What you do with your body is your business.
If you want to shave every inch of your skin, you do you, boo.
If you want to go natural – more power to you.
Still, a lot of women feel some social pressure to shave, and that feeling of ‘shame’ that accompanies a pair of hairy legs (for some people) has a long and fascinating history.
Let’s get into it with CNN:
Hair removal — or otherwise — has long shaped gender dynamics, served as a signifier of class and defined notions of femininity and the “ideal body.”
However, in its most recent evolution, body hair is being embraced by a growing number of young women who are turning a source of societal shame and turning it into a sign of personal strength.
This has a lot to do with the rise in the body-positivity movement, alongside the recognition that gender is a construct, sexuality and gender are fluid, and the patriarchy needs to be smashed.
Still, we’re not out of the water yet, because there’s a lot of conditioning to undo, according to Heather Widdows, professor of global ethics at the UK’s University of Birmingham.
“[Hair] removal is one of the few aesthetic traditions that have gone from being a beauty routine to a hygienic one.
“Today, most women feel like they have to shave. Like they have no other option. There’s something deeply fraught about that — though perceptions are slowly changing.”
Hairlessness as a feminine ideal wasn’t established until the 20th century. Before that, both men and women removed their body hair – as far back as the stone age. In the Middle East, as well as East and South Asia, threading was used on the entire face.
In Persia, hair removal was a marker of adulthood for women, while in China body har was considered normal, and even today women feel far less pressure to shave.
In fact, in Korea, pubic hair was long considered a sign of fertility and sexual health — so much so that, in the mid-2010s, it was reported that some Korean women were undergoing pubic hair transplants, to add extra hair to their own.
…By the late 18th century, hair removal still wasn’t considered essential by European and American women, although when the first safety razor for men was invented by French barber Jacques Perret in 1760, some women reportedly used them too.
Then in the late 1800s, women on both sides of the Atlantic adopted hair removal.
We can blame Darwin for this one.
The modern-day notion of body hair being unwomanly can be traced back to Charles Darwin’s 1871 book “Descent of a Man,” according to Rebecca Herzig’s “Plucked: A History of Hair Removal.”
Darwin’s theory of natural selection associated body hair with “primitive ancestry and an atavistic return to earlier, ‘less developed’ forms,” wrote Herzig, a professor of gender and sexuality studies at Bates College in Maine. Conversely, having less body hair, the English naturalist suggested, was a sign of being more evolved and sexually attractive.
Moving on to the 20th century, and fashions that were sleeveless popularised underarm shaving. As the century moved on, shorter skirts and exposed skin meant that even more hair was removed.
Then Playboy hit the shelves, and its range of hairless, lingerie-touting women set a new standard of sexiness.
With advertising and media further promoting the ideal of hair-free bodies, the idea that female hair is gross has only grown. In turn, methods to achieve hairlessness have become more precise: The last four decades have seen the ascent of electrolysis, pulsed light and more advanced laser technology.
Today we’re more ready to embrace hairiness. You can read a more comprehensive history of hairiness, here.
As for the age-old question “what do women want?” – the answer is simple.
We want fundamental human rights, equality… and pockets.
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