The unwritten rules of female grooming

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We see it everywhere. On our favorite television shows, in the movies we watch and constantly in advertisements. Women’s skin without any body hair, other than their eyebrows and on their scalp.

There is no denying that women in our society face a certain amount of pressure to have hairless skin. Women are constantly bombarded with methods of hair removal such as lasers, waxing and shaving. What is driving this force to have women without any hair on their bodies?

Shannon Dea, associate professor of philosophy and the undergrad advisor for women’s studies at the University of Waterloo, sat down with The Cord to offer her insights behind why women participate in hair removal.

Looking through numerous commercials and advertisements, there is an unconscious demand that women should look younger. Everything from creams to tightening skin, to hair products that cover gray hair, is marketed towards women to take years off their appearance.

Hair removal is a part of this pressure to look younger. “One of the unconscious motivations behind the pressure to have women remove any hair on their bodies is to make them appear younger and more delicate,” Dea said. Hairlessness is generally associated with youth, so women remove their body hair in an effort to remain eternally youthful.

When anyone goes out into the world, they are judged by their appearance. People make assumptions based on appearance of what someone’s social status is, what their job is or how clean they are. Body hair is not exempted from this judgment.

There is also no denying that hair and hygiene have a strong relationship to each other. “One of the first judgments that are made about women who do not shave their body hair is that they are unclean,” said Dea.

This is not always a correct assumption to make about another person, as Dea suggests that someone can have body hair and still be very clean.

Sexual orientation is also suggested by the amount of body hair a woman has on her body. When a woman does not shave any aspect of her body, she is often labeled as more masculine or queer.

“This is not a true assumption as there are many lesbian women who do shave their bodies and many straight women who choose not to,” Dea said.

The level of hair that is found on a woman’s body is also seen as a way to signify what their political affiliation is.

“A question that comes up in discussions about feminism is ‘Can I still be a good feminist and shave my legs?’” Dea said.

She further explained to The Cord that many women find themselves torn between wanting to have ‘good feminist credentials’ and the pressure to be presented in a socially acceptable way.

“None of those choices make you a good or bad feminist especially since there are lots of different ways to be a feminist and a strong woman.”

Often body hair is also an important issue for those who are a part of the transgender community. This is something that is generally not thought about in mainstream media.

Lack of hair, especially in the face, is important for transgender women to appear more feminine. “When transgender women are transitioning, they are still growing facial hair and facing the challenge of removing that hair to look less like a beard,” said Dea.

Balding can also be a way that transgender men can appear to be more masculine. Dea mentioned there is some desire among transgender men in developing male pattern baldness, since it is often regarded as a sign of masculinity.

There are complex and numerous reasons as to why women feel the need to shave their bodies However, removing body hair should be a choice, not a demand made by society.


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