A trend, an act of growing your ‘feminist hair’ or is there more to it than that?
I so relate to i-D’s article in which the author recalls that one of the first things she learned about her body as she hit puberty was to conform to societal standards of beauty. Growing up in Turkey, she had to adopt ancient waxing practices to keep her body hairless, while at 13 I used got my very first shiny white and light purple Venus razor for grooming.
Shaving became almost like getting your period or wearing your first training bra, a rite of passage into early adulthood. All my friends were doing it, and I didn’t even think about not participating in this seemingly harmless act of body alteration.
The girls at my school who weren’t allowed to shave yet, were teased and thought of as
koekerig (prudish) by their peers.
Letting it grow
I recently stumbled upon two stories of young women who have publicly shared being teased for being ‘abnormal’ and told they were “defying convention” because they didn’t shave when they were simply feelin’ themselves.
Nearly 25% of millennials have stopped shaving, says TeenVogue. And millennial ‘it’ girls like Paris Jackson and Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes Leon have also been spotted showing off their grown-out pits.
But when it comes to models, they are almost considered mannequins, right? Hired as hangers to show off clothing, makeup and hair, we are taught they are as close to ‘perfect’ as it comes. And fitness models, whose job is defined by flaunting toned and groomed body parts, are idolised as near perfect female humanoids.
New York-based model Kate Bowman, who has even worked for Gucci, recently recounted her experiences of being teased in primary school for having hairy legs and arms. She told Manrepeller that this was the first time she realised society’s aversion to female body hair. As if having body hair meant that she was abnormal or something. So she shaved relentlessly to curb the nasty comments.
Yet by the time she reached 15, she says she didn’t feel like herself without the hair. So she stopped shaving. Telling Manrepeller, she says that people around her found this really strange, even calling her ‘weird’ and accusing her of being ‘unhygienic and unprofessional’.
That’s the stigma, isn’t it? Male hair is masculine, even sexy. Female hair means nasty and unkempt.
And with 98K followers on Instagram, fitness blogger Morgan Mikenas is another such a prominent example. She has not shaved her body hair for over a year, according to Good Housekeeping.
Mikenas, who is naturally very hairy, has shared that she was teased as a child for her hairy legs. Saying she stood out and felt better and more accepted when she did shave. After a lot of consideration, and tallying the amount of time she actually spent on shaving her body, she decided to live life as her most natural self. Embracing her natural beauty she chucked her razor, and ultimately, realised that it made her more confident to let it grow.
Why can’t it just grow?
A study conducted in 2016 in New Zealand by Alex Yang Li and Virginia Braun, “Pubic hair and its removal: A practice beyond the personal”, found that the participants generally viewed pubic hair as less desirable than smooth nethers.
Yet the study clearly found a dichotomy as women said both that by choosing to grow it or go hairless, they are asserting their personal agency and autonomy; while simultaneously saying it’s a faux freedom. The paper notes:
“Despite the articulated freedom to practise pubic hair removal, any freedom from participating in this practice appeared limited, rendering the suggestion that it is just a ‘choice’ problematic.”
I find the trendiness aspect of growing out body hair the most problematic. Be that trendy because of a celeb, an influencer or feminism for that matter. We are still not looking at the larger issue at hand. Why should it be called anything other than body hair?
It is called ‘feminist hair’ because of the statement it’s making, “I don’t shave because I want my body hair to be treated equal to that of men”.
Very valid, yes! But a trend, by definition has very little longevity. It is not set in stone or ingrained in our thinking. Longer than a fad, we simply live and enjoy trends and move on swiftly until the next one sprouts.
As demonstrated in the two cases above, I feel it’s evident that women are able to just do it for themselves. It just didn’t feel right otherwise for them. And if models, who make their livings off their ‘perfect’ bodies can say fuck it to society, then change is definitely possible.
But they are still making an unconventional ‘choice’. There is freedom and agency in choice, but those choices are still not the norm, which indicates a forced system of participation that limits that ‘personal choice’.
Non-shaved, plucked, waxed, epilated women won’t ever be the norm. And it’s okay. I prefer smooth legs. But allowing for more dialogue on this topic, and more representation of women who make these choices, however limited, for comfort (even with fear of being scrutinised within this system of forced participation) might keep pushing those limits until our body hair is recognised as just that, body hair.