“Some Caucasian women have abundant growth of dark hair on their thighs, calves, arms and even cheeks; eradication of it is painful and time consuming; yet the more clothes women are allowed to take off, the more hair they must take off.”
– Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (1971)
Ms X: I think basically that if all you could talk about was various body hair removal procedures, you’d be quite happy, wouldn’t you?
Me: You really don’t understand how much of my emotional life is linked to body hair.
Ms X: It’s just quite sweet how much you perk up whenever it comes up as a topic.
Me: Have you read The Female Eunuch?
OMIGOD. I’m 14 years old, I’m overweight, and I’m hairier, surely, than any woman has ever been.
For two years I’ve been observing, with rising panic, the spread of dark, frighteningly robust hairs across my shins, up my thighs and, worst of all, on my podgy little
tummy. I’ve realised with horror that these hairs can only temporarily be banished by a razor, and groaned with frustration and disgust every time they come back in sharp little needles of stubble, or boil up grotesquely under my young skin in minutely looped, improbably long ingrown strands. I am, to use the parlance of the era, sooooooooooooo rank.
My mother’s first edition of the Female Eunuch changes this. Here, for the first time, is someone who has not only named my problem but is actually suggesting that it’s something that other people experience too AND – more radically still – that it might not actually be a problem at all! No longer will I submit to the tyranny of the razor! Never again will I live in shame of my body’s natural hirsutitude! And more importantly, no more scrubbing the walls of the shower lest my family accuse me of slaughtering chickens in there!
Sadly, no-one would notice my radical stance on hair removal for another few years after this, on account of the fact that the 14-year-old me was also very much into layering. Layering and body dysmorphia. The next time I’d think seriously about hair removal would be three years later, when I met the first person to take an active interest in what was under my clothes.
Ms X: I’ve had two experiences where I’ve gone to have my bikini line done as a special treat for a bloke and been dumped/dumped them before they’ve even seen it.
Me: I’ve had that too. And it’s like ‘Oh no! I’m cold, and poor, and look like a plucked chicken, and all for nothing. Fuck.’
And here we are, back again. Since the age of 17, hair removal has been a fairly regular feature of my existence.
Luckily, the technology has come on a bit since I started out on my odyssey of self-deforestation. I remember early experiences with pots of wax – MAGMA – from the stove that ended with me flapping and groaning on the bathroom floor like a hairy, beached mermaid, having neatly glued my calf to the back of my thigh. Oh, the humanity.
No – times have changed, my technique has improved, and the condensed wisdom of 15 years’ worth of hair removal has left me with a totally manageable routine whereby, in a single month, I might use only an epilator, hair dissolving cream, bleach, facial sander, home-threading device, tweezers, nail scissors, wax strips, and an appointment with a brusque stranger whom I pay folding money to rip hairs out of my body. It’s nothing, really.
Me: I sanded my sideburns off.
Ms X: Ha ha. Sounds painful.
Me: It WAS painful and now I have a scaly face – but no beard.
Ms X: Scales versus hair?
Me: Scales. Every time.
My current hair-removal routine is intuitive, organic, and changes with the seasons. In winter I wear thick black opaque tights all day, every day. I have a weekly session with an epilator to sort out my underarms, and take care of the facial area on an as-and-when basis with a variety of devices and unguents. And, in the event that I anticipate the exposure of a traditionally hirsute area, I pay a visit to the aforementioned brusque lady for a session of twatmin. Menana is from Morocco. When it comes to female body hair, she really has seen it all. A standard appointment consists of her ordering a client to remove their clothes and lying them down on her table before tutting briskly, handing them their labia, and making them cry quietly into a towel provided for the purpose.
In the summer, I shed my winter coat. I do exactly the same things, but approximately twice as frequently.
Me: This isn’t even to look nice – this is just to KEEP UP NORMALITY. This is just so people won’t think I’m WEIRD.
Mr X: No need to shout.
Me: Sorry. I’m really into caps at the moment.
Mr X: K.
Me: I am investing serious time, money, and pain in bringing myself up to a baseline standard of acceptability.
I’m a committed feminist. I’m used to talking about The Big Issues – including body hatred – in very abstract ways. But when it comes down to it, not only am I too freaked out about what people might think of my body hair to not get rid of it, I’m too freaked out to even let on that it EXISTS.
Ms X: I’m fine talking about periods, face boils (pain and pressure like I’ve never experienced), but I would never talk about facial hair to anyone.
Ms X: I guess that it’s just such an unladylike affliction and I want to be feminine. I wouldn’t even talk about it to my closest female friends.
Me: So you just deal with it quietly and hope no-one notices that you normally have hairs on your chin?
Ms X: Yep.
Ladies. What is going ON?
Yes, fine, we’re talking about it a bit in the mainstream. There’s Germaine, of course, and now Caitlin Moran has a lovely chapter in her book about whether or not you should wax your vulva, and she touches on the old armpit region there too. But she doesn’t really spend a lot of time on the other bits – the eyebrows, the forearms, the bits and bobs around the pantline that you’re not sure qualify as pubes or leg hair. What about them? Are they just not important enough to mention? Or does no-one else have them? And if that’s the case, why does Boots have an entire aisle for female hair removal products and only a shelf for men’s razors?
Speaking as someone who has spent much of her life inwardly convinced that her pubes naturally start at eyebrow level and extend 200 metres south, I’d like your input on these important issues. I’m clearly funnelling a fair bit of time, energy and resources into thinking about all this stuff, and I’d like to know if anyone else is too.
As you can see from the quotes scattered throughout this post, I’ve already informally interviewed a number of people about body hair and their attitudes towards it. I’m looking now to get some more formal data – hopefully of a variety that won’t leave me open to accusations of using the interview scenario as free therapy.
So I’ve written a little questionnaire. It’s entirely anonymous. There are 10 questions and, depending on how much you want to contribute, it could take you less than five minutes to complete. I promise that it will be fun.
I’m keen to gather as much information as possible, so please, please, please: share this post and/or the survey link below – via email, Facebook, Twitter and your own amazing blogs – with as many of your female friends* as possible.
Disclaimer. Questions may not adhere to a strictly scientific methodology and this survey, it is safe to say, is not peer-reviewed. But, if we can get as many woman as possible to do it, I’ll make damn sure the write-up IS.
Ms X: This might be too much info, but I even had a bloke who liked ‘designing’ my pubic hair himself.
Me: I need to know exactly how he ‘designed’. Did he submit a floor plan?
Ms X: I think it might have been a lightning flash.
Me: Oh my god. He wanted your twat to look like Bowie.
Ms X: Oh lordy.
* Sorry boys: cissexual men are more than welcome to take the quiz but I’d ask you respectfully to let me know at the start that you’re not a ladywoman. If you think this is shitty and you want in, please email me. It’ll be interesting to get a male perspective.
// EDITED at 08.50 on Friday 13 April for grammar and lols