Style & Then Some

Is hair removal sexist?

body hair lady Emer O'Toole This Morning why shave your armpits hair removal and sexism

You’ve got to hand it to her, Emer O’Toole (the young woman who appeared on This Morning recently to talk about why she decided to stop shaving 18 months ago) has guts. My reaction was complex and has bugged me ever since, so I’m going to try and break it down. It went something like this:

1) That’s a lot of hair. I don’t even know what my arm pit hair looks like beyond about a week.

2) Why is my reaction disgust if this is natural?

3) I shave because I want to for myself, not because I want to look good for other people. Or at least I think I do.

4) Oh crap, what if I’ve been indoctrinated into thinking this natural thing (hair) is bad and shouldn’t be seen or talked about and we should all be as hairless as babies all the time by a sexist society that tells women we all have to conform to a certain ideal?!

Okay, so I think I’ve untangled (oh I’m sorry, these awful puns just slip out) the issue a little bit. Caitlin Moran is pretty wise about hair removal, her main point being that because of the widespread use of porn, society has unhealthy expectations about it all. Women should remove hair, if they do, because they want to, and not because they feel pressured to by a society that tells them that they’re repulsive if they don’t.

I would tend to agree; the reaction of intense disgust is worrying, but at the same time I don’t think we should all stop shaving our armpits. (Your collective relief is palpable.) Hair removal has been around since the Egyptians and the Romans, if slightly dodgy general knowledge and internet sources are to be trusted. Apparently, they used to use an early form of waxing called ‘sugaring’. We all – men and women – take care of ourselves to a certain extent; cut our fingernails and our hair, and wash. Throughout history, grooming has changed quite a bit and certain weird trends have come and gone (mutton chops, anyone?), but generally women are less hairy than men and so to accentuate that is to arguably accentuate our femininity in the same way that dressing a certain way, putting on marscara and lipstick, and doing things to our hair accentuates our femininity.

I suppose what I concluded from the brave Emer O’Toole’s example is that while I can’t get away from the fact that I do think it looks, well, just a lot nicer, to shave your armpits, it would be nice for society to calm down about women’s hair, generally. For it all to be a bit more normal, and less airbrushed and porn star-y. That goes for cosmetic surgery, too. As the old hackneyed phrase goes, we all need to be a bit more happy in our own skins. It would be nice if, for once, someone like Julia Roberts could get away with not shaving her armpits and for people to just not really care.

Julia Roberts hairy armpit is shaving your armpits sexist pressure to shave your armpits celebrities who don't always shave their armpits


About Sophie Caldecott

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7 comments on “Is hair removal sexist?

  1. leslieworks
    May 8, 2012

    A nice balanced outlook. It certainly isn’t a big deal in Europe, even France, where women are very feminine and play it up maybe even more than us Brits. Perhaps we are a bit more squeamish about bodily issues generally, which is reflected in our aversion so called unsightly body hair. And, as you say, we are far too concerned with appearance and influenced by the media, and a perceived notion of what makes a woman beautiful. Ultimately, is a matter of personal choice, and as women, we shouldn’t be judged either way on our personal grooming. As long as we are reasonably clean, it shouldn’t matter!

  2. Sophie Caldecott
    May 8, 2012

    So true, thanks Leslie! By the way, my drama friend just pointed out that there is trustworthy historical evidence for the ancient Greeks plucking in a play called ‘Lysistrata’: Just FYI!

    • leslieworks
      May 8, 2012

      I’m not surprised, and don’t doubt we get much of our notions of beauty from the classic Greek era.That play is fascinating in many ways, for it also touches on female solidarity and anti war ideas! Quite ironic for we often couple those movements with women’s freedom in the hair area, too! 😀

  3. Azmi Güran.
    July 16, 2012

    Therefore I don’t like to visit Germany. Usually the German women are proud to show the hair under their armpit. It looks beautiful, they say. How awful. I cannot eat in front a such a woman at the table. My stomac turns upside down. How many times I left the restaurants, as I was student in Germany after WW II. Even now it is disgusting, although I’m not eating, but writing.

  4. Sophie Caldecott
    July 16, 2012

    Hmm, that was kind of my point, though. It shouldn’t be seen as disgusting, provoking such a strong reaction. It’s natural. Sure, it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing option and people might prefer to remove hair, but disgusting is a strong word for something that is normal and natural.

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