As young girls we are taught that body hair is unhygienic. It brings along sniggers from the boys in your class, and a disgusted expression from your immediate relatives. Almost as though, not shaving for days was equivalent to not taking a bath for days. There are vivid memories of the parlour aunties being shocked at how long it had been since my legs were last waxed, like it was wrong for the hair to exist on my legs.
We’ve grown up watching our mothers go to the parlor ritually. Month after month, the long hours spent in, behind the faded out curtain at your local beauty parlour became almost intriguing. The fascination ended the day we were put behind that curtain, to have burning hot wax put on and have everything ripped off your skin. There was an uncomfortable feeling of nakedness that waxing brought along, but we all eventually just got used to it. Questioning this process didn’t cross our naive little minds. It became a routine. Towards the end of middle school, shaving came into the picture. It was easy and painless. What it wasn’t, was a necessity.
With college came sexual experimentation, and with sexual experimentation came the oh-so-dreadful pubic hair removal. I vividly remember being in bed with a guy, and being told that I should’ve prepared for the night. When asked why, he said, “You ought to be clean” to which I responded , “Shouldn’t you too?” and then the silence settled in.
For centuries now, it has been a compulsion for women to have bare, hairless skin. It is not just in recent history that the pressure for women to get rid of their body hair existed. In Ancient Rome, having no body hair was a sign of “cleanliness,” and in Ancient Egypt, possessing it was a signifier of the “uncivilized”—but only for the women. It started as early as 2 B.C. when a Roman poet called Ovid urged women to groom so “that no rude goat find his way beneath your arms and that your legs be not rough with bristling hair.”
In Ancient Rome, having no body hair was a sign of “cleanliness,” and in Ancient Egypt, possessing it was a signifier of the “uncivilized”—but only for the women.
As time passed, hairlessness became a sign of class. In 1400, women and goddesses in art were depicted without pubic hair. Hairlessness started gaining popularity as the class divide increased—women from all over started removing their hair because being from the lower class meant that you’re ‘dirty’. 1915 saw a product that changed the game completely: the first Gilette razor was marketed for women. Ever since, hair removal became a usual step in most women’s bathing routine.
Also read: A History Of Body Hair Removal And Distorted Body Image
There is this false sense that body hair on women is “unfeminine” when frankly it’s the exact opposite. A recent study published in the journal JAMA Dermatology found that not only is pubic hair “grooming” widespread, but that women are motivated to do it because they believe it’s more hygienic.
Gynaecologists have given multiple reasons as to why pubic hair is natural, and needed. A couple of them being—”it provides a cushion against friction that may cause skin injury, prevents dirt and bacteria from entering the vagina, and can help to spread pheromones [the chemicals we excrete to entice potential partners] and reduce heat loss,” said Mamta Mamik, M.D., associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
A RECENT STUDY PUBLISHED IN THE JOURNAL JAMA DERMATOLOGY FOUND THAT NOT ONLY IS PUBIC HAIR “GROOMING” WIDESPREAD, BUT THAT WOMEN ARE MOTIVATED TO DO IT BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE IT’S MORE HYGIENIC.
Though there are no studies on it specifically, theoretically speaking, if you have less exposed skin, there’s less surface area for skin-to-skin STIs like herpes to spread. One scientific paper observed that the rate of crabs seems to have decreased as the Brazilian wax rose in popularity, but the study was purely observational and doesn’t give evidence that waxing was actually the cause of less pubic lice.
Also read: Hairy And Proud: Body Hair Removal Through A Feminist Lens
Hygiene, as doctors say, will come to you if you bathe regularly. The need to strip off every strand of hair has come from the societal need for women to look a certain way. What it does boil down to, is the soft ways of taking choice away from women. Giving reasons like hygiene, subconsciously forces women to shave even if they do not want to. Here’s reassurance that there is a choice, and it’s yours to make.
Featured Image Source: Mike Burdick