By Rebecca Hitchon
From a young age, being a woman feels like following a list of rules, especially in terms of appearance. We’re told to be equally skinny and curvy, to parade around in skirts and heels, and to shave all of our body hair like we are sphynx cats. And then the pandemic threw all of these societal expectations up in the air. With nowhere to go, our appearance wasn’t our number priority anymore. For many women, it was liberating. A moment to reclaim how we look without society’s influence.
Yet with restrictions being eased, reverting back to societal norms is too easy. The pressure to conform was simpler to rebel against when stuck in our homes. Particularly with body hair, which we can shave, wax and laser off in a flash, it can be difficult to ignore the appeal of blitzing it away now that we can socialise again.
For those that want to remove their body hair and feel more confident doing so, do whatever makes you happy. It’s just a very different story if you want to embrace your body hair but feel societal pressure not to. That’s why at KeiSei, we want to inspire you to accept yourself, hair and all. Whether it’s on your face, pits, chest, stomach, legs or down there, we are here to dispel the myths about body hair and prove its benefits.
A brief history of female body hair removal
I talk with Maya Felix, a model who you may recognise for her shameless acceptance of her body hair. After being photographed for a series titled Natural Beauty, in which Maya and other models proudly show off their armpit hair, one of her photos went viral. This led Maya down the path of becoming an advocate for unapologetically being your authentic self.
Maya tells me that it’s crucial to understand the origins of today’s beauty standards and why there is such pressure to adhere to them. By looking back, we can question the reasons for removing our body hair and address them going forward. “Western society’s collective aversion to female body hair is a very recent thing. It stems from the racist Eurocentric rhetoric in the 19th century that attempted to classify races in order to fabricate evidence of white superiority,” she explains. “Hairiness, especially in women, became associated with being less ‘advanced’, ‘evolved’, ‘civilised’. It also got labelled as ‘dirty’ as another attempt to vilify black and brown people, encourage white women to shave and further set races apart from one another.”
Even when women started gaining more rights, pressure to remove body hair was used to maintain patriarchal control, says Maya. This was an attempt to focus women on their appearance and appealing to men, rather than fighting for equality. It was also a way to reinforce gender binaries, meaning that a lack of body hair is now associated with femininity.
Today, this creates extra pressure for those who do not identify as cisgender, like non-binary and transfeminine people. It also creates stress for those with conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), who can experience excessive hair growth. “For these reasons, policing of people’s bodies and body hair today is still sexist, racist and transphobic,” says Maya. “We just recognise it less as things like women removing all body hair have become so normalised.”
Maya’s literary guide for learning about body hair standards
Overcoming body hair misconceptions
When we understand where the pressure for women to remove their body hair comes from, it becomes easier to recognise that a lot of common ideas about body hair are myths. Body hair being masculine, unhygienic, smelly and a cause of infection are misconceptions which have been used to control women. It’s obvious when you think about the fact that men have body hair but we don’t question their hygiene!
“Some will say shaving or not shaving is a trivial issue, but it’s emblematic of something much bigger – the fight for women, those on the transfeminine spectrum and non-binary people to reclaim ownership of their bodies.”
Female body hair is natural and part of being a woman – it’s just patriarchal beauty standards telling us it isn’t. Body hair is there to reduce friction and protect us from bacteria and infections reaching the skin. It doesn’t have an effect on your hygiene or smell (as long as you clean properly, you’re all good.) Plus, you’re less likely to get rashes, irritation and ingrown hairs if you don’t remove it.
Encouraging the Journey of Women Empowerment, An Exclusive with Emma Breschi
I get in contact with Laura Jackson, founder of Januhairy, an experiment for women to be sponsored to grow their body hair out for a month and a safe community where women can challenge norms about body hair removal. The conversations created by Januhairy extend far beyond its own Instagram page. Many women have been inspired to start their own body hair acceptance social media accounts. “We are all still feminine, hygienic and beautiful, no matter how smooth or hairy,” she says. “After a few weeks of getting used to it, I started to like my natural hair. I also started to like the lack of uncomfortable episodes of shaving. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to start to grow out my body hair if I didn’t have a strong enough reason to do so.”
“There are so many societal pressures, especially on women, to conform to a certain way of being/presenting ourselves all to feel more accepted. When really, abiding by these rules, you’ll never be ‘perfect’. Januhairy isn’t just about shaving and hairy women – it’s about rebelling against societal pressures that can drive destructive behaviours, behaviours we can inflict on ourselves and on others,” adds Laura.
The benefits of body hair
It can be a challenging experience to grow your body hair out – it’s something that both Maya and Laura admit. But gradually building up the confidence to embrace that change, despite what people think, can be so rewarding and empowering. “I have learnt so much about the way I see myself, talk to myself and accept myself, as well as how I see others. It is this best thing I have ever done,” Laura tells me.
Maya echoes this, explaining that growing her body hair was key in accepting her body as a whole and feeling more comfortable and attractive. It has also helped her find out who is like-minded to and compatible with her. “I’ve often been asked ‘have sexual/romantic partners had an issue with you having body hair?’. To be honest, a side effect of not shaving is that people who would want to police my body aren’t interested in being in a relationship with me, which is great because I wouldn’t want to be with them either,” she says.
“It’s so important to be able to establish the difference between the choice being yours, for you, instead of resorting back to society’s expectations of you for the mask of comfort and acceptance. Rebel without a care and rebel BECAUSE you care. Rebel because people need to know that it is ok to love and accept yourself as you are.”
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The body positivity movement, and within it the body hair acceptance movement, are constantly gaining momentum. With access to information, support and a community of body hair lovers, it’s easier than ever to embrace your body hair. Knowledge gives us power when it comes to body hair: the power to make our own choices and stand against the norm if we wish. We hope we have helped give you a bit of that power.
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