I'll openly admit it: I HATE shaving. It probably the most uncomfortable, frustrating process I go through, short of menstruating (and I've been able to almost do away with that, thanks to advances in birth control). And it's painful, both during as I twist and strain and contort my sausage-like body to get all the furry places, and as soon as a few hours after, when the hair begins to grow back and red, angry bumps start appearing. Not to mention the fact that if I shave at night, by the time I wake up the next morning, my skin is sand paper, and by the afternoon, the hair is like a wire brush.
Because I hate shaving, I'll likely go for a couple of weeks without doing it, especially when there's no reason to. I don't own shorts because I don't like them, and it's a rare and usually planned occasion when I wear a skirt, so jeans and pants cover the fur to the outside world. I haven't owned a swim suit since high school, so shaving that area isn't something I usually bother with either. Shaving my underarms, perhaps one of the itchiest places to shave, is something I'll do with more frequency because in the summer it's more noticeable, but since I stopped leaving the house on a regular basis, I haven't really bothered.
Tonight, I was asked to shave. When I asked why, why should I shave, I was told because my hair was "gross". This is something I've heard repeatedly. Leg hair is "gross". Underarm hair is "gross'. I've even heard people say that having hair on your arms (from your wrist to your shoulder), is "gross".
I'm having some difficulty understanding why. Especially when men are socially "allowed" to have thick, dark leg, arm, chest and underarm hair. Why is it that to be not "gross", a woman must painstakingly and systematically remove all of their "offending" hair.
So, I decided to look into it. (You've been out of school to long when...)
A website called "The Straight Dope"1 was posed the question by a reader in February of 1991. Their response cited an article called "Caucasian Female Body Hair and American Culture" by Christine Hope. According to The Straight Dope, the article can by summerized as saying that media made us do it. Aparently, in 1915, as men returned from war, women were innundated by advertisements stating that underarm hair was unsightly, especially with the increasing popularity of sleeveless dresses. Marketing geniouses somewhere in the US of A decided this was a pretty spiffy look, and started generating more and more pressure on us poor hapless ladies, going as far as suggesting that underarm hair was unhygenic. Strangely enough, I wasn't able to find any proof of this online (I don't have access to scholarly articles right now), but the only sites I found that state that pit fuzz is unhygenic are sites that sell hair removal equipment, so I'll take that one with a grane of salt.
Over the next decade, women eventually succumbed to the need to do what was popular. Isn't that just like us silly women? I'll get to that bit in a minute. Leg hair was next to fall, though it seemed to put up a fight. Seems that many women didn't see a practical need to remove their fur, even as hemlines jumped up and down. That is, until WWII. Here's where I'll hop back to that whole popularity thing:
Though Hope doesn't say so, what may have put the issue over the top was the famous WWII pinup of Betty Grable displaying her awesome gams. Showing off one's legs became a patriotic act. That plus shorter skirts and sheer stockings, which looked dorky with leg hair beneath, made the anti-hair pitch an easy sell.(That's still from Straight Dope, for those of us playing at home.)
And so, out came the razors, and off went the foliage, and thus started the trend.
But, how did it become more than a trend? I mean, teased hair and bleached jeans was a trend in the 1980's, it didn't stick. Back in the 90's, the grunge look came, and everyone stopped showering, then it went. What made this hair removal hysteria stick? And how did it get from hollywood hype to necessity in Western Culture?
Here's where things get a little fuzzy (pardon the pun). There actually isn't a lot of information on what happened there. At least, not that I've found tonight. I haven't finished reading "The Beauty Myth" yet, and I'm assuming part of the answer is in there, but I can take a pretty easy guess.
The Shorn Leg Silliness started right in and around WWII. My understanding of history, limited as it is, leads me to believe that something else was taking off at that time as well. If memory serves, I believe that was about the same time that media was becoming more readily available through television. Media, though in it's infancy, was beginning to grow. People were more able to access popular culture (there's that pesky word again), and popular culture must have taken quite an interest in the culture of hairlessness.
I'm pretty sure we all know what happened from there. Media exploded, and brought along with it the new definition of what was beautiful, and to a more unsettling extent, what was acceptable. I say unsettling because of how much it's become a chain for us. It's become a prison.
You go outside with a little stubble on your ankle and people freak. Type "Women who don't shave their legs" into google, and you'll find a smack-down barrage of comments about how not removing body hair makes a woman "gross", "disgusting", and even "lazy". Funny story: most of those comments come from men. Who'da thunk it?
Self-Esteem and Self-Image is something that I, along with pretty much every woman I've come across, have struggled with for most of our lives. Beauty and the nonsense surrounding what it is and what it should be consumes more of our lives than almost anything else, and can go from being as mundane as fussing over a black head or changing clothes 3 times before going out to the supermarket, to much more dangerous extremes ranging from surgery to extreme dieting and ingesting everything from chemicals known to cause heart attacks to... well, nothing at all, to make us fit what's supposed to be "beautiful". Removing body hair is as much a part of that as putting on make-up, I suppose.
I was really hoping for an answer here, not a rant about artifical, stupid beauty steriotypes. I was really hoping to understand why it's so important that it causes fights big enough to leave me here, venting on the couch, more than an hour after my fiancee has gone to bed. I was hoping I could give myself something more to object with than "I don't wanna, because I don't like it." Because aparently that's not enough.
I guess I just wish there was something as... unpleasent that I could ask in return. I asked him to shave his legs in solidarity, he said he would in the winter when no one would see it, but not in the summer (I inferred (correctly) that it would make him less of a man). Aparently it makes me less of a woman to be seen un-shaven.
Great, another thing for me to obsess over.
Well, some nights, I guess you just don't get a conclusion. That being said, I'm going to do the best of both. I'll break out the hair removal cream, because it burns about as much as shaving, but lasts longer. And while I"m doing that, I'll start making my new favorite: Pineapple juice, mango juice, melon rum and lots of ice.
At least I understand that.
1. The Straight Dope: Who decided women should shave their legs and underarms?