Femininity and the Hairless Norm

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From an early age, I knew that women shaved their legs and armpits and that men grew their hair long and that those were the gender constructs I would eventually be placed into. As a child with hair on my legs, it was acceptable because I did not have to worry about being suitable for the male gaze yet. One summer, I was eight and I remember swimming in the lake at a cottage we rented with my family, seeing my aunt with unshaven armpits and being disgusted. This is such an insignificant event but out of all my childhood memories, it sticks clear as day. Even at age eight, I had been conditioned to hate the hair on a woman’s body and view it as untamed, gross and unfeminine.

As I grew into adolescence, I was a late bloomer, hence I didn’t have hair under my armpits for a very long time but I did have hairy legs. I was one of the last ones to shave because I wasn’t really sure how to do it properly, and I thought that I could just hide my legs from my classmates to avoid being ridiculed. I still remember feeling the shame of having hair there and pulling up my socks to cover any trace of my ignorance regarding “femininity”.

I eventually realized that life would be very stressful and that hiding my legs would not work in the sweltering heat. I started waxing my legs, and then was taught by my sister how to shave. Through reflecting on these feelings that have been with me almost my whole life and noticing other women’s relationship to their body hair, I find myself wondering why something that is naturally on our bodies for warmth and protection has become something that women spend hours laboriously trying to remove in order to achieve this unattainable ideal of a hairless neotenic female. The media constantly shows women with no body hair in ads for shaving products and waxes, and those in the public eye who try to excuse themselves from this construct are ostracized or punished in one way or another.

A close friend of mine, Petra Collins, is a feminist artist and photographer. She posted a photo of her bottom half in a bikini with pubic hair sticking out of her panties on Instagram. This image did not violate any of the rules and regulations of the website, yet it was reported and her account was deleted. This sickens me, because although some may say it is only an Instagram account, it is so much more than that.  How can we love our bodies and ourselves when a website that is supposed to be a place to share artistic photos with friends and give artists a platform to display their photography, is taking away a young woman’s freedom to display herself proudly, in her natural form?

The feminine ideal that has been created is out of hand and is causing subconscious damage on women’s feelings towards their bodies. A completely hairless body is not attainable for any woman who passed puberty, and even if attained for a short period of time, the hair will grow back, and with it the shame and disgust with one’s body.

Although I do believe that the disgust with female body hair is ridiculous, I am not saying that I always let all of my body hair grow naturally in protest: I do feel more sexual and beautiful with shaved legs, whether because I have been conditioned by society to feel that way, or that I naturally like the feeling of smooth skin. At other times, I’m lazy and I don’t care about being shaved: I feel fine with the hair on my legs. I don’t think that it needs to be a black or white situation where you must either fully shave and submit to the feminine ideal, or be completely natural in order to be a feminist.  I am not saying that a woman covered in body hair should be the ideal, but rather that  it should be the choice of each woman to be hairy or hairless, much like men with facial hair. Some women do really enjoy having smooth legs, but some women prefer to have hair, and our constructs for “femininity” should honour both of these choices.

Photo: Petra Collins
Sophie grew up in Toronto, Ontario, where her love for creating and performing subsequently pushed her to attend an arts high school. She then moved to Montreal to undertake a Major in Theatre at Concordia University, where she will graduate in 2015 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.
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