February 6, 2017

You Have Hair Where?—Body Shaming & the Pressure to Shave.

Body shaming sucks.

But self-shame toward one’s natural state of being sucks even more.

At one point in my life, I dedicated thousands of my hard-earned dollars toward subjecting myself to relatively painful sessions of waxing, shaving, laser and electrolysis, on various parts of my body that I felt needed to be perpetually smooth.

I’m not a particularly hairy person but rather, for a period of time longer than I’d like to admit (but admit I must!), I considered smooth, bald skin fundamental to being beautiful, attracting male attention and pleasing sexual partners.

On one occasion, sitting in the waiting room before a laser session, a woman across from me distractedly leafing through last month’s Cosmo asked,

“Have you done this before?” Her voice was anxious, uncertain.
“Of course!” I responded, putting on a tone to evoke thoughts of soft, painless things.
“It’s really easy, don’t worry.”
“Even on…you know?” She said, gesturing toward her, you know what.
“Yes, even there. It’s really not that bad.”
“Thank you, it means a lot for you to say that. What are you getting done?”
“Oh, just my belly line,” I said (belly line being my polite way of referring to the slight treasure trail I have my Irish roots to thank for).
“You have hair there?” She responded with obvious shock and disgust.

Cue massive eye roll.

It’s easy to laugh about it now, but the truth is that women’s body hair, at least in the Western context, has been deemed not only unacceptable but something to be ashamed of by men and women alike.

According to a recent study, the vast majority of American women groom their nether regions. White women do it more than any other race; of the 3,300 women surveyed, over half said they groom for sexual purposes, 21 percent shave because their partner prefers it and 31 percent because they feel it makes their genital area look “nicer.” The rest of the women who groom themselves, reported it was for “hygiene reasons.”

When the New York Times reported on the study, the headline was, “Many Women Prefer to Groom, Citing Hygiene (and Baffling Doctors).” I bet that almost all medical doctors, even the un-baffled ones, would tell you that having pubic hair is what decreases infection and disease, while shaving or waxing will actually increase the chance of STDs, ingrown hairs, cysts and other awful things you don’t want to experience down there.

Let’s not forget that in modern times, it’s the clever advertising of big corporations that have most prominently shamed female body hair in order to sell us the answer to getting rid of it.

Today, I shave sometimes, but most of the time I don’t.

Looking back at the reactions I’ve had to that, plus the self-confidence journey I’ve been on since making that decision, I wonder why a woman’s choice in dealing with her body hair a) determines how attractive she is, and b) has an impact on her personal confidence and self-esteem levels.

What motivates your grooming habits?

For me, it’s about comfort and freedom.

Thousands of dollars on hair removal? Hundreds of hours dedicated to depilatory procedures? Dutifully performing said procedures to placate the voices in my head telling me I would be more attractive and somehow more worthy if I complied? At some point, this stopped feeling like freedom to me.

A soft bush, no more stubble or ingrown hair, thousands of dollars and hours saved and comfort in my own skin…Freedom!

And, to answer the question, do my sex partners mind the bush?

Yes. Of course, there are people who mind. But those who do mind don’t make it into my phonebook, let alone into my pants.

But there are plenty of others who do not mind at all. People who do not notice my body hair or lack thereof, because they’re too caught up in how transcendental the act of sexual union is.

When your choices are tempered by what someone else has deemed to be attractive in their ideal partner, are you truly free?

What does a future with that person look like?

Why does anyone care what my armpits look like? My pubes? Why do I care about anything other than feeling comfortable?

I like to believe that we are on the path toward a world where everyone is given the freedom to be themselves, however that manifests for us.

And maybe a bunch of women running around with hairy armpits to make the point that body hair doesn’t matter and we are free to choose, is the step we need right now toward more freedom for all of us.


Author:  Chloe Cotter 

Image: Rose Morelli/Flickr

Editor: Sara Kärpänen

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