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.