A small article about the beauty of body hair and the terrible history of its removal.
You get up in the morning. It’s a boringly normal morning. You go to school, university or work today. Because it’s a part of your daily routine you undress and after an hopefully very admiring look in the mirror you jump under the shower. You brush your teeth, you foam up the shampoo in your hair, you wash your body and then you grab your shaver and start to remove hair around your vagina, your armpits and legs because the little hair stubbles any the shit out of you. Maybe you use a lotion to protect the skin, maybe you use a powder after or maybe you use nothing at all. It’s a part of your normal routine and you don’t even think about it. But do you actually know what and why you’re doing this? Where this hair comes from and what it’s there for? Why you remove a natural part of your body and why you feel dirty when you don’t do it? Why you feel shame when someone notices your unshaved legs or why people pull faces when you lift your arms and there is hair? Hair that belongs there, but is not wanted.
We might consider ourselves as pretty hairless in comparison to other mammals but we are actually covered with more than five million hair follicles – only 100.000 are located on our heads, the rest all over our body. Even in the womb we are covered with hair in between the 13 and 16 week of the pregnancy to protect the sensitive skin of the fetus. While the hair we see on our skin may appear to be actively growing the actual process happens below the surface of our skin, called epidermis. While cells inside of our hair follicles multiply older cells get pushed out. Those older cells harden and form the hair shaft after a while. The shaft is mostly comprised of dead tissue and a protein called keratin. These hairs are a legacy of our ape ancestors and all of them still fulfill a purpose: The regulation of body temperature, improvement of the skins sensitivity and surface enlargement for sweat evaporation. Of course their mission changes with their location – eyebrows, lashes, nostril hairs do have other very important functions like protection and filter. So when you shave your hair, doesn’t matter where, shaving anywhere on the body, including arms and armpits, comes with the potential for ingrown hairs, razor burn, skin irritation and even inflammations as well as spread of skin diseases. You basically take away a part of your system that actually has a purpose otherwise it wouldn’t be there. We’re born almost hairless. When we grow up, pass puberty and turn into adults every young girl finds hairs in places where there was none before. Pubic hair and armpit hair are one of many signs that we turn from girls into women. It’s a sign of majority and – most important – fertility. We are now ready to carry a child under our heart and men naturally start to be attracted to us in a sexual way. What I want to point out here is the fact that there’s nothing dirty, nothing ugly and nothing impure about body hair. But where does this trend comes from? Who said all this? Who put this picture of smooth, hairless skin into our heads?
It has to be said that humanity looks back onto a long history of hair removal practices dating back to 3000 BCE. Back then, shaving had mostly religious, cultural and hygienic reasons, also there was no difference made in between women and mens dealing with body hair. But public hair has already been considered as uncivilized long before something like fashion industry even existed. But then, they changed the whole game. Around 1910, the mens shaving industry in the USA as well as the women fashion industry started a huge campaign together to convince people that women underarm hair was offensive. Out of sudden, dresses suddenly exposed shoulders and so armpits. At this time, women magazines were rising fast and pictures of hairless women in shoulder free, sleeve less dresses were published. Improvements of printing technologies, rail transportation and postal services made mass circulation of these magazines possible and helped so to reach an extraordinary level of influence. Influenced by the new trend, 60 % of the American women made shaving of body hair as a part of their routine within two years. The first razor especially marketed for women came to market in 1915 followed by millions of other products, mostly more expensive than the equivalent for men. From then, Gillette and other hair removal companies used the changes in fashion to justify the sudden need to first remove underarm and later leg hair. Everyone not following the trend was called primal and heavily dirty. Hair removal, fashion and women magazine industries explode in economic growth. After that, playboy magazines came into play and made it all worse. Later, pornography, new techniques like waxing and the rising of the pop culture made body hair removal move from expected to the norm. Today, hair removal is still promoted as a gender norm requirement for women. Body hair has always been used as a weapon of shame and conformity by industries. The beauty industry is ruled by companies promising to make you feel sexier, more desirable and more feminine when you don’t have body hair.
I’m not trying to convince you here, I’m being a hypocrite once again, I’m actually trying to convince myself. I shave when I see my boyfriend because I want him to want me. I don’t want him to seek for my clitoris in a bush of pubic hair. I don’t want him to be totally disgusted when he goes down on me. I want him to find soft, hairless and smooth skin. When I go out wearing shorts, I shave my legs. The looks on peoples faces intimidated me too much in the past so I don’t dare to show myself in public unshaved anymore. When I go to Yoga class I shave my armpits because – yes, why? Because everyone does. Because body hair, even if it’s the most natural thing, is considered as unclean, dirty, filthy, as a lack of hygienic and self care. We feel the need to shave like there is no other option – but there is. Maybe we should be proud, maybe we should show the world how our body actually looks like.
I just want us, all of us, to overthink what we’re doing the next time we grab the shaver and remove body hair. All I want is to bring an awareness to what and especially why we’re doing it to our attention. To all the money, all the time all the thoughts we spend. Tomorrow morning, under the shower, stop for a second and question what you’re about to do. Do you do it for yourself or for someone else? Do you do it because YOU feel better when you’re shaved? Why do you feel better? Is it because of other people? Is it because of social media? Is it because of a trend? Or is it your personal free choice, not influenced by any outer circumstances? What makes YOU feel comfortable?
Body hair is beautiful because it is, indisputable and without a doubt, a part of you. Body hair is a personal choice, your choice. Feel beautiful, sexy, feminine, desirable and stupendous with or without hairy armpits, vaginas and legs but do it because you, and only you, want to.
Much love to you!