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Behind the stigma of female body hair & the history of body hair removal

As soon as the weather gets warmer, what's one of the first things we do ladies? Grab the razor, so we can wear all the skirts, shorts & sleeveless tops that have been gathering dust in our wardrobe for half the year.

Over the past couple of years, whilst I was fretting over the hairs that I missed whilst shaving, I started to question why we remove body hair. Why is there so much pressure to be hairless like a new born baby? Why do women feel embarrassed to have body hair? Why do shaving adverts have already hair-free women in them & why do they portray women as happy & 'unstoppable' only if they're hair-free?

Growing up, I used to cry over how much body hair I had. I was constantly trying to hide my hairy legs, fingers, hands, side burns etc. embarrassed that people would make fun of me.

Harnaam kaur-influencer and model-youngest women to have a full beard

Harnaam Kaur: Influencer & model - youngest women to have a full beard

It's not right or fair that women are brought up to believe that body hair is gross, unfeminine and unattractive. It's socially acceptable for men to have body hair, but women not to, which confirms the constant shaming & policing of women's bodies. Women have received death & rape threats for showing body hair despite it being a completely natural part of being human.

When we're already getting paid less than men, & being charged the 'pink tax' on razors, why should we fuel the patriarchy's unrealistic standard of beauty by constantly spending our hard earned money on body hair removal?

To challenge this, I researched the history of female body hair removal, why we do it & why there's a stigma attached to it.

(Throughout this post we'll be sharing pics of women who are embracing & loving their body hair!)

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Cavewomen & men

It's believed that cavewomen & cavemen where the first to remove body hair, but they shaved for safety reasons, not vanity. They shaved their heads & faces so their opponents wouldn't grab onto it in battle. It also reduced the chance of frostbite.

In the Stoneage, they used sharp edged stones and used shells as tweezers.

Ancient Egyptians

A few thousand years later, both men and women in Egypt removed all their body hair, except their eyebrows. The absence of body hair represented cleanliness & beauty.

They used pumice stones, tweezers made from seashells, beeswax & sugar-based wax.

Cardi B shamed for stomach hair - Rani & Co.

Cardi B was shamed for having stomach hair (but we love it!)


Roman Empire

Lack of body hair still resembled cleanliness in the Roman times, but was also a signifier of class, only for women though. Wealthy women removed body hair, whilst men got to keep theirs.

Pubic hair was seen as uncivilised, so the moment a woman grew pubic hair, she had to remove it.

Queen Elizabeth 1

Queen Elizabeth created the trend of grooming facial hair, i.e. shaped brows & no moustaches. But, ladies got to keep their leg and pubic hair (#win).

An unusual trend during the Elizabethan Era was making your face look longer by removing the hair from the top of the forehead by rubbing walnut oil & even cat poo on this area!

1900s

Introducing Gilette, one of the largest razor brands. King Camp Gilette created the first safe razors for women.

In 1915, the first anti-underarm hair campaign was created, introducing the 'Milady Décolleté' razor (it was 14k gold-plated!). The campaign stated 'the fastidious woman today must have immaculate underarms if she is to be unembarrassed'. Sleeveless dresses were becoming a big fashion trend, so removing underarm hair was a 'necessity' according to Harpers Bazaar (thanks for exposing them Refinery29).

This was the first time that fashion directly affected how women shave their body hair.  

 

World War 2

During World War 2, there was a shortage of nylon, meaning women couldn't wear stockings as often. For women to be socially accepted, their bare legs had to be shaved.

In the 1950s, as skirts got higher, hairless legs became more common, armpits were shaved & brows were tweezed.

Porn, pop-culture & fashion

In the 80s & 90s, pornography & fashion photography often showed women with no pubic hair. The first salon offering a Brazilian Wax came about in 1987, with celebs such as Gwenyth Paltrow & Naomi Campbell visiting it & talking about it.

Stacey women proudly showing hairy legs on Loose Women-Rani & Co.
Stacey Solomon proudly showing her hairy legs on Loose Women
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So, that's a brief history of how & why female body hair is removed.

In history, body hair removal has often been a symbol of status & class, but that's not the case anymore. Body hair removal is no longer a fashion trend. It's the result of society constantly telling women what to do with their hair.

More & more women are starting to question their body hair removal. I've seen women confidently walking around with unshaven legs & underarms, & I am HERE for it. 

Rupi Kaur poem on female body hair-Rani & Co.

This doesn't mean that if you remove body hair then you're a bad feminist. If you're sitting there thinking, "I agree with this article, but I'm a hypocrite for removing my body hair", remember, it's difficult to unlearn what you've been taught from a young age. We are challenging societal stereotypes more & more but it's a slow & steady process. If being hair-free makes you feel good, then so be it. But, let's not judge women for embracing their natural body hair (that includes women who judge other women, read more on our post about internalised misogyny).

If society viewed female body hair removal as a choice rather than a necessity, or just viewed it as none of their business, maybe women would love their bodies more & the patriarchy would profit less from the insecurities it creates for women.

Let us know what your views are in the comments below!

 

Lots of love,
Ramona
[Founder of Rani & Co.]

xxx

 

 Article header photo credit: @xtheodoreclarkex, emma.jpg, kathrynpidgreon, Januhairy


4 comments

  • Hi Chamila,

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I guess lockdown has forced us to do things we couldn’t have imagined before, like embracing our body hair. So glad to hear that your husband is also embracing our body hair, but remember, its important that you remove/don’t remove body hair based on your own preference, nobody elses.

    Best,
    Ramona (Founder)

    Ramona
  • During the lockdown which lasted for 75 days almost in Mauritius, i had to let go of beauty salons. I was obsessed with my armpits. As educator i had to conduct online classes and i was never wearing sleeveless outfits for fear it should show. It wouldnt of course. It was just in my mind. But now that the lockdown is over for 3 weeks now,i havent been to the salon. I dunno why. I just felt like am ok with my body hair. And i even dared to ask my husband what he thinks of pubic hair (i know its sensitive topic to discuss but why not tackle it when it is a topic), and I was so surprised (pleasantly) when he said he doesn’t like women who go for Brazilian wax. He told me he prefers me with my body hair. I was so happy to hear so. Because i always used to go for bikini wax thinking he approved it.

    I love if we can all accept our body hair. Maybe for exceptional reasons now and then we can go for a wax.

    Chamila
  • Hi Ishpreet,

    Thanks so much for reading our blog! Totally agree with your comment about women of colour.
    We’ll definitely be embracing our natural beauty more.

    Love,
    Ramona (Founder)

    Ramona (Founder)
  • Brilliant article, let’s continue to challenge the stigma around body hair. I believe women of colour, are often faced with more of a push to look a certain way, especially because our hair is darker against our skin. I hope that we can learn to embrace our beauty, our skin and all that makes us, who we are.

    Ishpreet Kaur Bhogal

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