WAX! AH-AAA! AM I A BAD FEMINIST?
Several years ago, when I was on my “how many people can I shag in the shortest amount of time in an effort to make up for my un-miss-spent youth?” kick, I began a flirtation with a man (boy) who had a somewhat unhealthy obsession with my pubic hair.
How much did I have?
Did I keep it neat and tidy?
What about ‘round the back? Did I have a hairy arsehole???
This last point was a real sticker for him, for you see, he’d been with women who professed to have had the full Brazilian, but – shock horror – still had hair around their anuses! How could this be?
Now, to be clear, I’m not sure that I was really aware of what feminism was at this point, much less was I able to identify as one. So rather than use this as an opportunity to teach this guy a life lesson regarding the politicalization of female body hair and how problematic his feelings of entitlement to a hair-free arsehole were, I simply told him the truth: that I was as smooth as a naked mole rat down there.
“I simply told him the truth: that I was as smooth as a naked mole rat down there”
Because I was. At the time, I was in the midst of shooting a feature film where I played a latex-clad stripper, and I’d deemed it best for everyone if I had all of my pubic hair removed. Costumes were tight and minimal (to say the least), and getting a Hollywood seemed easier than lumbering post-production with the arduous task of digitally removing any of my wayward muff-hairs frame by frame.
Of course, the other reason I told him that I was hair-free was because I wanted to sleep with him – pube-averse weirdo or no. I was not long out of a 7 ½-year relationship and had only slept with one other person before that, so I was understandably keen to explore new territory. But alas, it was not to be, and we went our separate ways after satisfying ourselves with some mild mutual masturbation. Nevertheless, I continued, undeterred, with my newly-discovered waxing regime. I enjoyed how smooth and fresh and naughty it seemed. Like Carrie Bradshaw, I felt like “walking sex” – unencumbered by fuzz as I was.
And so it continued: every two months or so I would go to my salon and pay a woman to rip out all my pubic hair. Which is… odd. Isn’t it? Paying (both in actual money and in physical pain) to have my lady-garden resemble that of my 12-year-old self. Odd. Of course, one could argue that you don’t need to have it all removed – just remove absolutely everything other than that tiny ‘landing strip’, which 1) enables your partner to find the entrance to your vagina (how else would they know??), and 2) demonstrates to said partner that you are a woman who takes care of herself and DEFINITELY NOT A 12-YEAR-OLD.
“Hair removal for the sake of ‘fuck knows’ (a technical term) is nothing new”
And that’s just it – ‘a woman who takes care of herself’. We equate ‘taking care of oneself’ in this context with a certain level of hairlessness; a certain amount of make-up; a certain degree of thinness. Women who take care of themselves are more attractive – more desirable – more feminine. It would be unfeminine of me to have a hairy arsehole (or minge, or legs, or underarms) because that would indicate that I am not taking adequate care of myself, or rather, that I am not taking the time to make myself attractive to men. This isn’t inherently problematic, of course – you’re not likely to shag someone you don’t find attractive (and why should you?) – but why on earth does attractiveness involve the (gendered) removal of naturally occurring hair?
While it may be tempting to blame Gillette and those pesky Ad Men for the pressure to remain hairless in all the right places, hair removal for the sake of ‘fuck knows’ (a technical term) is nothing new. Historians believe that both men and women of the Stone Age shaved their heads and faces so that opponents in battle wouldn’t have the advantage of grabbing them by their lustrous locks (and also to prevent mites). The ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians removed all hair – except for their eyebrows – in order to suggest cleanliness, and to emulate the beauty standard set by Cleopatra. And the Romans adhered to the notion that pubic hair (particularly on women) was uncivilised, and so the wealthy used flints, tweezers, and home-made creams to remove unsightly hair, while the poor were left to be as bushy as they pleased, thus making body hair a gender and class issue.
Thankfully, the Elizabethan fashion of women removing all facial hair, including the eyebrows and the top of the forehead, is no longer with us – particularly as it involved using cat poo (I shit you not). However, the more recent trend of women having hairless armpits and legs was indeed set by Gillette (ok, I lied – Gillette can totally shoulder some of the blame) who, in 1915, launched the Milady Décolleté – a safety razor designed to clean up women’s ‘objectionable hair’. Hair was also deemed ‘objectionable’ if it dared to reside on one’s lady parts, thanks in no small part to the popularity of the bikini from the 60s onwards, and the ever-present image of the hairless model, actress, or porn star in mainstream advertising.
Of course, this wasn’t really so different from women of the past being held up to the beauty standards set by Renaissance art 500+ years ago. The classical female nude was almost always completely hairless, and there are well-documented instances of hairy women being deemed poor marriage partners because they were considered argumentative and unattractive, while Venetian prostitutes were known to help married women remove bodily hair because “that’s the way our husbands like it”.
“Why do I still do it? Why do I, a self-proclaimed feminist killjoy, still shave or wax virtually everything below the neck?”
Long story short: women remove their bodily hair because their sexual partners (usually men) like it that way, and the fashion industry stands to gain from selling women products and services that they don’t really need. Patriarchal Capitalism – screwing women since the-dawn-of-fucking-ever.
I suspected this was the case even before I researched hair-removal throughout history (although it was fascinating; did you know that the ancient Egyptians used seashells as tweezers?). So why do I still do it? Knowing what I do, why do I, a self-proclaimed feminist killjoy, still shave or wax virtually everything below the neck?
An inability to differentiate between what I want and what the Patriarchy tells me I want?
I just really like the feeling of my freshly shaved legs against my bedsheets?
All of the above?
Probably. It’s really easy to tie yourself up in knots about stuff like this. Yes, there are more important things to worry about, but it is startling to take note of the amount of disgust I feel for the naturally occurring hair on my own body, sometimes. I cannot stand leg hair. I will plan outfits around the presence or lack of it. I hate how it looks and feels, and while I feel a sense of pride in small victories when I see a women rocking a hairy leg, I still find it ‘objectionable’. I will judge you for having hairy legs. How messed up is that?! While these feelings of disgust may have been conditioned in me by a society that teaches women that their value is based on their appearance (and little else), it’s still my responsibility to undo that.
I need to fall in love with my hair again.
Article by Sarah Bradnum