Fuzzy wuzzy was a feminist?

Melanie Engle, an aesthetician in Philadelphia, was shocked when a mother booked a bikini wax appointment for her 8-year-old.

Though statistics are hard to come by due to the client’s age, Melanie isn’t the first to experience this. Many in the beauty industry are witnessing a growing trend of pre-teens getting waxed.

Modern media is often blamed for convincing women and girls of increasingly younger ages that they must be hairless, but the history of hair removal means the fight to embrace our fuzz may be a long battle.

As far back as 3000 BC, hair removal has been a hot topic. Ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt all jumped on the trend. In one medieval recipe, hairlessness was even worth risking a bit of flesh:

“Smear medicine over the area to be depilated. When the skin feels hot, wash quickly… so the flesh doesn’t come off.”

Today, you too can stand on ocean boulders in flowing robes like the Venus razor goddesses (once you get rid of the forest on your legs). Swimsuit season getting you down? Cosmo can perfect your bikini line.

Nair, Veet, lasers, and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) all suggest less risky methods to the same end. So why are women hell-bent on hiding something we all know is there?

In the early days, hair was seen as a potential breeding ground for disease, but beyond that, it was simply unbecoming. One 16th century physician stated, “The woman who has much body and facial hair is… argumentative, muscular, ugly, has a deep voice and frequent infertility problems.”

But as 16th century medical advice is not often true, why are 20% of U.S. women age 18 to 24 removing all body hair and over 95% of Australian college-aged women removing either their leg and/or underarm hair? A Canadian study on hair removal practices found common reasons for removing body hair to be,  “It makes me feel attractive”, and “I feel feminine and more comfortable.”

Attractive, feminine, and comfortable are not bad feelings, but it’s important to examine our motives. Why does being hairless make women feel this way? Who said hairlessness = femininity? What detrimental effects is this having on young women, transgender women, women with medical conditions, women of color, or any woman that wasn’t born without body hair?

Last month, Armpits4August raised money for Verity (a UK charity for women whose lives are affected by Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) by having friends, family, and colleagues donate to participants growing out their armpit hair.

While raising awareness for their cause, they wanted to spotlight the hairy situations women cover up in our quest for a “feminine ideal.” Events like these typify a recent movement embracing female body hair. This expands the definition of what it is to be a woman, and transforms a narrow gender definition into a spectrum of acceptance.

If you want to be hairless, DO IT! If you love your armpits fuzzy, GROW THEM! Just remember that the only person with the final say on what your body should look like is you.

Sara Omary is a semi-recent grad from UC Berkeley in Marine Science and Environmental Politics who loves very little more than she loves pizza and the company of her cats.

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