paki or Persian.”

    !!!

    I’m really surprised to have to call you up on this, but I hardly expected to see the Hathor Legacy use racist slang.

  11. Jennifer Kesler says

    If I’m interested in someone, what sex they are really doesn’t matter.

    This is exactly the perspective, though, that I have often speculated might be the “true” human default. I’ll just leave it at that. ;)

    Going back to what I said in the article, I have an unusual perspective on orientation, which is basically: who cares? But if you must, there should be a separate orientation for every separate and discreet group that is the only one a given person will use as a dating pool. I.E. “BDSM het” and “no BDSM het”. I mean, these are two distinct groups who are incompatible with each other, just like “heterosexual” and “homosexual”.

    If you break down orientations like that, you quickly shatter the illusion that 90% of humanity is pretty much the same, sexually. In truth, sexuality is so varied, I find it pointless to label.

    I’m not going to press the issue of orientation and fetish – I mostly wanted to generate discussion with that remark. ;)

  12. Maartje says

    Something happened today that totally put me in mind of this discussion, so please allow me to blow of some steam.
    It’s a hot spring day, the only day off I have for ages. I decided to spend it in the garden with a good book so I threw on a sleeveless summerdress.
    All three of my brothers, one girlfriend and my dad came to dinner (my mother was at work). When my dad and two of my brothers were away getting stuff out of the house the last brother commented on the hair on my armpitts! His word, literally translated was: Grose!
    I generally shave when I’m wearing sleeveless shirts or dresses but this last week I’d been working in an office. I just hadn’t bothered because I was at home, in my own garden, enjoying the spring sunshine. He himself of course had loads of pitt-hair and a wisp of hair on his chest that seemed rather pubic but of course he was a man and body hair is only gross on women! That’s really what he said and he thought it sounded very reasonable too.
    His girlfriend told him that it was my own business whether I shaved every day or not. He rubbed his chin pointedly… Only to find out he hadn’t actually shaved that day.
    Then it was pointed out that I had shaved my legs and should’ve shaved my pitts as well. After 21 years of being their sister, they still haven’t figured out that my leg-hair is only visible when direct sunlight hits it and you’re really looking. But, brother dearest reitterated, pitt-hair was gross on women and I should shave. Before I had counted to ten, trying to calm myself my other brothers and dad had returned and my oldest brother thought it would be a good idea to make jokes about the neckline of my dress.
    My brothers and I have always made jokes at each other’s expense and that’s fine with me, I can take it and dish it out with the best of them. When your own brother seems to be disgusted with you it’s a whole other story. And for something as silly as hair! I agree that it’s not the most attractive feature on anyone but it doesn’t make you a mutant freak or anything.
    Steam venting is over. Thank you for your attention.

  13. Jennifer Kesler says

    You’re very welcome. What a perfect illustration of the double standard!

    Even if I was repulsed by a man’s natural hair or his choice of facial hair arrangement, I wouldn’t say anything because it would be rude. But somehow, many people – women, too – feel entitled to gasp and glare at women who don’t remove hair from certain areas of their bodies. There is no awareness or concern that some people have skin that reacts very badly to shaving. That some people are from cultures where it’s not done. That some people think you should just mind your own business.

    You don’t have to like how other people shave or don’t shave, but you are not entitled to be shielded from seeing body hair you don’t like.

  14. scarlett says

    As far as the bisexuality debate goes, a gay friend of mine once said that he believed everyone is born bisexual, which is a thought that’s always stayed with me.

  15. Tomoko says

    I have a friend who describes herself as bisexual with lesbian leanings, and she finds body hair on anyone disgusting. Maybe it’s all the bishounen yaoi (which is notorious for featuring boys with no body hair) she likes so much…

    I used to be the same way until recently. I can appreciate beards and mustaches as long as they’re well-groomed, and I realize that growing hair is a natural state for most human beings.

    • reiko says

      Or maybe it’s the reverse and she likes bishounen yaoi BECAUSE it features hairless men.

      Rather than an influence on heir preferences, it’s a manifestation of her pre-made preferences.R

  16. malaika says

    I remember being about 8 years old, standing outside a classroom in my school socks when one of the grade 7 girls walked past. Just loudly enough that I could hear, she said to her friend, “SHE needs WAX!” I think she was just becoming aware of society’s requirements for women, but was young enough not to have learned to bite her tongue. Luckily my mom had instilled a very healthy body image in me (we weren’t even allowed barbie dolls because she said they’d make us hate our own bodies when we got older), and I found the encounter foreign rather than hurtful. But sure enough, when I reached grade 6 myself, I also started shaving.

  17. Tenko says

    Well, since you asked specifically about lesbians, I might as well share my experience.

    I am a lesbian and have a lovely girlfriend. She has come mainly from an Italian heritage, and I’m a messy mix of Italian, Iberic, Middle-Eastern, African and Native American heritages, so we both have a lot of body hair. Dark, long, straight body hair. And I, personally, happen to be pale skinned. I often got teased and mocked for my hairy arms and legs when I was at school, to the point of the other kids calling me “fuzzy monkey”, “werewolf” and other less-than-flattering names. When I got older, I stopped caring about it, and since it’s not amusing to tease someone who doesn’t care, they stopped it too.

    But getting to the point: no, I don’t think body hair in women is disgusting. I actually enjoy caressing the soft little strings in my girlfriend’s abdome. We both shave our legs, armpits, and we shave our pubic areas completely, though it’s less about beauty and more about not getting hair strings stuck between our teeth. =P

    Talking to other lesbians, I found out that we have much higher tolerance for body hair than men do. If our girlfriends don’t feel like shaving one day or another, this is not going to prevent us from touching them. Maybe that’s just the girls I know and talk to, and I’m very picky with my friendships, so I don’t think this can be considered “default lesbian behaviour”.

    And mind also that I live in Brazil, home of the infamous “brazilian bikini line waxing”. As a culture, we really dislike body hair, so I suppose it’s actually worse here than in most parts of the western world. =P

  18. Joel says

    Great post Jennifer, something I’ve come to expect since a friend linked me here not long ago. I thought I’d quit lurking and throw my two cents in.

    I for one, as a (mostly) hetero male, don’t find hair on a woman to be a turn-off; It’s not really a turn-on to me either. I get the impression that that makes me slightly odd compared to the rest of American culture. If I’m attracted to a woman, I’m attracted to her regardless of whether or not she has body hair and I’ve never been able to understand this whole “eww… Girls with hairy legs are gross” mentality.

    As far as sexuality goes, I would partly agree with a lot of what’s been said. I think a reasonable argument can be made that all people are bisexual to some degree, but the strength of the attraction to the same sex will naturally vary between individuals. Thus picturing sexuality as a continuum between 100% straight and 100% gay with very few individuals falling at either far end of the spectrum. At the same time I don’t buy sexuality (either hetero or homo) as mass socialization due to the increasing research showing a biological component in sexuality. For instance, I personally would probably describe myself as about 95-96% heterosexual, I do have some attraction to men but it’s limited in its scope (really though, who wouldn’t want Neil Patrick Harris?) and intensity, I’m far enough down the scale that I would view self-identifying as Bi to be, in a sense, false advertising just as it would be for the gay guys I know (admittedly I know few self identified lesbians) who have a small handful of women they find attractive to identify as bi. Granted, there are probably many men who are further down the scale toward the pan-sexual 50/50 mark who still call themselves straight due to there still being a social stigma for bi men that has been reduced in recent years for bi women. This, to me, is akin to gays and lesbians who stay in the closet for fear of social repercussions. I suppose the key distinction I would take from your view is the difference between being socialized to BE straight versus being socially stigmatized to CLAIM you’re straight. Given time and continued activism that stigma will decrease (as steady trends are showing) and more people will be openly gay and bi, but this isn’t because there will be more people who are gay and bi because they’re not being socialized to be straight, but rather that more people will be comfortable being honest about who they are.

    At the end of the day I just don’t see the biology supporting the argument that what gender you prefer is a socialized trait. I’m open to clarification should I have misunderstood your comment.

    @Reb, how did the laser treatment work for him? I’ve considered trying it for the random patches of back hair I have but I’ve heard mixed reviews… I’ve got a hairy chest, legs and arms, it’s just the back hair that bugs me lol.

  19. says

    Joel, this is a very old post, and at the time of writing, I liked to generate discussion by suggesting something highly controversial. (Later I realized just how often this technique fails online and backed off.) I do think something’s gone horribly wrong for evolution when the majority of one gender expresses disgust at the other’s bodies in their natural state, and that problem falls under socialization. But I do agree with you that orientation has a strong, perhaps determining, biological factor.

  20. Felicia says

    Is there a way I can find a clip of the video? Maybe the link that was up is too old now because it doesn’t lead to “faux real.”

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