Is it unfeminist to remove body hair?

Words by Hannah Cole

Illustration by Twylamae

Who is doing feminism *better*?

To borrow a line from Yumi Stynes (‹3): “Ladies, we need to talk…” And right now, we need to talk about the intersection of body hair removal and feminism.

If like me, you grew up in the sprawling suburbia of Australia, I assume that the lauded entry-way to shaving was very much expected. I recall the days before starting high school, literally begging my mum to teach me how to remove all my blonde leg-fuzz. (I’d been too un-rebellious and afraid I’d slice my legs up in sin without permission). So down the shower drain went the fluffy pelt I had spent 12 years growing. Then came the underarms. Then came the bikini line. Then came more.

We all have our own stories – horror, pain, satisfaction, annoyance. For some, hair removal started at a much earlier age; it spread to all areas of the body. For many, there was an even stronger societal, and often familial, pressure to remove the dark hairs layering arms, legs and the face.

Oddly, as a fiery devils’ advocate at the best of times, I never stopped to question the notion. Only recently did I consider why it is such a *thing* that pubescent girls are made to strip themselves of what nature gave them. It’s a rite of passage; an entryway to “womanhood”. We remove our layer of human fur; the natural pelt that even PETA can’t argue against.

Throughout the second wave of feminism, starting in the 1960s, women relinquished armpit grooming as a visual protest against the patriarchy. It signalled a true feminist forgoing the expected demands ordinarily placed on women. With time, this protest seemed to fade. Maybe an increase of women in professional positions caused the death of this – necessitating the body-hair-free image for the workplace. Repression of physical beauty came back into force as free love exited the building.

Now we find ourselves in the so-called “fourth wave”. Sexual harassment and violence against women are of primary concern. The current era has also revitalised on old tribe: those who have reclaimed their body hair. Of these young women, Arvida Bystrom appears to be one of the strongest advocates. The photographer, model and activist staunchly exhibits her body hair to followers and foes alike. A hairy leg is just a hairy leg. And make it fashion with a pair of heels.

On the one hand, we have fierce feminists like Arvida, unafraid of displaying their comfortable level of body hair. Some choose to let their armpits grow wild, some will refuse to *maintain* their brows, and others keep the whole shebang.

On the other, we have self-proclaimed feminists who also find themselves reaching for a razor or attending regular laser sessions.

So, who is right? Who is doing feminism *better*?

Body hair is not the only way to leave a mark against the patriarch. For me, saying goodbye to tampons and the associated tax was a huge win. Refusing to step off a footpath when a lumbering man takes up all the space is another. I’m a feminist. I keep my ground, I’m going to fight for our rights but … I also remove (some of) my body hair. And that’s ok.

I’m uncomfortable when I consider the reasons for removing body hair in the first place – were we brainwashed at an early age? Did our parents, our friends and the media force us to comply? (It’s probably a resounding “yes” in response). But, regardless, I can’t deny that I love the feeling of a freshly shaved leg against a clean set of sheets.

Maybe one day I will decide to embrace the hair I was given and farewell extra grooming time once and for all. I’ve already made the minor decision to end my laser appointments, something I did literally because it seemed like the ∼thing to do∼. (Although, let this be noted, “fitting in” is not always the enemy of feminism either). My non-zapped hairs will be much easier to reclaim should I steer that way. I’ll also be buying a new designer bag with those $$$ savings in no time. 

There’s no such thing as the *ultimate* feminist. Surely the whole point of feminism is to make the choice that is right for you. As long as these decisions aren’t hindering other women and their freedom, that’s cool. We’re all here to support each other, so let’s stop with the factions and bitchiness. We’re on the same trip, we’re just taking different routes to get there. And there’s no need to worry about a stray pube should you ever find yourself in that situation.

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