Above is the musician Grimes. In an ideal world, there would be no blog post inspired by this image, because there would be nothing especially of note about it. It is merely a photograph of a woman, styled and posing for the camera, albeit somewhat unusually; certainly nothing controversial. There are plenty of images like it. Except, unfortunately, not exactly like it. And that is why this post exists. There is something about Grimes in this photograph (and, presumably, in every day life) that differentiates her not only from many other women, both in the public eye and not, but also society’s ideal of what a woman should look like. In case you haven’t worked it out, a glance at the comments on the photograph as uploaded to Grimes’s Facebook make it fairly obvious.
“Doesn’t shave her armpits? Really?”
“Is that armpit hair or am I tripping?”
“Shave your armpit hair and you’ll be the most beautiful girl in the world.”
“Shave your armpit hair and I’ll buy it.”
Yes, that’s right. Grimes has hair growing from her armpits, and, not only that, but she has it on show. Oh, the horror! It is evident from the words of these men and women that this is an unforgivable act. They simply cannot comprehend the idea that a woman might have armpit hair, and the fact that Grimes does directly affects her appeal, both as a woman and an artist.
Somehow, it has become a fact, and a widely accepted fact, that women should have no body hair. Consistently, in the media, in society, and in advertisements for hair removal products (well, obviously), hair is portrayed as unattractive, unsightly, unwomanly, and unnatural. Any woman who does not conform to this idea is all of these things, too. She will be ridiculed, reviled, and made to feel hideous and excluded. The pressure that this creates means that even conforming is not a pleasurable process, as well as being costly, time-consuming, and painful. Furthermore, many men believe themselves to be incapable of finding a woman attractive in this state. How can a woman’s natural state be deemed all of these things? How can someone purport to find a woman attractive if they cannot or refuse to embrace her natural state?
Hair removal has become an unspoken law. In the eyes of both men and women. Men have come to expect it, and respond negatively when the outcome is anything other than what they believe is ‘right’. That is, hairless. Instead of being accepted as a part of the body, merely inconsequential – as it is in the eyes of those looking upon them – it is an elephant in the room, a source of judgement, a source of derision, and often requested to be removed. As though anyone has the right to instruct a woman on how to live in her body, as though the female body exists entirely for male pleasure, as though there is something inherently wrong with the way women look naturally. But to many women, this is truly the case. We do not ask whether we remove our body hair, we ask, ‘when do we start?’, and ‘with what implement?’ It has become the natural way of things. Children decide that they will remove hair before they even understand why, before they have hardly grown it; if they do not, they will soon be bullied into it. It is not questioned. It is just accepted. We see the women before us and around us doing so, so we do. We hear the things men say about women who have body hair, and the total lack of respect or attraction they feel towards them, and we are scared. Women are programmed to find the way they were created unattractive. Any choice over how we feel about it, and what we shall do about it, has been robbed from us.
Women are coerced into hair removal, indoctrinated by society to see it as a necessity. They are making decisions as to what type of razor they use, whether they use cream or wax, whether they get a professional to do it, but these are secondary decisions; the initial choice is whether to remove hair at all, and this decision was made by someone else, long ago, with little thought as to what is best for us. As were the decisions about whether body hair is attractive, or hygienic. Of course, we all have personal preference, but when every channel in society tells you that body hair is repulsive, there is only one conclusion to come to. It is near-impossible to have a true preference. And until women are no longer chastised, mocked, and insulted for their body hair, we cannot say that we have that choice.
Then, when women are no longer judged and observed exclusively for their appearance, we can say that we have moved towards equality. Because, at the end of the day, after all Grimes has achieved, so what if she has hairy armpits – but also, so what if she has an attractive face? She has talent. The primary issue is that there is very little option for women to not shave, but beyond that, there is the problem that it is even an issue in the first place.
The truth about body hair is that everybody has it. If removing it makes you happy, then by all means, do. But remember that society is conditioning us all the time, to view our natural selves as disgusting. Let’s reclaim our choice. Let’s reclaim our bodies.
This post features in a bloghop by The Real SGM, for 16 Days of Action on Violence Against Women.