The War on Female Body Hair
I found myself at a yoga studio, Yoga for the People, on Shattuck Avenue tragically trying to maintain a side plank when I saw it. With everyone in the class facing sideways with their arms stretched high in the air I saw the loud tufts of pink, blue, green armpit hair of the woman around me. To be frank, I was floored. Here were woman that not only had body hair but proudly highlighted it. Which begs the question: When did hair become the enemy?
As soon as women hit puberty we’re armed with a box of tampons and a razor. We’re indoctrinated into the societal dogma that female body hair is unnatural, and shaving is synonymous with biological process of menstruation. This implies that a woman by herself is not feminine; that there is a gap that she has to transcend artificially to become feminine. The explanation as to why there is this distance between a woman and femininity lies with the early twentieth century renovation of the ideology of the American woman. Before the 1920s, women strictly adhered to the ideology of the Victorian woman, where the emphasis of what constituted femininity was a strict sense of morality that was reflected in conservative fashion, ruling female body hair a non sequitur.
However, during the 1920s the feminine ideal of the Victorian woman calculatingly dismantled in favor of a new American ideal whose central focus was external beauty. This transformation was brought about by a profit incentive to mobilize the untapped market of female consumers. The intersection of the male hair removal industry, woman’s fashion, and female targeted magazine’s were responsible for this new American womanhood. King Camp Gillette, creator of the Gillette razor, was the first to create a safe, affordable razor. Gillett’s product freed men from having to be beholden to barbers for their close shaves while his product being disposable created a cycle of consumerism for his product. To break into the female market, Gillette used new fashion trends of shorter sleeves and higher hemlines to provide justification for shaving body hair. Both industries utilized magazines as a means to communicate this new feminine ideology to the female population through an ad campaign against female body hair. Magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Ladies Home Journal ran instructional ads meant to stigmatize hair by characterizing body hair through negative adjectives such as: “objectionable”, “embarrassing”, “unsightly” (Harper’s Bazaar”). They were able to create a new norm through redefining femininity.
The entrepreneurial success of demonizing female body hair is still as prevalent as ever in our own cultural landscape. Today 84% of woman engage in some type of hair maintenance. The war on hair has since expanded to encompass all female body hair. The ideal of the hairless female has created a steep financial burden on the female consumer. The average woman will spend $10,207 on razors while a woman who gets a wax once or twice a month will end up spending $23,000 on hair removal in their lifetime.
Although these statistics are high they have gone down 10% in 2016 signifying a building resistance toward this capitalist constructed gender norm. Which takes me back to that experience at “Yoga for the People”. Berkelium woman are among the most visible groups of woman in the growing countermovement. Dying armpit hair whether intentional or not has become a sign of political resistance by stepping out from cultural confines to unabashedly celebrate female bodies through loud vibrant colors of armpit hair.