Am I a bad feminist? For over a decade now I have been battling body hair with razors, creams, wax, tweezers, epilators and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatments. Of course, hairy legs and armpits are the ultimate cliché of the 70’s feminist, a stereotype that still hangs around. The image works quite well for people who oppose or misunderstand the concept of feminism. It’s repulsive, or ‘unwomanly’, some would say. (An interesting argument, given that most women do have body hair naturally). So are my half-hearted efforts at body hair removal offensive to the Sisterhood?
It’s not like I haven’t thought it through. From a personal viewpoint, it’s time-consuming, expensive and, depending on the method used, painful. Equally, from a feminist perspective, it is sapping me of productive use of time and disposable income that a man would take for granted. I don’t want to think about how much I’ve spent on the thankless task of dissolving, ripping out from the roots, plucking and bleaching, only for the forest to spring up again overnight.
Now, I don’t want to distract you with a discussion on pornography here. I don’t personally object to it per se. I do, however, have some specific issues with its development on the internet over the last decade. One of these is that regular women are now expected to perform a porn star-level of personal grooming. The really annoying thing about this, aside from the associated crazy pain and expense, is that nobody even asked us if this was okay. As Caitlin Moran puts it: ‘It is now accepted that women will wax. We never had a debate about it.’ She makes a very good argument when she writes ‘I can’t believe we’ve got to a point where it’s basically costing us money to have a fanny… This is the money we should be spending on THE ELECTRICITY BILL’. It really is quite ludicrous.
But I’m a feminist, and I choose to shave my legs! So it’s fine! Right? Well, I don’t know, to be honest. Without wishing to patronise all those womanly, beautifully hairless women out there (including myself, on occasion), how free a choice is it really? I quote from a fellow blogger at bellejar.ca who succinctly makes the point:
‘I mean, yes, technically, they do get to choose what happens to their body, but it’s pretty hard to feel like you’re actually making a fair, unbiased “choice” when your options are a) removing your body hair and enjoying the approval of our society or b) not removing your body hair and being on the receiving end of stupid jokes, insults and even harassment because of this. It’s pretty hard to frame it as a “choice” when society overwhelmingly approves of one option and punishes the other.’
There’s no denying it. Having body hair, as a woman, is a no-no if you want the approbation of most men and, let’s face it, women. One woman journalist, writing in a national newspaper, asserts that ‘body hair is clear signal you’re not interested in sex’ and states that a man can tell how interested a woman is in him by ‘how often she has her bikini line waxed or shaves her legs’.
At home I am aware of my body hair not because I am personally repulsed by it in any way, but because (yes, I admit it!) I want my partner to find me desirable and attractive. Even though he is not particularly squeamish when it comes to the stubble often covering my calves, I am still made to feel self-conscious. When I told him recently that I would need to let my hair grow to 5mm if I were to get it waxed, he was baffled. ‘But you don’t see other women walking around with hairy legs’. No, I thought to myself, equally baffled, I don’t know how they do it either. If only my feminist mother had brought me up knowing how to simultaneously grow my hair in order to wax it while remaining utterly hair free. Can anyone enlighten me?
Caitlin Moran; How to be a Woman