What’s behind the stigma and why do we feel so strongly about it?
It’s no doubt that shaving is a pain. But the reasons women continue to do it are less certain.
Hair removal dates back to the Egyptians, who would remove all body hair and the trend continued throughout the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages. Yet in the 1970s, a wave of feminism caused women to question why they had to shave body hair when men didn’t. Today, some women continue to question, and others continue to conform.
“We feel better about ourselves when our bodies conform to what we’re told is attractive,” said Naomi Scheman, a professor of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at the University of Minnesota. Because of this, Scheman doesn’t think that choosing to shave is ever much of a choice.
“Why do we choose the things that we do? Why do we think one thing is more or less attractive?” Scheman questioned. “We make the personal choices that we do because we exist in a social world.”
One college graduate said he has witnessed these social norms since he was just a kid.
“Some girl in my class lifted her arms, and she was wearing a tank top, and she hadn’t shaved her armpits for a while and people made fun of her,” Dahmian Ramsammy said. “It was sad. She must have started shaving, because I didn’t see hair after that.”
Ramsammy said that while he believes it’s a woman’s choice to shave or not, he would feel less attracted to a woman if she had body hair.
“I don’t find it very attractive, personally,” Ramsammy said. “If I saw a girl with body hair, like armpit hair, I would be turned off. If it’s prickly, that’s fine. But if it’s a full on bush, then no.”
Prof. Scheman said that because society can have such an influence on the perception of attractiveness, women feel the need to live up to these standards to be attractive to men.
“One of the things about shaving is that it reduces the adult body to a prepubescent body.” Scheman said. “Men are taught to find pubescent female bodies sexually attractive and to be turned off by adult female bodies.”
Yet others, such as recent graduate Molly Dziekan, said that shaving is a choice.
For Dziekan, shaving was something she learned at a young age from her mom. It then became a habit — something she continues to do today, shaving her armpits every day and her legs several times a week.
“If it’s your body, I can’t tell you what to do. You can do whatever you want,” She said. “But for me, personally, if I wasn’t shaving all the time, I feel like I would feel gross.”
Another student, Liza Malkovich, said that while she doesn’t shave often because she feels like body hair is natural, she still feels self-conscious if she’s hairy around a man she’s interested in. On this front, Malkovich agrees with Scheman.
“I think women are pressured to shave because of society. Because it’s the norm for women to be hairless. And it’s also considered more attractive, especially if you’re trying to find a partner,” Malkovich said. “They’ll do it for the other person more so than for themselves.”
Instagram has started a new trend to empower women to not shave their pits – dyeing their armpit hair. It has even drawn in celebrities like Miley Cyrus.
This type of movement is exciting to Malkovich, who hopes that people will continue to have a similar outlook as her.
“I just don’t care,” Malkovich said. “I mean, I go to yoga and everyone sees my armpit hair and nobody cares.”