Almost a taboo- female body hair in the early 21st century.

22 Feb

Today’s blog was brought to you by a conversation I’ve had a few times with a colleague, which invariably gets raised when she mentions her love life. Now, I’m fully aware I could have talked to you about my plans to go to the Pimavera festival, or to start painting again, or my futile attempts to sell my sofa, but these current life obsessions are unengaging concerns compared to the subject of what women look like naked. Or to push the envelope a little further, and enter the mailbox marked ‘slightly taboo’, allow me to write about what women look like naked and what their body hair is like.

So, what’s brought this on? Ok, well, my friend and colleague is a lesbian. Now this, you may think, is incidental, but on the subject of female body hair it’s apparently a huge issue on the younger gay ‘scene’. Unless a young woman of gay persuasion is shaved within an inch of puberty, she isn’t seen as attractive. Or at least that’s the theory. Leg and arm pit hair is the work of Satan, and if you really want to become a social pariah you could do no worse than be seen in one of my friend’s favourite bars with hairy arms on show. However, all this is apparantly of small concern compared to what a girl looks like with her clothes off. Now, the idea behind this total hair removal, in the downstairs department in particular, is allegedly to aid oral sex, which I can understand to a point. But isn’t it throwing the baby out with the bath water? Pubic hair is a secondary sexual characteristic and traps pheromones (those intoxicating scents of desire), and ironically help to keep the lady’s private area clean, providing you help it out with the odd bath or shower. Now, maybe some lesbians (and I’m keen to say some) might see no use to it, feeling it aids heterosexual desire…I don’t know, I’m clutching at sexual straws there…and at a distinct disadvantage gender and desire wise. What I do know is that heterosexual women are also removing their body hair in increasing numbers.

By the 1920s female silent film stars never appeared without smooth armpits, but that's where the hair removal ended. Louise Brooks (pictured) remains a style icon to this day.

What is also clear is that in 1915 Gillette launched one of the most successful advertising campaigns the western world has ever seen. They convinced women to shave. Not to say that women had never done this, but in Edwardian Britain the chances of your wife or girlfriend having no underarm hair was practically nil. Did the men of the 1910s mind this state of affairs? Probably not at all- this was what mature sexually active women looked like. The reason Gillette and their pesky razors could pull off such a shearing coup was simple.

Hollywood happened.

The glamorous actresses of early Hollywood films shaved their armpits (as did many performing artistes). I can sort of see why, although it’s hard to articulate. It looks clean and unthreatening, and on stage, or on a stark silent silver screen, removes one more distraction from the facial expressions and costume, and perhaps further distinguished them from their male co-stars. Trends do come and go in this regard, however, and the short haired flappers of the ’20s contrast with the long haired hippies of the ’60s and ’70s, arguably the last time female armpit hair was seen as fashionable, or at least tolerable. Either way, it was to prove a huge influence that women are still feeling 100 years later.

Now, shaving your armpits is one thing, and most men have (for better or worse) grown up believing that’s not a pretty sight on a woman, but removing every hair on your body aside from the head is perhaps a step too far perhaps? Each to their own of course; every woman has the choice to do what she considers best, but to think that this is in danger of becoming the norm is rather strange. Even men are being encouraged to pursue this all over body removal. Some women, not surprisingly, are not amused, ironic as that may be.  But, at least as far as the ladies are concerned, one of the very sexual signals women develop at puberty is totally removed, and a fair majority of men are down right confused or turned off by this development.

Am I one of them? Well, yes, I suppose I am, although like most men, I have a limit. Also, for some reason more bohemian or artistic types seem to say ‘Fuck it’ to the razor, and I’ve known a fair few bohemian and creative types. I’ve had more than one girlfriend who insisted on growing out her armpit hair, and didn’t need my approval one way or another. Now this can be ferelly sexy, but perhaps not when I wimp out and try to acknowledge social conventions. Knowing we both had a friends’ wedding to attend and she was going to be wearing a sleeveless dress tried my alternative leanings; well, that sort of situation can make you realise how many people would baulk at the idea of visible female armpit hair. Then again, some folk just wouldn’t care less. But I found it perhaps hypocritical of me to expect her to shave them for that social setting. She did, as it happens, but I had no say in the matter.

A Yeti, last seen terrorising Tibetan monks in a 1968 "Doctor Who "episode. Not a fan of the razor. Might be a girl or a boy.

I think the pornographic industry has played a role in this sheared look as well, which is disturbing in itself. Are women being made to feel like hairless Dolphin people that exist to look like pre-pubescent girls and entertain the lowest common denominator of sexual lust? Am I being over reactive about that? Yeah, maybe.  After all, can’t mature women be attractive with no body hair? Sure, but why is it suddenly being seen as ‘normal’ by young impressionable women? That’s the worry.

My understanding is that some women enjoy being completely sheared, and feel cleaner. That’s fine as it goes, and I defend their right to look as they want, but in a world were body image is elevated as an important concern, and we also have obesity and other health concerns, isn’t reaching for the scissors, creams and razors maybe getting the priorities wrong?

Women have had pubic hair for millions of years. Some have occasionally shaved it off, most haven’t. Most women in either camp don’t want to resemble a Sasquatch either, although there are no doubt men who go for that look! There are a multitude of female forms, and well there should be. The generic Barbie robot image paraded by the media for the last few decades probably isn’t helping women’s body image either, it’s true. But when we reach a time when the sight of female pubic hair can cause certain people to declare it ugly or dirty or gross…well, that is a sign we have gone too far into ludicrousity and perhaps we now have a whole generation who are being brainwashed into a vision of female body image that ultimately can’t be lived up to, and perhaps really shouldn’t.

Hairy or shaved, fat or thin, black or white…whatever you are and whatever you wish to be is perhaps the only body image you need to feel a desire to be. Whilst this is a man talking, and any women readers are happy to ignore every word I’ve said, I do think it would make the western world a far more interesting place. Both hair or its absence is a mark of individuality after all.

And that certainly needs protecting.

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2 Responses to “Almost a taboo- female body hair in the early 21st century.”

  1. Artful Adorner February 23, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    *Applause*

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