The first time I felt the need to shave was at 11 years old. I was in PE class and noticed that none of the other girls had hair on their legs. So, I went home, got my poor dad’s razor, and shaved my leg hair off. I imagine that it’s a similar story for many other women and anyone who shaves alike.
But why did we start shaving at all?
Shaving our hair off is nothing new. Razors made of copper were first found in India and Egypt 3000 years ago. Egyptian women and ancient Indians considered pubic hair uncivilized. Egyptians removed their hairs to keep cool and prevent lice. Roman women also plucked and pulled on the quest to be hairless. Darwin then came along and in 1871 said that less hair meant you were a more sexually attractive partner, which is why humans had evolved to be less hairy than our hairy ancestors. Being hairless had gone from being a matter of practicalities to a matter of sexual attractiveness.
Hair removal advertisements were first run by Harper’s Bazaar in 1914, with the arrival of the flapper dresses and evening gowns. Body hair became something you had to remove because, according to Harper’s Bazaar, it was “objectionable” for your armpit hair to be seen. In 1922, Harper’s Bazaar even went as far as to say that a woman must have “immaculate underarms if she is to be unembarrassed.” Gillette then launched an attack on underarm hair in 1915, calling underarm hair “objectionable” and “unsightly” as they were not selling enough razors. The consequences of these men branding body hair as unsightly is still felt around the world among many women. Then came along WW2, and a shortage of nylon, which meant women were more likely to shave leg hair as well because stocking supplies were low. Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine decided to showcase hairless pubic areas. And why not? Of course, a man decided women needed to have prepubescent looking nether regions. The beauty industry, capitalism and patriarchy worked to instill this insecurity into women, and continue to profit off of this degrading work.
By the early 1900s, femininity and smooth skin were synonymous among white American women. By 1964, 98% of women aged fifteen to forty-four shaved their legs regularly. Though it’s not like the beauty industry and the marketing lads in Gillette can accept all the blame. It seems for millennia that women have shaved and, in certain instances, we certainly did shave when we knew our bodies would be exposed. But it wasn’t quite the same insistent norm to shave then as it is now.
The problem I have with shaving is that many women do it today because of the reasons Gillette and Harper’s Bazaar cited. I know I started to shave because I found the hair below my head to be “objectionable” and “embarrassing.” I imagine it’s the same for many other women and anybody else who shaves. Hairlessness and its associations to womanhood have caused problems for women with hirsutism and transgender women. Research shows that body hair can worsen gender dysphmorphia for transgender women. But this shouldn’t be the case. We should only shave because we want to, not because society equates hairlessness to femininity.
I decided to grow my body hair purely by accident. I returned to Auckland after quarantine, a hairy beast, without any razors and forgot to buy them every time I went to the supermarket. After a while, I thought, why not join a movement? I realized that when I saw women with body hair, I was surprised and my first thoughts weren’t all that positive. I still struggle to untangle the idea that body hair is not gross. Having this reaction made me angry because I hated that this was my immediate response to something good for our body. After all, body hair serves us in thermoregulation and helps to keep away infections.
My hope is that eventually people will see women with body hair and not be surprised by it. Because it is normal! I want to aid other women in this movement to change how body hair is seen. Where I come from, the majority of women still don’t shave, but rather embrace our hairy femininity.
Next time you pick up the razor or start waxing, I challenge you to ask yourself: Am I doing this for myself? Would I feel insecure if I didn’t shave or wax? Why do I feel insecure if I don’t wax?
If the answers are “no” and “yes,” then put the razor down and join a movement. As much as society may tell you otherwise, the only validation you ever need is from yourself.