Graphic by Joaquin Kunkel

On Feminist Body Hair Choices: To Shave or not to Shave

Choosing to shave is not nearly as difficult as choosing not to.

Oct 1, 2016

Should we, as women, be removing our body hair? Feminism is about having the power to choose what happens to our bodies, so as long as we are choosing freely, then it’s a feminist choice, right? Right now, in various bathrooms around the world, women are reaching for the razor lying on the shower shelf. It is a simple action to pick it up and slide it over your skin, but perhaps not a very simple choice.
Here’s a thought experiment: What if no other girl in the world was shaving? Actually, what if you were judged for shaving? Would you still do it? Is it truly a decision made independently, or as a result of media images and other factors? Choices involving women’s bodies are rarely ever straightforward. The choice to go hair-free isn’t made in the split second before reaching for the razor. It’s made long before that, after seeing other girls’ shaved bodies, and perhaps after being teased about hairiness. It’s made after being bombarded with so many perfect media images of what a woman should look like: glowing and hairless. Whether in fashion magazines or porn, hairless has become the new normal.
Even commercials for hair removal products, which we would expect to have some sort of before and after transformation, have never, to my knowledge, shown body hair. They show a model smiling as she pointlessly slides the razor over an already hairless leg. But since advertising works by selling an image more than an actual product, we shouldn’t expect to see something as disgusting and real as body hair in a body hair removal commercial. The love-your-body approach that worked for the underwear brand Aerie won’t work for razor commercials — people do need to buy underwear, but Gillette-Venus has absolutely nothing to gain by normalizing body hair onscreen.
So whose responsibility is it to normalize body hair, if even all the love-your-body campaigns seem to draw the line at actually showing hair? If we can’t depend on media representation to help solve this issue, then it has to begin with us. This isn’t a revolutionary call to destroy all the razors and march in stubbly-legged unison, but the truth is that we as women, as girls, are often quite ruthless towards the women who don’t conform, from taunts in middle school swim class to horrified Facebook comments on a picture of an unshaven armpit. At this point in the backlash against media portrayals of women, we know that the model in the advertisements is paid to look smooth and perfect — but when we see women mocking other women for not shaving, what are we supposed to feel about the normality of our own bodies?
We need to be aware even of seemingly feminist statements such as, I like being hairless, so my decision to shave is feminist. It’s totally your choice if you don’t want to! This is an oversimplification and it is dismissive of societal expectations and potential consequences. It’s not, as some would say, totally your choice if it’s motivated by shame or by fear of being perceived as manly or unprofessional or disgusting, and we have no real way of knowing whether our personal preferences are truly ours or a product of the beauty standard of the time. Of course, this doesn’t mean we can’t be feminists and still shave, but we need to at least recognize that the arena is heavily biased towards one choice. Choosing to shave is not nearly as difficult as choosing not to, and as women we need to make it easier — and normal — for other women to make the latter choice.
There’s probably a long way to go until women’s body hair is no longer seen as disgusting, but in the meantime, here’s a tip for the next time you’re at the convenience store — the men’s razors are cheaper and they last longer.
Rosy Tahan is a staff writer. Email her at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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