Female Body Hair – A Choice or Not?

Waxing, threading, shaving and lasering – we have been in a battle with body hair for generations. Female body hair has always been termed as something that should not exist, or at least be tamed. It is regarded as unhygienic and ugly. We wax or shave our legs, underarms; remove pubic hair. Even the mildest facial hair is a total no-no to a female. We must get our eyebrows in shape, painfully removing the excess hair. Anything like upper lips hair is a total abomination to a female.  

At the same time, we still regard male body hair as normal. There is no hygiene issue to them, and the male hair is even considered as a symbol of his manliness.

And removing body hair is not just a recent practice. The practice of removing body hair can be traced back to ancient Rome and Egypt. But back then, Body hair removal had been advised to both males and females. Some of the first razors, made of copper, were used in Egypt and India around 3000 BCE.

However, this changed in the 1800s, when Charles Darvin came up with his theory in his book Descent of Man.  He claimed that a female with less body hair was more attractive to her male counterparts, and this idea caught on. Male body hair was considered normal and attractive, female body hair was condemned as ‘unhygienic’ and ‘unattractive’. Though the removal of hair has a lot to do with the change in women’s fashion. Sleeveless tops and shorter skirts mean no underarm or leg hair.  By the early 1900s, upper- and middle class white American women associated smooth skin with desirable femininity.

Recently there have been arguments about why women should be embracing their body hair. Body hair is a natural thing and has its own functions. Body hair keeps mammals warm. It protects their skin from a lot of external influences, from abrasion, from water and from chemical attacks. Hair helps regulate body temperature, keeping humans warmer in colder climates. Moreover, body hair removal remains a painful, time consuming and expensive process.

Yet a female is forced to remove any form of body hair to be considered as ‘attractive’. This beauty is simply subjective, and it is indeed a liberating experience to let go of all the painful hair removal processes and embrace your body as it is. Though it is difficult to do that when you are living in a society where everybody perceives body hair as ‘ugly’.  

Many women argue that they remove their body hair out of their own choice. Because having body hair makes them feel dirty and unhygienic. However, is it their choice? Are we left with any choice when hair removal is considered a social norm for everyone? No.

At the same time, only women are subjected to this hassle procedure where men can proudly display their body hair as an asset. Even though some of the men also have started to remove body hair, they are still left with a choice. And we are left with the question about the disparity in the situation between the genders.   

-Poorna Krishnan

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