The first time I had my armpits waxed, I was eleven-years-old. I hadn’t even started intermediate school. As an active kid, I loved the water and wore swimming togs all summer. But I started to arrive home upset after questions and teasing from other kids about why I had hair under my arms. I just wanted to get rid of the hair. So, Mum reluctantly booked me an appointment with her beauty therapist.
The waxing hurt. When you’re an eleven-year-old, having someone rip out the hair from under your arms is unexpectedly painful. The concept of waxing was entirely new and undergoing that process was a shock. Underarm waxing was my uncomfortable induction into the world of body hair removal.
It felt like everyone underwent a similar induction that summer before intermediate. There was a shift – moving to another school meant we felt more ‘adult’ and there was a different code of beauty to adhere to. As young girls, we began to internalise conceptions of beauty from Girlfriend and Dolly magazines or MTV. And then we started to project them onto other girls.
By the time I reached intermediate, everyone was shaving their legs. I wasn’t, and other girls noticed. After a few (in retrospect, very cruel) remarks, I just wanted smooth legs without fluffy blonde hairs. So I started to shave, after much pleading and convincing along the lines of, “Mum, everyone else is doing it!”
Social pressure started me down the path of hair removal. That social pressure came from other girls. But the pressures are not the result of a few mean twelve-year-olds. They’re part of a much bigger pattern.
I can’t remember, in a popular movie or TV show or magazine or advertisement, ever seeing a woman with body hair portrayed in a positive light. Even on broader social media sites like Instagram, with the exception of body positive accounts like Josie Oloito’a or Half Queen (both worth a follow for body hair positivity), hairlessness is accepted as a universal condition of femininity.
Whether the body hair is on a woman’s face or legs or under her arms, I have never seen it portrayed as normal. So it’s hardly a surprise that as soon as body hair starts to grow, young women begin to remove it and believe that the process is normal. We equate femininity with hairlessness because we have never seen an alternative. Young women learn that their hair is unnatural and ‘gross’, and therefore that its removal is a normal, default process for all women.
At this point, I’ve tried basically every hair removal method under the sun – shaving, waxing, laser hair removal, epilation, tweezing, depilatory creams. I’ve learned never to get my legs waxed before my period because my pain tolerance plummets; I have used a weird, spring-like contraption to pull hair from my face; I’ve tried cheap at home waxing strips that irritate my skin. All because I have internalised ideas of beauty that involve smooth, lizard-like hairlessness. Achieving that result is expensive and painful and time-consuming. But I feel trapped in my adherence to that ideal.
What needs to change is not the fact of body hair removal, but the universality of hairless women in the media. We need to show young women that removing body hair is a choice that women can make, but that it’s not a compulsory part of being a woman. No one has to remove their body hair. We need to show that it is optional – if you want to be hairless, go for it. But that doesn’t mean having body hair is bad. Body hair is great. Social pressure sucks.
Women naturally have body hair. We are mammals and we have hair everywhere. It’s not disgusting; it’s normal. But it’s not normalised. Let’s change that.Support Villainesse