A few weeks ago I wrote a post about body hair and hair removal. At the end of the post I included a link to a short survey I’d designed around the subject of hair and hair removal. I called this survey the ‘Questionhair’, because it was funny. You’re welcome.
Welcome to the first installment of the Questionhair analysis. This week’s post looks at the responses to the first part of last month’s survey: Gender, Age, Geography.
Question one: Are you a woman?
The Questionhair was completed by 630 people. Of these, 597 identified predominantly as female, and 33 identified predominantly as male.
You’d have thought that this question would be easy to answer, but I fucked it all up by trying to be funny. Basically, I was trying to find out whether respondents aimed to present mostly as a woman or as a man, and how their body hair choices fitted into that presentation. In other words, I wasn’t so much interested in the precise contents of your pants as whether or not they were hairy.
I recognise that this was a very one-size-all fits approach and am extremely grateful for the patience and magnanimity of people who quite rightly pointed out that the question was discriminatory. You guys get a special prize for being so nice about it.
Please note that as the Questionhair was ostensibly ‘designed’ (ha!) to examine women’s experience, from here on in I’ve filtered out the responses of people who identified as predominantly male. Your time will come, boys.
Question two: How old are you?
Nearly 50% of female respondents to the Questionhair belonged to my own age demographic of 26-35. The next most common age was 18-25 (34%), followed by 36-45 (9%). Only three to four percent of female respondents were aged 46-55 or 56-65, and a mere four people told me that they were aged either 12-17 or over the age of 66.
No-one under the age of 12 or over the age of 75 completed the Questionhair. This made me sad until I remembered that D For Dalrymple is hardly recommended reading for the under-12s, and the over 75s are presumably far too busy wearing purple and extracting every last drop of pleasure from their disgraceful dotages to bother with the Questionhair.
The age information will, I think, be quite interesting to look at in relation to the rest of the survey, so we’ll leave it here for now and move swiftly on to
Question three: How would you describe your ethnicity?
For some reason, asking people about their ethnic background felt invasive in a way that asking how they remove hair from their crevices did not. At first I was strangely reluctant to include this question at all – however, my many body hair-related conversations with friends in the lead-up to this exercise (sorry, friends) convinced me that ethnic identity is widely perceived to be an important factor in the appearance, volume, texture, and thread count of women’s body hair.
DISCLAIMER: Before you all write in to say that I should also have taken into account cultural identity, sexuality, gender, class, disability, etc. (all of which I’m sure have a profound impact on our body hair behaviours), I’d ask you to bear in mind that at the time of survey I had a) no idea that I would get such a good response b) considerably less ambition and c) limited funds to pay
those thieving bastards at SurveyMonkey the costs that asking more than 10 questions would have entailed. Also, I’m not the fucking European Commission. I’m a light-hearted, foul-mouthed and essentially quite insecure feminist blogger with a body-hair fixation.
So I included the ethnicity question and worded it to allow women to share as much information as they personally felt was related to their hair. I also made the question non-mandatory, so that respondents could skip it if they felt uncomfortable. But in the end, only 12 out of 597 women declined to answer the question or left an unhelpful (though for the most part amusing) comment. In fact, only ONE woman took exception to the ethnicity question, icily remarking –
From planet earth. I dont feel this is relevant.
– which made me feel worse than Hitler, until I read the 500+ responses from women who very clearly felt that ethnicity WAS relevant to a survey on body hair:
White British – some Italian in me. Hence the hairy arms & side burns.
White, British with a bit of French, but not the hairy bit.
White, mostly German but with some Italian Jewish ancestry and attendant dark, moderately thick body hair.
German, Polish, Welsh, Russian, Scots-Irish. We have a lot of dark body hair.
Half Greek, half English. The Greek part is most important for the purposes of the survey!
English/Polish. I don’t know if the Poles are specially hirsute. It gets pretty damn cold over there, so maybe being more hairy would constitute an evolutionary advantage.
The next hurdle. I’d asked you to answer this question using free text rather than ticking one of a selection of options, which proved to be an extremely poor decision – even by D for Dalrymple’s usual low standards. This meant that I was compelled to spend a good few hours of writing time dicking about with spreadsheets and pivot tables in a manner that uncomfortably resembled my actual day job. Eventually I resorted to grouping responses in accordance with the ethnic classifications from the 2011 UK census.
Fortunately for my social life, most of you seemed pretty well-versed in these classifications already, so matching your answers to these categories wasn’t too much of a headache. However, I did uncover some hitherto unknown ethnic identities:
White as fuck
Pasty as fuck
Possibly bred from Casper the ghost
White as fuck (2)
Brummie factory worker/burglar
The vast majority of participants (375 of you to be precise – or just over 60%) more helpfully identified as ‘White British’. Then, constituting nearly a quarter of all responses, ‘White (others)’ shouted their hair woes at me from pretty much every conceivable corner of Europe and Her Majesty’s former colonies. Mixed race women were the next most populous group (3.7%), with White Irish and Indian women close runners up at around 3% of respondents each. 14 women of Black, Chinese, Other Asian or simply ‘Other’ origin made up just 2.3% of responses.
So far, so unrepresentative. It’s a shame the sample is so rubbish, because it means I couldn’t even try to answer any of the BIG questions around ethnicity and hair (DO Polish women really have an evolutionary advantage over the rest of us? It pains me that I cannot tell you). Still, the sample was still pretty interesting in that it confirmed that a lot of you subscribe to the same basic prejudices about ethnicity and body hair as I did before running the survey.
This prejudice (which may or may not be true, you understand – I just can’t demonstrate it conclusively here) is summarised perfectly by Jeffrey Eugenides in his 2002 novel Middlesex. Here’s an extract from the scene in which the Greek-American protagonist, Cal, is taken by her mother to get her face waxed for the first time:
Like the Sun Belt or the Bible Belt, there exists, on this multifarious earth of ours, a Hair Belt. It begins in southern Spain, congruent with Moorish influence. It extends over the dark-eyed regions of Italy, almost all of Greece, and absolutely all of Turkey. It dips south to include Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt. Continuing on (and darkening in color as maps do to indicate ocean depth) it blankets Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan, before lightening gradually in India. After that, except for a single dot representing the Ainu in Japan, the Hair Belt ends.
… The pains they took to make themselves smooth! The rashes the creams left! The futility of it all! The enemy, hair, was invincible. It was life itself. I told my mother to make an appointment for me at Sophie Sassoon’s beauty parlor at the Eastland Mall.
At this point in the novel we think that Cal’s facial hair is the result of her Greek heritage, but in a while we’re going to find out that’s it’s actually because she’s intersex and going through male puberty. It says quite a lot about the Hair Belt that a girl can have this much testosterone pumping through her system and still not raise any eyebrows in her community.
When I first read Middlesex I felt like Eugenides was totally on the money with his description of the Hair Belt, but inexplicably, he seemed to have forgotten to mention the Watford/Glasgow outpost. My most exotic relatives are from Motherwell – all this geography did nothing to explain MY problems of a deathly white complexion teamed with dark brown hair.
I remember being asked at the age of 15 by a blonde friend why on earth I bothered with shaving my legs instead of just bleaching the hair like she did. My answer – that a more realistic solution would be to perform extensive skin grafts from an area less prone to hair growth, such as a table – met with incredulous, fair-haired disbelief.
But I’m not alone!
White British. Scottish, in fact, with ‘good Celtic colouring’. Which means ghostly skin and dark hair you can spot unshaven a mile off.
White British – Scots – dark hair on PALE skin
White British, but the kind with dark hair and pale skin.
I’m very dark haired so it shows up more than on a blonde woman.
I have dark hair and fair skin so it shows up quite easily.
Dark hair and pale skin make for high visibility.
It doesn’t help I have very pale skin and very dark hair which makes everything more noticeable.
I can’t TELL you the relief of reading that so many of you share the pain and anxiety of hair so dark that you can see the hair UNDER the skin as well as on top. Thanks, The Internet!
Several respondents reiterated the received wisdom that women of Celtic or Scandinavian origin (fair hair, blue eyes etc.) have less body hair than their darker sisters:
Pasty pale – but not in a blonde, light-body-hair convenient way.
Interestingly, one person who was ACTUALLY of Scandinavian origin reported:
White Norwegian, but as far as body hair is concerned, I feel more closely related to Southern Europeans.
This links perfectly with the other major trend that emerged from this section of the Questionhair: the tendency on the part of quite a few women to link the presence of hair on their bodies with perceived rather than actual ethnic origin.
Before the Questionhair, I’d kind of assumed that mine was the only family to have evolved a legend to explain the presence of a dark-eyed, dark-haired, hairy changeling in an otherwise fair family – but it turns out you’re all at it! Well, at least 50 of you, anyway.
Many of the White British, Australasian and North American women who responded to the Questionhair simply refused to believe that their body hair could be the product of purely Anglo-Saxon ancestry. Quite a few women offered geographical explanations – some researched, others more imaginative – for their hair:
White German with maybe a drop of very distinct Jewish ancestry.
White Serbian – though probably some Turkish in there as well?
White British – I think there might be a bit of Romany gypsy blood in me somewhere.
White British with parents from Scotland and Dorset. Although my dad does look like there’s Wookie in his genealogy somewhere..
Maybe we need to re-map the Hair Belt.