Writing by Alex Andrews // Illustration by Jordyn McGeachin
What happens when generations of girls are told that their natural body is not acceptable?
I cried out from the bathroom, perched on the corner of the bath tub attempting some kind of bikini combo brazilian wax. At thirteen this was definitely my worst DIY beauty attempt to date. I was stuck, or more accurately, it was stuck to me. I’d impatiently applied the strip, with little attempt to warm the wax and when I went to tear it back – nothing. The wax remained glued to my skin, the strip wouldn’t budge and not a single hair left a single follicle. Instantly, I could see the blood rushing beneath the strip creating a red and purple coloured bruise that would remain for weeks. This was over a decade ago but the memory is clear and painful.
It didn’t stop me though. I went on to excel in the hair removal stakes. Plucking, threading, waxing, lasering and epilating almost every hairy knook I could find. I still remember joking before I went for my first laser hair removal session that no laser would stand a chance against my stubborn European hairs or my roller coaster hormones. Unsurprisingly, I was right. But I’m glad the laser didn’t do much (except burning and inflaming the most sensitive parts of my body….) Admittedly, I liked the feeling of being smooth and hairless; soft silky legs and perfectly plucked eyebrows. But I paid for it – big time. Whether it was the price tag, the DYI disasters or even turning down sex because I hadn’t had time to perfectly preen. Despite the pruning and plucking and the inevitable tears that followed, not once did I think about why I was going through all of this.
I don’t actually remember making a decision to remove my hair. I do remember wanting it gone from the moment it first appeared. I guess that’s just what you do when 95% of women shave their leg and underarm hair. But it turns out women haven’t always removed their body hair. It all began back in 1915 when an advertisement featured in a popular women’s magazine declared that body hair on a woman was ‘objectionable’ and ‘embarrassing’. As skirts and sleeves got shorter, women’s body hair disappeared. By 1925 – just ten years later – almost all women in the Western society removed their body hair.
Today, almost all women remove some or all of their natural body hair. In fact, studies have shown that women who do not remove their body hair are perceived as being less intelligent and less friendly compared to women who do. The expectation of hair removal is put almost exclusively on women. But it’s expensive and painful, and it continues to support an industry that profits from portraying natural female bodies as unacceptable.
Hair removal is one of the first ways we change our bodies to conform to society’s ideal of feminine beauty. I was 11 when I finally convinced my mum to let me wax my legs – with her fair skin and fine hairs, how could she possibly understand my daily struggle trying to tame the thick black hairs covering my legs? But, to me, the message was clear: my hair must go. The media, the women in my life, and even kids at school had made one thing blatantly obvious – body hair on men was acceptable, hair on my body was not.
So, what happens when generations of girls are told that their natural body is not acceptable? We end up with generations of women who don’t think their bodies are acceptable, and generations of women who constantly try to change their bodies.
Most of us aren’t given the chance to decide what we think about our body hair before we feel the pressure to remain smooth and hair-free. Today, girls as young as 10 remove their leg and underarm hair. Instead we’re encouraged to look outside of ourselves for answers about how we should treat our bodies, and we are made to feel vulnerable because of it. We become vulnerable to an ideal of beauty that demands dieting and cosmetic surgery as a source of self worth. And it is this vulnerability that allows for other further exploitation – it provides a pathway for individual predators, the beauty industry, and even for the law to dictate the way a woman should look and behave.
Body hair is just hair – but what you do with it is powerful. I started Get Hairy February to give others an opportunity to find out how it feels when you no longer want or expect your body to conform. For the month of February, women all around Australia will let themselves grow.
Together, as a community of women, we will challenge expectations and raise money to help eliminate violence against women.
These days, women already have the choice to do what we want with our bodies. But true choice only exists when our lack of conformity is not tainted by shame, guilt or judgement. So go on… let yourself grow.
Take action, challenge expectations and raise money to help eliminate violence against women by signing up online at www.gethairyfebruary.org. Like, Follow and Share to support the campaign on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.[share]