Why we should all just chill out about female body hair

June 22, 2015
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Body hair: to remove, or not to remove. That is the question that has plagued women since the advent of safety razors. Fashion and cultural trends shift and change over time, but the predominant mainstream norm dictates that women’s natural fuzz be banished from armpits, legs and nether regions.

The tenet is so ingrained that Girls actress Jemima Kirke recently broke the internet when she exposed tufts of armpit hair at a fashion event. This occurrence resurrected a hairy conversation the world hadn’t dared to have since Miley Cyrus flaunted her dyed-pink pit hair a mere month earlier.

Every time a famous lady “forgets to shave” (here’s a gallery of them for your viewing pleasure), celebrity websites and fans are sent into a tizz. But what’s the big deal about hairy women?

Twenty-four-year-old theatre performer and producer Emma “Feather” Shaw refrains from removing any of her body hair because, frankly, she can’t be bothered.

“And in fact I really like it,” Feather tells Hijacked. “It was never meant to be a statement, but then after being harassed at my previous work place, I suppose it became a statement.”

Feather worked at a backpacker’s hostel in Canterbury, on New Zealand’s south island, as a housekeeper and receptionist. To undertake her regular duties, which included cleaning toilets, she was asked by an assistant manager to either shave her hairy legs or stop wearing shorts. Meanwhile, Feather’s hairy, bearded male colleagues were not given the same ultimatum.

Feather was humiliated and suffered from severe anxiety as a result. She undertook lengthy legal action, and won a discrimination ruling complete with a written apology from the hostel.

 I’m quite deliberate in allowing my underarm hair or my leg hair to be in those intermediate stages, just so they can see I’m comfortable with who I am.

She eventually wrote about her experience - and the pride she takes in her body hair - for Dunedin’s Otago Daily Times, declaring:

“I am a proudly hairy and beautiful woman who rocks my bare, hairy legs confidently – in public, at home, at work, on the beach, at the swimming pool, on the dance floor, at formal events.”

Meanwhile, 31-year-old vestibular audiologist, mindfulness educator and yoga teacher Joey Remenyi says her attitude to body hair is quite flexible.

“Either extreme doesn’t make me feel super comfortable,” Joey says. “My approach to body hair is generally about being clean and tidy and aesthetic in a way that pleases myself.”

She waxes semi-regularly, but enjoys the hair that grows in between sessions.

“As a yoga teacher I know that I’m influencing some of my students, especially the younger women,” she says. “I’m quite deliberate in allowing my underarm hair or my leg hair to be in those intermediate stages, just so they can see I’m comfortable with who I am.”

Joey notes her own comfort with her body helps ease other people’s occasional discomfort, and as a hairy teenager she enjoyed provoking a reaction from her peers. But she’s never felt vilified for her choices.

“I enjoy feeling comfortable in my body and seeing other men and women comfortable in their bodies.”

 It comes from the commodification of beauty, cleanliness and femininity. It comes from people being brainwashed consumers.

So where does the pressure to be hairless come from? Are men at fault, or are women self-imposing the rule? Feather blames the ubiquitous marketing campaigns by big beauty businesses.

“It comes from the commodification of beauty, cleanliness and femininity. It comes from people being brainwashed consumers,” she says.

When asked about the relationship between her own body hair and feminism, Feather says she “hasn’t thought about it”. And she neither confirmed nor denied identifying as a feminist. Meanwhile, Joey acknowledges that although she’s never actively described herself as a feminist, her beliefs regarding the power and equality of women fit the definition.

But if Jemima Kirke told Twitter she’s “#bored” with it all, why are we even still talking about women’s hairy bits? Joey believes it’s an important conversation to have, but that being comfortable in your own skin is more important than whether or not you wax.

“It’s great to have women in the world who enjoy their bodies regardless of their hair growth.”

And Feather has straightforward advice for young women who may be pondering their body hair options:

“It’s your body - do what you want.”

Here’s hoping the next time a famous woman “dares” to let it all hang out, the internet will direct its shock and awe elsewhere.

Phoebe Hartley

Phoebe makes films, eats dumplings and studies journalism. She tweets sporadically at @phoebehartley.

Image: Monique Broekhuisen, Flickr Creative Commons license

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