Why remove body hair?

Identity | Social Norms | Cosmetic Industry

"Hair is more important cosmetically and psychosocially than biologically."
- Eileen S. and Isidore Gersh

The growth of body hair is natural. Yet many American women, spawned on by advertisements of hair free models, smooth legs and bare armpits, spend years of their lives shaving, plucking and waxing hair away. There are no proven biological benefits to it, so why do women continue the never ending battle of hair removal? The answer to this question is simple yet complex. Simply stated: women remove their body hair because they are women and that's what women are supposed to do according to our culture. However, the answer can not be that simple because some women do not remove their body hair, and some men remove their hair.

Identity

"...most strongly feminist women and most lesbians and bisexuals do remove their body hair. ... the implication of the hairlessness norm is that women's bodies are not attractive when natural, and must be modified."
- Susan A. Basow

Popular culture would have us believe that there are two types of women: the beautiful and the successful. Furthermore, it pretends that these two traits can never be possessed by a single female at one time, as if they are opposites. By our cultural definition women are beautiful, which means they do not have hairy legs, moustaches, bushy eyebrows or any other unsightly body hair. Any woman who is less than beautiful is less than a woman. By definition this would include stereotypical views of lesbians and feminists as man-hating and hairy legged.

In her study on the relationship between a woman's politics and sexual orientation with the shaving of her legs and underarms, Basow found that the majority of women who did not shave their legs identified as "very strong feminists and/or as not exclusively heterosexual" and the major reason they did not shave was for political reasons. However, 81% of the women surveyed shaved their legs and/or underarms on a regular basis.

Women are depicted as tall, thin, (often times) blonde, less than brilliant, makeup wearing, fashion savvy beauties who always have a man. The successful (less than) women are depicted as intelligent, professionally successful, single and jealous of the beautiful (real) women. With an idea of beauty that is unattainable for most, women are constantly spending time trying to improve upon themselves instead of improving themselves. Women who do not initially strive to attain the cultural standard of beauty, be it wearing makeup, shaving their legs or plucking their eyebrows, are labeled as feminists or lesbians, whether or not they actually are. Those women not wanting to be associated with either of those categories and even some who do begin to mold themselves toward the ideal of beauty in order to be considered real women.

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Social Norms

"Hair does not make a woman's body dirty. Whether she removes it, from her legs or armpits, for example is entirely a cosmetic decision, unrelated to good health."
- Cynthia W. Cooke and Susan Dworkin

The purpose of Basow's study was to examine the development of the hairless norm for women and to determine its function. Shaving appears to be a rite of passage for girls. Although most women surveyed cited social and normative reasons for beginning to shave, they cited reasons related to femininity and sexual attractiveness for why they continued to shave. From her study she confirmed that the hairless norm for women served to exaggerate the differences between women and men. This assertion is supported by the finding that there was strong conformity regarding the norm by women who identified as exclusively heterosexual and much less conformity by women who identified as lesbian or bisexual. She also found that the norm equates female attractiveness with youth.

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The Cosmetic Industry

razor

"Perhaps there are those who are able to perceive the whole cosmetics scene as the massive put-on it is and remain unaffected by the industry's massive put-down of women's real bodies and faces, which it literally does. But in a society where women are generally overvalued for their personal appearance and undervalued for their contributions and competence, most women are to a certain extent vulnerable to the message."

- Ethel Sloane

It costs money to be beautiful. The companies that sell women razors, shaving gels, waxes, tweezers, and countless other hair removal products and inventions make billions of dollars a year based on this fact. (Not to mention the endless of arrays of beauty spas, shops, and centers where professionals make a living from hair removal.) Through advertising, they attempt to make women believe that they need the products they offer. Below are the claims, slogans and prices of several products* geared toward hair removal.

*I am in no way endorsing the use of any of the products below. To find out more information about these products visit the works cited page.

The Product The Claim The Slogan The Price
Conair Satiny Smooth II Cordless/rechargeable single foil wet/dry ladies shaver For a close shave anywhere $20
Gently Gold Hair removal system that gently removes hair from the face bikini line, underarms, legs and other sensitive areas Four-in-one hair removal system $65
Gilette Venus Three blades to provide a closer shave Reveal the goddess in you $8
Nair - 4 minute formula Depilatory that removes hair in 4 minutes and at the same time exfoliates and moisturizes skin For totally touchable legs $4
Remington Smooth & Silky Wet/dry shaver with four hypoallergenic shaving heads and a no-slip grip Smooth & Silky, Soft& Close $50
Vaniqa The first prescription cream that slows the growth of unwanted facial hair in women Now, up close is up to you $40

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