Saturday, 25 June 2011

Curiosity made the cat: Body hair

It is a widely accepted fact that today the ‘fashion’ of body hair has turned women’s bodies completely hairless from the hairline down. It has saturated our culture, from plucking, shaving and waxing to vajazzling and labiaplasties. This trend is relatively new, and is just part of our ‘pornified’ culture.

Recently a discussion was held on BBC Newsnight about the issue of women’s body hair. Jeremy Paxman seemed to misunderstand the feminist view-point and asked “You think it‘s something women should not do?” The contributors (barring “glamorous” lady) explained quite rightly that there is nothing wrong with what a woman chooses to do with her body, but the problem is that many women feel compelled to change their bodies to fit into the cultural ‘beauty’ stereotype. From the moment my underarms began growing substantial hair I conformed to the hairless stereotype because that‘s that women do. As time consuming, expensive and pointless as I thought it was, I knew I’d get negative responses if I decided not to shave. So some women aren’t choosing freely but because they feel they have to in order to ‘fit in’ and just be normal. Is this okay? I don’t think so. All types of bodies and appearances should be accepted in an ideal world. This is just part of the reason there are a ton of self-esteem issues that mainly women have to deal with every day.

The normalisation of hairlessness can cause body image problems which effects both women and men. Girls growing up in today’s culture increasingly view shaving, waxing and plucking as part of being a woman. There is no alternative for many of them if they want to be a feminine ‘real’ woman and be accepted by their peers.

This leads me to think that the BBC argument was looking at the issue the wrong way around, it revolved around whether it is okay for women to shave rather than whether it's okay for women not to shave. There should be nothing wrong with a woman’s choice to shave. But society has a big problem if we choose not to- so doesn’t this point to a problem? I have heard the words “revolting” and “feminist dyke” attached to anyone who either decides not to shave or simply forgets to. For example on the few occasions celebrities forget to shave and reveal a tiny bit of stubble, they’re criticised for it in the media. Lily Allen had her stubble zoomed into and blown up along the caption “Lily Allen reveals her unsightly underarm hair as she ran errands around London yesterday” So - is this ’trend’ really women’s own uninfluenced choice?

I have personally been called “disgusting” for only shaving my bikini line and not paying a small fortune for someone to wax it off for me, leaving horrible itchy red bumps (Caitlin Moran calls bare muffins "skinless Lidl chicken breasts.") One of my friends told me of a woman he saw with hairy armpits, he was truly sickened by the sight. Hair is a perfectly natural thing which does not generally revolt us on men, this was not a ‘natural’ reaction. He thought this way not from his own free opinion, but one effected by cultural norms. All he had been exposed to before that point were images of hairless women and all he had been told is that femininity is hairless. Many young men learn about sex through porn which is where the hair-free vulva thing came from = we can see it better. Also there's the whole pre-pubescent slightly paedophilic aspect of it. So they expect their girlfriend to be shaved down there and imitate a porn actress rather than be herself - this is just one aspect of how they expect women’s bodies not to look natural. This encourages self esteem issues, pressuring women to conform and as a result strengthening the overall expectation - it’s an unstoppable cycle.

Doesn't look as end-of-the-world-ish as you thought eh? I'm still a woman, too.

What I find so ridiculous about all of this is that we’ve now come to a point where men and even many women don’t even know what a natural female body looks like. We don't know what our own bodies, in their natural forms look like! When I see women on the street with layers of make-up on, orange 'tanned' skin, hair extensions, false eyelashes, false nails and gleaming white teeth. I ask myself. What do they really look like, do THEY even know? And that's without even going into fairly common cosmetic surgery procedures.

We aren’t shown pictures of natural body hair or of natural body shapes, we think we're weird and gross because we have hair and wobbly bits and blemishes and pores and we don't look like airbrushed pop stars. In fact, I had no idea what my underarms actually looked like before I decided to grow them - not to particularly make a point, but just to find out. Also because I couldn’t be bothered shaving every single day of my life and don't care what other people think of my choice. Also because I find Lisbeth Salander’s armpits in The Girl Who Played With Fire strangely attractive. She is hairy and still incredibly cool.

I now enjoy stroking my new fur occasionally, it's like a mini-cat. I have learned it is not "unhygienic" or dirty at all because my fur does not smell nor do I or my boyfriend find it repulsive. Nobody has thrown any rocks at me yet. The end of the world did not happen when I ditched my razor =O But if it did I'd call on Buffy to put a stop to all this nonsense.