Take a Razor to Your Judgment
To shave or not to shave? That is the question.
[This article was originally published in Issue 02 of Roundtable Journal]
Before I stepped inside a high school changing room, I couldn’t have cared less about the hair sprouting from my legs. But once Ellie from the other class came in with legs that looked like a bald chicken and invited everyone to have a stroke, I couldn’t not notice. I’ve been battling with stubble since the age of 11 and have learnt a thing or two along the way. Being the older sister in my family meant I didn’t really have anyone to explain the pros and cons of hair removal to me, so my methods and opinions were formed largely by years of reading Cosmopolitan. To 11 year-old me, Cosmo was a beacon of light, punctuated with seductive click-bait headlines. It promised me a perfect, heteronormative life, centred around the perfect man; all I had to do was ‘use this hot new moisturiser – available for just £39!’ The ‘issues’ raised concerning body hair centred around whether you should shave, wax, or epilate and always had a nifty little quiz to help you decide. They never discussed whether you should bother in the first place. Over the last few years however, I’ve started to question why I crave that silky smooth Veet look, instead of mulling over how to achieve it. So here are a few things I’ve learnt about the concept of shaving that go beyond dealing with errant chin hairs and angry ingrowns.
1) Men’s razors aren’t just cheaper, they’re better
Before I dig any deeper, here’s a little nugget of gendered consumerism. Foam, exfoliator and fresh razors every couple of months may help you get smooth skin but they’re also just facets of patriarchal control intended to preoccupy women. The more time and money we spend superficially ‘improving’ our bodies, the less time we have to on actually improve ourselves. Caring about your appearance and achieving success aren’t mutually exclusive, but it’s harder to hit that board room by 30 if you’ve spent £6,500 and 1,344 hours of your life with a razor in your hand just to fulfil someone else’s expectations of you (the stats, according to Harper’s Bazaar, are even higher for waxing).
Hair removal, especially in relation to consumerism, is just another way to dig a deeper trench between the sexes, suffocating us with strict gender roles and expectations that permeate various layers of life. When we head for the women’s hair removal aisle and pick up a pink razor instead of the navy blue one that’s sitting not too far away, we are committing to a bump up in price. There’s a reason pharmacies place an aisle between the pink and the blue– putting them side by side would make it too obvious that women are being made to pay more for the same product.
2) We shouldn’t hate on women who get waxes
I’m surprised that I’ve never come across a Cosmo article that proclaims to decipher your personality based on your body hair situation. It would be exactly the kind of problematic piece I’ve come to expect from hair removal ‘experts’ in mainstream content production. I’d always been kind of intimidated by, and stood in admiration of women who get regular waxes, like it was somehow indicative of them having their shit together. I assumed that if you got waxes, you had some super- woman level pain threshold and the cash to splash out on a Brazilian every month. It never crossed my mind that these women probably get their deals on Groupon and it should be their thriftiness I admire, not the grooming method they maintain as a result of it. And if some women wax themselves or (gasp) use an epilator, well then you can’t not admire their willpower (I still flinch when I pluck my eyebrows). Whatever your choice of hair removal method purports to ‘say’ about you, the key is that women have a choice. Growing up in a media- saturated world that piled on the pressure to look like an oil-slicked baby’s bottom, I felt like my choice was superficial– a token gesture that wasn’t entirely genuine. There was and still is (to a certain extent) an incredibly outdated and ignorant view that women with body hair are either social pariahs or ‘raging feminists’ (as if being called a feminist were somehow derogatory). Equally untrue is the belief that women who choose to remove their body hair are somehow upholding the patriarchy. Inclusive feminism is about the freedom of choice right?
3) We need some perspective in these conversations
Whilst any step towards women embracing our natural state is undeniably positive, the people pioneering the feminist body-hair movement are mostly white and fair- haired women. The hair they grapple with is pretty much confined to the legs-pits-bikini line trifecta. Yet, there are women who shave their sideburns, bleach the hair on their upper lips and even have their arms and backs lasered. For many other women though, it’s not enough to know that the hair is temporarily gone. Society pressures us to uphold the illusion that our bodies never had hair in the first place: no back hair, stomach hair, sprouts at the top of our chest or on the edges of our faces. Hair removal becomes part of a lifestyle; a never- ending cycle of shaving, waxing and hiding that’s hard to escape (if you wanted to). Adhering to patriarchal, heteronormative and/or mainstream beauty standards may be the reason why some women choose to remove their hair, but there’s a whole host of other reasons why other women do it. Whatever yours may be, stepping outside of a hair-removal cycle can be terrifying. Equally, it’s important to keep things in perspective. No one should fall into the trap of thinking that Miley Cyrus dying her pit hair pink means she (or anyone) can preach liberation for all women everywhere. Of course, there’s no harm in attempting to undo the patriarchy one stubbly leg at a time (if that’s your preferred method), as long as you remember that stubbly legs aren’t the end of the conversation. Although we definitely shouldn’t trivialise the issues that affect the everyday lives of women in the west or anywhere, it’s important to keep in mind that whilst white western feminism is preoccupied with pubes, women in other parts of the world, and many women of colour, are concerned with life or death matters, securing what would be considered basic human rights, freedoms and opportunities. The fact that hair removal has seemingly taken front and centre stage in white western feminism is emblematic of white privilege and how things may have shifted for a particular group since being denied the right to vote. The hard truth is, there’s still a very long way to go.
Like this article? Order Issue 02 of Roundtable Journal for some more delicious content.