Has Covid been the main factor in bringing back the body hair? Or have we been going in that direction for a while now? Since Julia Roberts shocked the world and had us all clutching our pearls when she brazenly flashed a puff of underarm hair at a film premiere, it caused an outcry. But was it really a statement or such a big deal? According to Julia herself, she simply hadn’t calculated the length or her dress sleeves! But it seems that women have been making this ‘statement’ through the years – according to this article in Vogue – from Sophia Loren to Miley Cyrus, women aren’t always a slave to the razor.
However, the outcry does say something about what society expects from women. It shows that just over 20 years ago women were expected to be hair-free from top lip to big toe. So why did that come about and are we still doing it?
Certainly, during lockdown it’s been harder to keep up that hair-free look if you’re used to going to salons, but is there more to it? Are we experiencing a cultural shift where body hair is no longer frowned upon, but something to be celebrated?
The January cover page of UK Glamour Mag, the Self Love edition, features the stunning Esther Calixte Béa who is a body hair activist, showing her beauty and her chest hair. It’s an arresting image and seems incredible that over 20 years after that famous red carpet moment, that women’s body hair, is still making a statement. The great news is, there are many more people like Bea, pushing these boundaries and norms to bring body hair acceptance into the mainstream.
So where did our interest in body hair start?
You might think adverts from the Twenties were the origins of ridding ourselves of ‘objectionable hair’ but it actually goes back way further.
Hair removal can be traced back as far as the Stone Age – where men were whipping off their head hair to stop grapples in battle.
Back in 3000 BC Egyptians would remove their hair completely from head to toe, such was the heat, it was considered cooler, more hygienic and more civilised.
It was a class distinction in Roman times, where to be hair free was a sign of nobility with men plucking out their beard hair.
Then things moved on further in the depilatory history – as Dr Eleanor Janega explains: “Medieval women cultivated a very specific beauty standard, but some of their obsessions, especially regarding hair removal were just like ours. The medieval equivalent of a best-seller, the eleventh-century Trotula supplied recipes for women to see to the health care needs of their households. It also included multiple recipes specifically for body hair removal. Medieval women removed public hair, often citing their husbands’ preferences, as well as plucking their eyebrows, and hairline. Fashionable women hoping to show off at the popular public baths, or please their husbands were just as likely as us to sport a bald mons pubis.”
Originally published in 1886, George Henry Fox’s Book, The Use of Electricity on the Removal of Superfluous Hair, details early electrolysis where a needle, attached to a negative terminal on a battery was inserted into the hair follicle to destroy it at the root and therefor remove future hair growth. A technique still used today!
And there is a vast array of potions and to aid depilation, some of which include poisons such as arsenic and quicklime. Anyone who’s used hair removal cream might wonder if it is any less toxic nowadays…!
But why were women to be bald and smooth where men could be as hairy and gruff as nature gifted them? The old tropes of what it is to be feminine and masculine –
Now we are seeing a shift, what recently to be confined to bodybuilders oiling up their smooth hair-free muscles or shark smooth skin of Olympic swimmers, men too are now dipping into the hair-free feel. Think back sack and crack wax.
So body hair – what do we think of all this?
I asked the question on Twitter and almost without exception, everybody had a preference for how they wore their own body hair, but conversely didn’t care what anyone else did. Some may have hinted they liked a smoothly waxed pussy, but it certainly wouldn’t put them off to be confronted with a full bush to sink their face into.
Kirsty Jennings: “I don’t mind what my partners (or anyone else) chooses to rock, but I like to be sleek, everything off!”
Amy Norton: “Body hair is awesome. I keep all of mine except for VERY occasional (twice in the last 5 years) armpit shaving. I wish we were more chill about it as a society – my natural body shouldn’t be seen as a ~PoLiTiCaL sTaTeMeNt~ just for existing in its unwaxed form.”
Dr Lori Beth Bisbey: “It is one of the things driving me nuts with Covid- can’t go get my waxing and nothing works as well.”
Girl On The Net: “I trim some (bush), shave some (legs), and keep some (armpits, which I fucking LOVE. I am now the world’s biggest advocate of armpit hair).”
Here’s an answer I loved from Quiet Shy Wolf on hair removal as a sensual act: “I love having someone else shave my bush—it’s a huge turn on for me—so I had my bush lasered to thin it out enough to make that easier.”
Focussed and Filthy: “I only trim or tidy the edges and feel uncomfortable with the idea of someone wanting me bald there. But happy with everyone else’s personal choices. Only thing I do hate is stubble. Makes giving oral sex really unpleasant. Prefer big bush or shorter hair to stubble.”
And we do seem to scrutinize ourself with a far harsher lens than others too.
Sub Bee: “I have mixed views. I hate my own body hair with a passion but on others I’m absolutely fine with it. Except beards, I really don’t like beards.”
Hot Honey: “I do have pubic hair envy. Other people have lush, dark beautiful hair and they look perfect with or without. I have very sparse, uncurly, pale hair that just looks as though I was made by someone who’d never seen pubes.”
So perhaps, as ever it seems, what the media tells us and what is perceived to be the beauty standard, is not actually what we like best. If everyone could rid themselves of mainstream beauty standards and just do what they wanted for them, how big would this shift be?
This fabulous article from RT Collins shows how lockdown has been a catalyst for them to embrace their body hair. “Society’s attitude towards body hair is changing — but it’s happening slowly, and so many of us are still weighed down by what we feel is acceptable, allowed. In the end, however, I’ve realised that other people’s opinions are far, far less important than my own comfort and sense of individuality.”
I think we are far more accepting of all our natural forms and different tastes, as people like Ruby Rare and Queen Bea show us – which helps us to experiment and find what we feel comfortable with. Whether that’s hair free from head to toe, or full-on glossy pelt, the good news is, it’s becoming more acceptable to just do you!
As ever, it’s not what you look like, or how you behave, it’s how confident you are while you do it which draws those to you. If you feel good, you’ll look good!
And I’ll leave the final word the lovely Haiku @19syllables
“I’m willy-nilly. Sometimes smooth, sometimes bush sometimes trimmed/landing strip. The only thing I really object to is someone having strong opinions about how it ‘should’ be! That (and they) can get in the sea.”