First, I must preface this post by stating (okay fine, confessing), that I am addicted to hair removal. I pretty much do it all — I shave, I Nair, I thread, I wax and most recently, I laser — so questioning the feminist dilemmas behind hair removal is a big deal for me. And kind of a bad idea, because in the end I will have to choose between being hairy or a hypocrite. But here it goes anyways.
Men and women have been removing hair from their bodies throughout history. According to “Beauty by Numbers: Hair Removal,” an article written by Kate Sullivan in Allure magazine, 4,000-3,000 B.C. is the, “Period when Turks used a mixture of arsenic, quicklime and starch called rhusma…” Think of this as the very first version of Nair. Ouch.
Obviously, the question – to shave, or not to shave – has been a part of various cultures, with varying connotations. For example, in the 17th century, hair was associated with witchcraft and was shaved off to strip the women of their unnatural masculine powers. Freud would of course argue that the shaving of women speaks to a sort of obsession with the infantile and a desire to keep women from being full-grown adults, by taking away their very-adult qualities down there.
In America, the need to shave all over can be most closely linked to the movements in and around the ’20s, when clothes got smaller and women got bolder. Women wanted to bare their new sexy legs and arms for the whole world to see – and frankly, hair was cramping their style. So off it went! Approximately one million Milady razors sold in 1917. By 1964, “98 percent of American women under the age of 44 shaved their legs. Before World War I, practically no American women did,” Sullivan wrote. Although I would love nothing more than to blame stupid men for this annoying expectation, it seems it was women that primarily pushed the hairless movement in the United States.
Of course, one could argue that men were still the main influence because women were clearly using these techniques to please boyfriends and husbands. But unfortunately, I don’t think they can really take the blame (although I am thoroughly annoyed that they are still enjoying the benefits!). Now, we are in a new era of hair-removal, one that focuses on that beautiful flower in your knickers. Some women wax for themselves, because it makes them feel sexy. But most young women have simply grown up neck-deep in the hair-removal lifestyle and it is now “more routine than a dentist appointment,” as Jennifer Armstrong so accurately puts it in her article, “Our Poor Vaginas.” Although not every woman subjects herself to the Full Brazilian, which swiftly removes all traces of hair and modesty, regular grooming is not only appreciated, but usually expected.
It’s getting harder and harder for me to decipher if waxing is a personal decision, or something I do because some loud-mouthed girlfriend told me I was supposed to in middle school. So now that I can decide for myself, it comes down to this: The Bush vs. The Brazilian – goodness, what’s a feminist to do?
I don’t have an answer, but I do have a consolation. The Bro-zilian, the male version of a Brazilian, is swiftly gaining popularity. Get ready boys.