Written by Ellen Friedrichs for Everyday Feminism. Originally published on October 14th, 2014.
“Editor’s Note: This article is about how we should stop stigmatizing women for having body hair. It is NOT about shaming women for removing their body hair. We want women to be able to freely choose to keep or remove their body hair without facing social pressure to get rid of it.
There were two Cindys in my fourth grade class, but Cindy K. was the popular one. So when she teased me about having hairy legs, I was utterly humiliated. Truth be told, I had already suspected that my leg hair was shameful, and her taunts just confirmed my fears.
So I went home and begged my mom to let me shave. Unsurprisingly, she said no.
Her views on body hair were also a product of her upbringing as the child of German Jewish immigrants who didn’t understand why American women were so worried about this aspect of grooming. That perspective was then reinforced by my mom’s own second wave feminism.
As a result, she didn’t shave consistently (something that utterly mortified me growing up), and she also didn’t see why I at nine, or later 19, or even 29, should bother wasting so much time doing so either.
But as a kid, I knew exactly why this would be time well spent! It was the teasing from popular Cindy, and the anxiety over failing the stubble test (when middle school boys would furtively swipe at the space where sock and pant leg failed to meet to see if their female classmates’ legs were smooth).
It was the stream of bawdy jokes about hairy women on TV. And it was the obvious lack of hair sported by any woman in the public eye.
Shaving was simply the only acceptable option I could imagine.
Whether it’s social pressure, a barrage of ads for hair removal products, or things like PETA’s awful “Fur Trim Unattractive” campaign (which seems to equates having pubic hair with supporting the fur trade?!), many women and girls grow up believing that body hair is unattractive and gross and should be removed from as many places as humanly possible at the first sign of its existence.
What We Can Do
The casual disgust so many people express about women’s body hair often goes unchecked. It’s time to address that.
Here are a few ways how:
1. Change the Way We Talk About Growing Up
When we talk about puberty and body changes, be sure to mention that boys and girls both develop more hair on their legs, arms, faces, stomachs, chests, and around the genitals. There is no need to differentiate between the places males and females can get hair.
Additionally, present body hair removal as an option for girls, not a requirement.
Moms who shave may want to think about the message they are sending their daughters. This doesn’t mean you need to change your whole aesthetic, but figure out a way to address the issue thoughtfully.
2. Question Popular Culture
If popular culture is to be believed, the proper response to a woman’s body hair is either horror or humor. As a result, jokes about women with body hair abound.
Very occasionally, they get it right (think Liz Lemon finally revealing her Tom Selleck ‘stach on 30 Rock). But usually they don’t (think just about every other sitcom ever).
So at the risk of being called a humorless feminist, I say it’s time to question how funny these tropes actually are.”
There’s more to the list! Read the rest of this great article.