hotgoss redux: Hair, hair, everywhere!
On this month’s #HotGoss, Speak About It got way into the weeds about body hair. You can check out our full conversation here. SAI staff talked about our own relationship with body hair and body hair removal, and how conversations about hair have shown up in relationships and dating. We also explored the different pressures and opinions we have about body hair, and where those pressures come from. And people had lots to say! You too can tune into the comments on Facebook and add your own!
Throughout the episode we kept bumping up against the fact that our own opinions were specific and limited to each of our experiences as Americans who grew up on the East Coast, exposed primarily to Western culture and media. We all come from different identities, but realized we didn’t know much about how people from cultures across the globe felt about body hair.
Even as we deconstructed norms and standards about body hair, our own push-back against those norms was only in relationship to our experience in a Western, euro-centric norm. For example, when Catherine said that shaving her legs made her feel obligated to fit an unreal beauty standard sold to her by the media, fashion, and beauty industry, that experience was personal to her own cultural context. Shaving or changing body hair in other cultures is shaped by so many influences, included but not limited to religious faith, cultural ceremonies, or traditions. Likewise, folks of different ethnicities the world over have different amounts of hair in different places and therefore different relationships and norms surrounding it.
So we decided to do a little deep dive on the internet and ask some of our friends: How do people feel about body hair and removing body hair around the world?
To nobody’s surprise a lot of the media we found still centered whiteness and Western culture, much of what we found was deeply sexist. But we also found a lot of amazing information (and some really great Tumblrs) that helped us question our own assumptions and expanded our own conversations about body hair. We still don’t think we have the expertise to speak on anything beyond our own experiences, but so enjoyed learning more that we wanted to share what we found. The list below is nowhere near exhaustive, but helped us expand our worldview. If you have anything you’d like to add, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org:
- ~Multiple American women’s magazines often recite the same fact, that leg and bikini shaving didn’t popularize until the mid-20th century and hair removal wasn’t even a thing until the late 19th century. What most articles should say is that the practice became popular for American women at these times. Cultures the world over, from Ancient Egypt to Mesopotamia and beyond, have been grooming, trimming, removing, or changing hair on their bodies throughout recorded history. For example, this scholarly article explains the resurgence of sugaring, an Egyptian hair removal practice, in modern day beauty regimens, especially for black women.
- ~A lot of the articles we found online focused exclusively on women's body hair, reinforcing the Western ideal that removal of body hair is a feminine responsibility. So we were excited to come across this article that talked about men’s shaving habits around the world. Did you know a number of cultures across the world, including many Hindu sects and the Ancient Romans, had traditional ceremonies celebrating a man’s first shave? Kenya’s Masai ethnic group also perform different head shaving rituals at points in a young man’s life, and there is more emphasis for men to groom, braid and keep-up their head hair as it is a symbol of strength and beauty.
- ~Why Are Women Grossed Out by Armpit Hair - In this article from New York Magazine’s The Cut, Lisa Miller asks where American women’s aversion to body hair comes from. She explores some of the racist underpinnings of idealized ‘hairlessness,’ and exposes still lingering 19th century American stereotypes about women, facial hair, and mental illness. She also discusses some of the traditions, especially in religions including Christianity and Islam, around body hair and how these values shape people’s opinions the world over.
- ~The ladies behind the AfroFemme YouTube channel are fun and fantastic and offer some great advice, information, and their own personal perspectives in this video that also covers a range of vagina/vulva related topics. Watch the whole thing, or fast forward about 11 minutes in for their segment on waxing, sugaring, shaving, and depilatory. They have a whole YouTube channel talking about different topics like love, sex, and health from an African feminist perspective, check them out!
- ~Check out this overview that offers a run down of body hair norms in a number of different countries. We learned that traditional Chinese culture does not condone body alterations, and it isn’t until recent decades that some Chinese women have shaved armpits or other parts of their body. Westernization and global media have started to have a larger influence, but many folks in the hugely diverse and geographically large country still do not shave, wax or otherwise remove body hair.
- ~In the same vein, this article explores Western media’s misinterpretation of a Chinese social media trend of women showing off their armpit hair. They claimed it a ‘feminist moment,’ but the author feels that while many of the women may be feminists, journalist weren’t viewing the moment with a broad enough lens or understanding of Chinese culture. An interesting read!
- ~In the Islamic tradition, both women and men are supposed to pluck their armpit hair and remove pubic hair as one of the fitra, or five listed practices for hygiene. Traditionally, removing facial hair for men is not allowed, likewise women must refrain from plucking eyebrows. But these norms as they apply to various body parts are interpreted and contested. This article has an interesting discussion of where scholars differ in interpretations of the law around body hair in Islamic cultures. Likewise, they mention that in an increasingly globalized world, many Islamic women straddle a complex choice when it comes to wanting to meet or match a certain standard of beauty while also following the guidelines of their chosen faith.
- ~This new ad for razors might represent a shift in how we’re seeing and talking about bikini lines and pubic hair in America. Touted as the first shaving ad that actually shows pubic hair, it’s an exciting to see media depicting feminine bodies in swimwear with realistic pubic hair.
There are so many different choices you can make with your body hair, and so many different factors that influence those choices. What matters is that you’re making a choice that feels healthy, comfortable, and entirely yours.
Speak About It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that partners with high schools and colleges to educate, entertain, and empower students to create positive change within their communities, advocate for and practice healthy relationship habits, and prevent sexual violence.
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