Body hair. Who pops into your head? Burt Reynolds? Daniel Day Lewis? Zac Efron? Does a feeling of acceptance and the thought “Oh, yea. That makes sense. Men are hairy?” I say be damned your preconceived notions of follicular acceptability based on gender bias! I spit in your eye! I pox your houses and curse your fields. I scream in your ear at night when you’re trying to sleep and dump mud in your boots! *Sigh*
What if I said, Frida Khalo. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Cleopatra. Oprah Winfrey. Guess what. They have body hair. Maybe even right now. Yes, even Frida and Cleo. Corpses, but maybe hairy ones.
How and why (oh, GOD WHY?!) did we decide as a society, a culture, that women need to be hairless seals aside from abnormally long eyelashes, eyebrows (that’s a whole other episode) and atop their heads? Why can’t we have a full snatch of pubes? A luscious underarm? A copious gam? I’ll tell you who’s to blame: Darwin, Gillette, Harper’s Bazaar, Playboy, and anyone else I decide to burn.
Some of the first razors were made of copper (oooo fancy) and used in Egypt and India around 3000 BCE. Egyptian women removed their head hair (woah, Sinead O’Connor much) and considered pubic hair uncivilized (oh, then DARN YOU Egyptian women! And probably DARN YOU CLEOPATRA! I take back what I said before). Roman women in the upper class used tweezers, pumice stones (HOW?!) and their version of Nair. Egyptians also figured out some sugar mixture and did some form of waxing. Elizabethan women removed their eyebrows (I did that in 8th grade, accidentally not as a stance of Elizabethan solidarity) and hair from the foreheads to give themselves the illustrious “five head” (I was born with that naturally. It’s annoying how much sunscreen I need to cover my shiny dome). But the modern era of hair removal was encouraged by Charles Darwin when he wrote his 1871 book, Descent (why didn’t we descend) of Man. He proposed his theories of natural selection and discussed the homo sapien and how they have less body hair because less hairy mates were more sexually attractive (I’m the opposite; I find a nice hairy dude to be quite attractive…maybe I’m part cro magnon… that would explain the forehead). By the early 1900s, middle and upper class white American women associated hairlessness with femininity. Darn you rich white bitches.
Two industries decided to band together in the war against women (and continue to wage war against our natural selves and self esteem): women’s fashion industry and women’s magazine industry (which I would say now encompasses all media). Hemlines rose as did our anxiety that someone will see our hairy legs. Then, our sleeves started disappearing, threatening to reveal *gasp* our armpits! Here comes Harper’s Bazaar. They were the first of the women’s magazines to run hair removal advertisements in 1914. Gillett launched an anti-underarm hair campaign shortly thereafter in 1915. Gillette ads urged women to remove “unsightly” and “objectionable hair”. I’m sure more garbage happened between then and 1950, but I’m not getting into it because this has already involved far more research than I’m comfortable with. Fast forward to 1950, when Hugh Hefner (science rest his carbon matter), and his Playboy magazine, introduced clean-shaven women prancing about in lingerie. Hey, if I looked better in lingerie and was paid to prance, I’d probably have done the same thing so I’m not knockin’ anyone here. But! Because we as a nation are so easily influenced, we all collectively decided this was the benchmark for the ideal look. Feminists in the 1960’s tried to reclaim our natural state but were quickly quelled. I love me some feminism, especially the feminism of the 1960s, BUT they failed in that movement. Brazilian waxes hit the mainstream and the first salon offering a full rip appeared in 1987. I was born in 1988. Correlated? I sure hope not… *shudder*. And we’ve never looked back since. I got all the aforementioned “facts” (I didn’t fact check, I just read this one article) from Womensmuseum.wordpress.com. Could be credible, could be garbage. I also attempted to read another article, from the Journal of American Culture, entitled “Caucasian Female Body Hair and American Culture” by Christine Hope… but it was way too long, and super dry. The only thing I got from that articles was there were four “periods” of hair removal: prior to 1915 was the Ivory Complexion period, 1915-1919 The Great Underarm Campaign, 1920-1940 Coming to Terms with Leg Hair and 1941-1945 A Minor Assault on Leg Hair. There wasn’t any mention in either of these articles of other cultures and/or races. I won’t assume that that means other cultures accept their women as they are: hairy.
I do like that hairy, out of control eyebrows are making a comeback. Especially now that I’ve been quarantined for a long time now. I look like Madonna circa 1987. Or Brooke Shields (just my eyebrows) around the same time. I’ll have to do an episode on the journey of the eyebrow: American and mine.
In conclusion: ladies… do with yourself whatever you wish. If you want hair legs, hair pits, hairy tits…whatever hair you’ve got growing anywhere… keep it! But, be prepared for repercussions if that’s your choice but not your partner’s preference. If you don’t have a significant other, be prepared for a change in your dating life. I did have one guy ask me to grow out my armpit hair as he preferred that. He was the only one but folk like that aren’t easy to come by. So if you choose to lead a hairy lifestyle, you may have a harder hunt ahead of you. My husband prefers extremely hairy eyebrows but nothing else. We’ve come to a compromise: I’ll leave my eyebrows hairy and sporadically shave my legs. He doesn’t seem to care. I prefer him a hairy beast of a human. He doesn’t like that but does it just for me. Awww….I think we’re in love.
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