Bush, beaver, muff, minge. There are a lot of words for it, but in my teen years I only ever heard them whispered with a hint of disgust or embarrassment by other girls or spat as insults by boys too young and cruel to be lucky enough to have ever seen one. Shame isn’t a particularly pleasant emotion. In fact, it’s a particularly visceral, painful one, yet it’s the defining emotion of my early teenage years, because of my body hair. Puberty isn’t nice for anyone, male or female, but there are a few areas where womanhood brings its own unique tribulations. Of course, boys grow hair in new places during puberty too, but for them there is no shame associated, in fact teenage boys will proudly sport whatever wisps of moustache they can manage to grow with pride as evidence of their manliness. Meanwhile, girls, myself included, sat anxiously googling what’s normal, and working up the courage to ask mum to buy them a razor.
Over 90% of women in the West regularly remove their body hair, but it wasn’t always this way. It has only developed as a norm since the 1920s when hemlines started getting shorter, and pubes weren’t commonly removed until porn actors started removing them around the nineties because it helped get clearer camera shots. So, it is not natural or cleaner for women to do this, and it’s not what men intrinsically desire, but what both genders have learnt through media and porn. It beggars belief that women will spend on average £23,000 on waxing or £6,500 on shaving throughout their lifetimes all because of some porn directors in LA.
However, in the time between my pubescent shame and now, there has been a rise in a brand of feminism that tells me that the decision to shave or not is up to each individual, and it can be ‘feminist’ to shave your legs if you find it empowering.
This is harmful because it decontextualizes the choice to shave – it ignores that ‘choices’ are not freely made but are made in the context of the culture we live in, which is a patriarchal one that enforces a sexist double standard when it comes to body hair.
‘Feeling empowered’ has turned into our measurement of how feminist an action is. This is unhelpful. It would be better to accept the roots of shaving and other double standards and recognise that playing into these norms will never be feminist actions. We should be turning focus towards feminism as a political ideology and reason for activism, rather than a personal identity to be defended.
I shave. I accept that it is not the most feminist of practices and I do it because it makes me feel more at ease in a patriarchal society. It does not make me less of a feminist because you can simultaneously believe a problem exists and be unable to overcome it individually for reasons varying from self-image to job prospects.
We should reconsider the daily shaving, plucking, and waxing we have normalised and take for granted as necessary. If for nothing else, then to give young girls examples to turn to and to prevent another generation associating their coming of age with shame too.
–Daisy Thomson, Culture and Opinion Editor