Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Hairy females

Every so often there's a public questioning of why women have to shave. What's wrong with having hairy arms and legs, demands a rebellious female, to a wave of shock and outrage from her more conventional sisters.

The latest renegade is Emer O'Toole in the Guardian, who says she has now resisted shaving for 18 months and found it isn't the problem she thought it would be. She's quite happy to be hairy, and so apparently are most of the men she comes across, including her current boyfriend.

Yes, people sometimes giggle or make comments about her hairiness, but that's their problem, not hers. Children are generally curious rather than critical, wondering why women shave in the first place. She doesn't mention her academic colleagues at the University of London but presumably they aren't bothered.

Of course it's relatively easy for a middle-class leftie Londoner to get away with such scandalous gender-defying insurrection, but I wonder how easy it would be in less enlightened communities. The reaction in the average suburban street would surely be frosty enough to send her running for cover.

The problem is that the vast majority of women have been so thoroughly conditioned into the idea that body hair is repulsive, unhygienic and masculine that from puberty onwards the daily ritual of frantic depilation becomes firmly entrenched, particularly when every other woman looks impeccably waxed and plucked and lasered.

I imagine also that Emer is lucky enough to have only a modest sprinkling of body hair, intriguingly different rather than wincingly unattractive. Some women unfortunately have such rampant growth they simply wouldn't contemplate letting it all hang out.

I must say my own attitude to body hair is somewhat ambivalent. The idea of leaving your body as it is without forcing into some arbitrary gender stereotype is obviously appealing. On the other hand I've always found thickets of body hair either on men or women distinctly unalluring, and given the choice between women keeping their body hair or men removing it, I would actually opt for the latter.

Not that the female hair-purging routine is going to stop any time soon, despite the brave boycott by one truculent columnist. Neither are the lads going to uproot their beards, chest hair and pubic undergrowth, however much their womenfolk might fancy the idea. Some things are sacred.

PS: What's the norm in gay relationships, I wonder? Shaving or not shaving? I've no idea.

(Emer O'Toole's piece on body hair is hilarious and worth a read) 

28 comments:

Bijoux said...

I'm always surprised when women comment that they will have to start shaving their legs again when summer approaches. I've never found it a big deal to shave armpits or legs. Takes me about 1 minute in the shower. Where is the hassle in that?

blackwatertown said...

Keep it or cut/shave/pull it out as you will. Whatever. The shame is that anyone feels pressured to do so.

And then where do you draw the line. I know of militant non shavers when it comes to legs - but who do armpits. Others who decry the armpit shavers but have their upper lips treated.

Perhaps the shaving for summer is a good idea. Not for show, but for coolness. Like putting on fat to keep warm in winter, and losing it for hotter weather.

Hmmm... Just drifting off in my memory to meeting a German girl in Avignon when hitching many years ago. Her hairy armpits seemed somehow daring. Her named sounded rather like beergut, though she didn't have one at all.

Nick said...

Bijoux - You've obviously got it off to a fine art. And you obviously see nothing wrong with hair-removal. Sorted!

Blackwater - Indeed, the logical position is to remove hair or keep it just as you wish. The difficulty is that we're expected to do what "gender" dictates. Hairy armpits still seem rather daring when shaving is the norm!

Secret Agent Woman said...

I'm with Bijoux. I shave my legs and armpits every single day, all year long. It takes virtually no time and leaves me with baby soft skin. I like the way it looks and feels and don't intend to stop. I'm not bothered that the woman in the article has given up shaving - more power to her. But I don't much care for her taking a superior tone and declaring we should all stop. Seems like a personal choice, just as when men decide to wear a beard or go clean-shaven.

If you're going to talk about shaving, a far more intriguing issue (to me) is why so many women and men these days are opting to shave off pubic hair, giving them a pre-pubescent look. I've encountered a couple of men who have done that and I don't like it. At all. And again, of course, a personal choice. I just don't like it. Have I mentioned that I don't like it? I don't. At all.

nursemyra said...

Live and let live. I had my legs lasered and am really happy with the result. The hair that remains is much sparser and I just leave it. I only shave under my arms about once a month, I think the slight growth is sexy, but I doubt many people would notice. I don't seem to spend much time with my arms up in the air...

kylie said...

if and when i shave i do it so i dont attract the ridicule of other women. i dont like to admit that but i also dont like ridicule. no man has ever appeared to care about my hair status and if he did he wouldnt be too attractive to me anyway.

Nick said...

Agent - This is it, it should be a personal choice, but gender norms so often get in the way. I'm not disturbed by pubic-hair removal, unless it's part of a generally submissive attitude to men.

Myra - No problems there then. Sounds like you shave a lot less than I do! I agree, a few wisps of hair are sexy....

Nick said...

Kylie - That's the obstacle, other people's ridicule if you dare to leave your body as it is. And I'm also a ridicule-avoider, unless it's an issue very dear to me.

Macy said...

I remember many many many years ago in Jamaica, and an American man stopped mid chat up to ask "Excuse me, but, have you never shaved your legs?
And I remembver being amazed that this was even worth commenting on. Because I didn't know anyone who did
Innocent days. But once the shaving genie's out of the bottle...

Nick said...

Macy - Was that part of the sixties feminist thing, or did you just not bother to shave? And I'm sure that's true, once the shaving genie's got out....

Rummuser said...

Nick, what can a fellow with hardly any hair on his head but with a bushy beard and mustache say under the circumstances?

Nick said...

Ramana - I guess you're fairly philosophical about your hair distribution. Though I expect you would like a bit more up top.

Cheerful Monk said...

I'm afraid I'm too old to worry about things like that. I haven't lost as much hair on top as Ramana, but it's definitely getting thinner. Whatever.... I'm too busy playing with my toys to be bothered.

Nick said...

Too busy playing with your toys? Me too. Not that Jenny has ever expressed any desire for a smooth, hairless Nick....

Suburbia said...

I can still remember my mother telling me, when I was a teen, that I should start shaving my armpits. I can remember being quite indignant, unaware then of the cultural norms. I can't imagine not doing so now and was slightly horrified by the photo above!! Funny how you become conditioned.

Nick said...

Suburbia - Childhood conditioning takes a tight grip, doesn't it? And how many boys have been told by their dads that being hairy makes them masculine?

John Gray said...

non shaving in ours!
ps thank you for your kind words

Nick said...

John - I suspected that was the case, o bearded one!

Secret Agent Woman said...

When I say I don't like it, I mean I find it aesthetically displeasing - and a little unnerving because it does make it feel more like I'm with a boy instead of a man.

Nick said...

Agent - I assumed you meant aesthetically displeasing, but I didn't consider the boyish aspect. I can see that might look a little weird, though I think I'd be well aware the other person was in fact a grown adult!

Grannymar said...

How many women walk around with unshaved armpits and arms in the air as per the photo above? I have yet to see any, or maybe it is that my attention is drawn to other things.

Nick said...

Grannymar - Not many, I guess, though Julia Roberts caused quite a stir at the premiere of Notting Hill with something similar....

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I think men with thick hairy rugs on their chests (and BACKS) look really unappealing. But I agree with Secret Agent about the complete removal of pubic hair, which seems to be a nasty wink to pedophilia. I have never encountered a man who had removed it, though. (I haven't been single for a VERY long time.) Plus, it seems as if it would itch while growing back, never pleasant.

Nick said...

Heart - Me too. How come some women/men actually like all that shrubbery? Pubic-hair removal among men must be pretty common nowadays, what with the well-established back crack and sack wax....

Jenny Woolf said...

I think it's a matter of taste. Personally I like the look of body hair on a man, but I can't get wound up about whether women should shave themselves or not. I do think there's something a wee bit creepy about women making themselves look a bit like young girls, though.

Nick said...

Jenny - As I said to Agent, you could hardly confuse a grown woman with a young girl, even without her pubic hair. Though there's no accounting for the strangeness of some people's fantasies....

Wisewebwoman said...

Interesting this, Nick. I was going to say who can be bothered and had to slap myself as I am more than bothered by the odd pale hair that creeps on to my face which I immediately attack with a full armament of equipment. Hypocrite me, yeah.
My other hair which is pale, is hardly noticeable. I do shave the odd time.
I've been perturbed by dehaired men in the past. Body hair on men I find sexy.
XO
WWW

Wisewebwoman said...

Interesting this, Nick. I was going to say who can be bothered and had to slap myself as I am more than bothered by the odd pale hair that creeps on to my face which I immediately attack with a full armament of equipment. Hypocrite me, yeah.
My other hair which is pale, is hardly noticeable. I do shave the odd time.
I've been perturbed by dehaired men in the past. Body hair on men I find sexy.
XO
WWW