Whether you have a pair of tweezers stuck in every purse you own or haven't shaved your legs since college, we all have thoughts on body hair. For some of us, shaving is a matter of personal beauty or confidence. For others, not shaving is about a rejection of popular beauty standards, embracing a more natural sensibility. It's also pretty darned practical, in terms of your energy and your wallet.
Yet while men can play around with their facial growth (like the annual "no-shave November" mustache takeover), for women the subject of body hair is a lot more complicated. Let's face it: what you do or don't shave can say a lot about you. Whether you like it or not.
A short-trim history of body hair.
Throughout history, cultures have held different views on body hair for men and women alike. Ancient Egyptian and Roman women of the upper classes removed body hair by various methods, including early "razors" made of copper, because they found it unseemly. At certain points in history, the removal of body hair (especially pubic hair) was for truly hygienic reasons, such as preventing or removing lice. There were also sometimes practical considerations, such as shaving as a way to combat hot climates. But for the most part, to shave or wax or pluck has largely been a question of fashion or a matter of cultural perceptions.
Actual clothing fashion drove many of the body hair trends of the twentieth century, especially for women. As dresses became skirts or skirt suits, and as hemlines became higher and higher, the idea of "pretty" feminine legs being those that were hairless took root. Same goes with underarm hair, as long sleeves gave way to short and then no sleeves. And with the rise of girly mags like Playboy, where skin was definitely in, the pubic hairline began to recede as well. Advertising campaigns by razor companies played a large part in influencing public perceptions of female body hair, too.
Though there has always been a percentage of the female population opting out of shaving, period, even today, hairy legs can be faced with general disapproval. Hairy legs or armpit stubble can be labeled unattractive and even unclean — not to mention the inevitable associations with "the angry feminist." Alongside bra-burning and man-hating, not shaving your body hair completes the trifecta of stereotypes surrounding the feminist women of the 1960s and 70s. Culturally, and unfortunately, the echoes of this caricature still linger.
Today, however, enough celebrities (for more on that, stay tuned below) have walked the red carpet and posted to social media with their body hair on display that the trend of shaving only what and as you choose is, hopefully, gaining more traction in today's society. After all, body positivity isn't just about the size of your body, it's also about the natural state of it. Skin wrinkles, gets stretch marks... and grows hair. Whatever you choose to do or not do about any of that is your choice.
The hairy pros and cons:
- Practical: not shaving saves time and energy, not to mention all that money spent on fancy razors or salon sessions.
- Safer: from a medical standpoint, not shaving yields much less risk of infection through nicks. It also eliminates razor burn and chafing.
- Sense of freedom: from the razor, from the time and effort of upkeep, and from the pressure to always be smooth.
- Less self-care: shaving can be part of your self-care routine and yield results you enjoy.
- Feeling less pretty or feminine: not shaving might offend your own sense of personal femininity or beauty.
- Dealing with others' opinions: you will probably face at least some judgment as the result of the predominant cultural stigma against female body hair.
5 things your body hair says about your health.
We all know the hair on our head isn't just an expression of our personality. The state of it, be it shiny or dull, silky or brittle, can reflect our lifestyles and the state of our overall health. But did you know your body hair can give health clues too?
1. If you're anemic.
Unusual amounts of hair loss on your head and eyebrows can indicate an iron deficiency. This hair loss, paired with ridging on your nails, can be a sure sign you're low in iron or some other essential nutrient. A blood test by your doctor can confirm this.
2. A bit about your genetics.
With the popularity of genetic testing kits, everyone's become a little more interested in who and where they come from. But a quick assessment of your body hair, the texture and amount of it, can also give you clues.
3. A hormone imbalance.
Growing excessive body hair, especially in areas you usually don't, such as your chest, can be a sign of increased hormone production. And that could be your body's way of trying to tell you about an underlying health condition.
4. An autoimmune condition.
If you start losing hair in patches, on your head or your body, this could be a sign of a condition called alopecia. This is an autoimmune condition in which hair simply falls out, in patches or completely. While causes aren't known, it doesn't affect your health in any other way, and, if you weren't born with it, your hair may even come back.
5. Tumor or other major health issue.
Sudden loss or growth of body hair, especially if that growth persists over months, could be a sign of a more serious health concern. A tumor, for instance, might cause you to grow a lot of hair everywhere. Left untreated, this could have serious and even fatal results.
Celebrities who embrace their body hair:
Shaving is a personal decision. Sometimes you feel like doing it, other times you don't. Here are just a few famous women who at one time or another skipped the razor and the wax, and walked the red carpet anyway. P.S. Check out this Glamour article for even more happy hairy ladies.
- Julia Roberts, whose underarm hair had its own fifteen minutes of fame back in the 1990s.
- Mo'Nique, who walked the red carpet in pumps and hairy legs and didn't blink at the backlash.
- Rihanna. Her Instagram posts set fashion trends and are opening attitudes toward stubble. too.
- Miley Cyrus, who not only grew out her underarm hair but also dyed it.
- Madonna. She posted pictures of her natural body hair years ago.
A lot of the present cultural conversations about female body hair revolve around body acceptance, positivity and not being ashamed for the way your body just naturally is. And that's awesome. Why? Because beauty standards come and go, but making the choices that help you feel happy to be in the skin you're in? That's timeless.