Musings on Body Hair


In this post-Golden Globes Awards week, there’s been a fair bit of chatter about more than just the winners. Interestingly, Mo’Nique‘s leg hair has made more news than her winning the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Precious. She’s been accused by various people as “neglecting” to shave, in spite of having an obviously fresh pedicure, and of “flaunting” her rather obvious leg hair which she could just as easily have hidden under her floor-length gown.

The other flaunter of hair (among other things) of the evening was Amanda Palmer, another long-time vocal supporter of doing whatever you like with your body hair. Interestingly, while Palmer doesn’t shave her body hair, she is usually eyebrow-free, preferring to paint them on with liquid eyeliner.

I’ve been really annoyed by not only the coverage of these women’s body hair (and a quick Google search pulled up Julia Roberts, Beyonce, and even Celine Dion as transgressing the hair laws of our mainstream beauty culture), but the comments others have left are so disheartening and just plain weird. I’ve noticed for years this ongoing fear I see of people being mammals. It’s freakish when I give it too much thought – it’s like because we’re sentient and hyper aware and can drive cars and freeze food and stuff, that we can maintain this almost unhealthy dissonance between who we are and what we are.

We are trying so hard to eliminate every remnant we have to our mammalian kin, and this total rejection of hair is one of the things that drives me the craziest about our push to mark ourselves as distinct, as different, as other (the main culprit is anything do with pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding – DO NOT GET ME STARTED).

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have the following confessions:

1) Arm pit hair is dead sexy. On men, on women, on individuals who identify as something other than man or woman – it’s all good. The sudden flash of pit hair as a woman raises her arm is one of the hottest things in the book of things I find hot.

2) I shave, and very regularly. It’s less a “do as I say and not as I do” and more a sensory discomfort with hair. It gets all bent out of place and drives me crazy. Socks and stockings push my leg hair in the wrong direction and I can’t concentrate. Don’t even get me started on the misery of pit hair. But don’t tell me that I’m conforming to the status quo because my choices appear to match the culturally desirable.

I struggle with the message my hair removal provides my children. Am I setting my son up to expect that the women in his adolescent and adult life should also remove their hair (at present, my son expresses that he’s straight, so my discussing his preferences in feminine terms is appropriate to him)? Is my daughter going to feel like she has a choice to shave/wax/epilate/pluck/whatevertheheck, or will my having provided a hairless example act as a coercive influence towards only one option, removing the choice altogether?

My hairy friends help provide a more rounded sample of what adult women can look like, which is likely helpful. Media representations of women with hair can’t hurt, either. The more women who are in the public eye who put an emphasis on their resistance to cultural expectations around their femininity, the more options my own daughter will grow up feeling she has.

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4 Comments

  1. Soire said,

    January 24, 2010 at 10:05 am

    The girls know I don’t shave my legs, and Amy frequently talks about having pubic hair. Lily thinks that pubic hair “looks gross” and doesn’t want it. It amuses me a little. We’ve not gotten to pit hair though 😛

  2. Fire Energy said,

    January 24, 2010 at 11:01 am

    I think that it comes down to personal choice. The disturbing thing about criticizing these women’s body hair in a public arena reaches far beyond the hair on their legs/pits. This whole decade has crept closer and closer towards controlling women’s image more so than ever.

    It’s ironic how it’s often spoken of how women are so free in the western world when increasingly our rights are being eroded.

    One step further than body hair is this new botox, etc craze. So many women do not look like real human beings anymore. Their faces have morphed into a complete sub-species I certainly don’t recognize. Talk about fighting against the way our bodies were meant to be. There’s way too much glorification of the fake-ification of women’s bodies.

  3. Melissa said,

    January 24, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    I flip back and forth between extremes. I’ll go months — forgoing any hair removal, except perhaps bushwhacking my eyebrows into something less itchy. On the flip side, I’ll go for the full Brazilian and love it. It all depends on where my head is at the time, but really has little to do with “societal norms”. As a teen, though, I totally bought into the idea that “girls aren’t hairy” — hard for a chick like me with more arm hair than your average guy. 😉

  4. Julie said,

    January 24, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    I made the decision not to shave a few months ago. I decided I wanted to look like an adult female, not a prebuescent girl. Yeah, it took a while to get used to the hair on the leg thing, but it’s long enough now that it is soft. My dd likes to ‘pet’ my legs. I also don’t check out anyones pubes at the pool. I really don’t care. It’s hair.
    I do pluck my eyebrows, however. That I started doing even before I had hair anywhere else. I only had ONE eyebrow, but it was very big. I needed to look less furry.
    Who knows what the summer may bring, but right now, I feel female as opposed to womanly and very in touch with my body.


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