Entertainment & Media
Women and Body Hair through a Media-Oriented Lens
By Quinn O'Connor
Image provided by HUM
Body hair on women has been a cultural taboo for ages. Is this due to personal preference or societal pressure? Fear of judgment or genuine dislike? How much of this distaste for hair on the female body is influenced, or even sparked by, the portrayal of women in media?
At an impressionable age, much of what is seen on T.V. is drilled into our brains. It is easy to recall a catchy commercial even after years have passed, or the theme song to a long-since canceled program. Imagine a young girl watching a kids’ show, where the girls show no trace of body hair. This young girl is watching iCarly, and hears “What kind of lady doesn’t shave her underarms?” She laughs and agrees. The phrase sticks with her into adolescence, and despite the razor bumps and nicks and inconvenience of the whole business, she continues to shave daily without a second thought. This young girl is used to the women in her life dutifully shaving every night, morning, or couple of days. She regards shaving as a rite of passage, a sign of her womanhood. But why shouldn’t the hair that grows on her body when she’s becoming a woman be the rite of passage? Why is its removal more celebrated and accepted than its arrival? Maybe because of shaving, waxing, and tweezing traditions, or maybe because she will be shunned if she doesn’t.
A third, more convincing explanation may be that she had no role models that didn’t shave in media. Try to name five movies or T.V. shows that portray women with body hair. It’s pretty difficult, especially considering most women on screen are virtually hairless. Looking at women through this lens spreads the idea that their body hair should be met with confusion, or even disgust. This idea is introduced in childhood and is reinforced by television programs and films. Perhaps even more jarring than the contempt female body hair is the continual disregard of its existence. When a woman in the spotlight chooses not to remove body hair, it often received with shock.
Lauren Valenti, contributor to Vogue, described Julia Roberts’s exposed underarm hair at a 1999 red carpet movie premiere as “a moment forever cemented in pop culture history.” Why is it that a woman’s body, in its most natural state, is so shocking that it is a pressing subject matter in an article written almost two decades later? In recent years, especially with the introduction of social media, there is significantly less shock and backlash against female body hair in certain online communities. However, the disgust is continued in other areas both online and in real life.
A majority of women still remove body hair, especially celebrities. Of course, whether or not to shave is a personal choice, and there should be no shame in whichever option one prefers. Still, it's time for reform, especially in the adult film industry. Harmful mistruths perpetuated by these films introduce impossible standards and are a continued source of chagrin for girls. Women take up a large percentage of the population, yet we are not accurately and truthfully represented in most media. It’s safe to say that it is time for that to change.