By Rosie Alger
Elm Staff Writer
No Shave November is upon us, and men everywhere will be putting down their razors for the entire month of November, to see how long a beard and how full a mustache they can muster. Women have also begun to join in this silly annual ritual, giving up shaving their legs or armpits in favor of a month of more natural body maintenance. It seems that the more women stop shaving, the more people protest and shame them in the name of hygiene. Is shaving or choosing not to shave a matter of cleanliness or fashion? Can the answer to that question be different based on your gender, and who gets to decide?
Women haven’t always been pigeonholed into this narrow minded picture that hair is okay on certain parts of the body but not others. An article in The Chicago Tribune cited Victoria Sherrow, author of “Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History,” who said, “Historians are unable to pinpoint the first group of women to remove body hair. Women in ancient Egypt used beeswax and depilatories made from an alkali, like quicklime, to remove leg hair. Ancient Romans and Greeks used pumice to remove body hair. Some cultures regarded it as uncivilized, since body hair appears on animal bodies. The idea of a hairless body for American women developed between 1915 and 1945.” In fact, people of all genders have been removing body and facial hair for centuries, but it hasn’t been until recently that the policing of women’s bodies, especially their hair, became so extreme. In the 60’s and 70’s, when Gillette was perfecting the first disposable razor for example, advertising for razors and other hair removal products became much more aggressive. Since then, the public has been bombarded with images of women with less body hair to the point that even in commercials selling razors, women are seen shaving already bald legs.
What is our obsession with smooth, hairless skin? Some feminist theorists write that the norm of shaving body hair contributes to the infantilization of women, which is a way of suppressing them sexually and socially. Infantilization of women perpetrates the idea that women are less than men, weaker, and incapable of the same kind of power and individualism. Carmen Rios, a journalist from Everyday Feminism, wrote, “Advertisements and other forms of media portray women as being childlike and immature. People of all genders are socialized to see women as helpless, irrational, weak, and in need of protection, and legislators feel it’s okay to tell women how to run their lives and what to do with their bodies. We handle women with ‘kid gloves,’ as if their emotions are going to make them incapable of rational behavior in times of stress or conflict. Women are only seen as beautiful when they’re young – and a huge amount of pressure is put on women to look, act, and seem young for as long as possible.” In this way, some believe that the pressure to shave is just another way that society micromanages and objectifies women.
Let’s be honest, not everyone who fails to shave their legs each day is trying to use their hair to metaphorically flip the bird to the patriarchy. Whether or not women personally want to use shaving as a political statement or simply don’t want to bother with the extra daily chore, the fact of the matter remains that for men, shaving is a personal choice that is viewed by those around them as merely a personal preference or even a fashion statement, like haircuts. For women, however, shaving has become an expected standard of cleanliness, a must-have on the list of traits that make for a singular and specific view of beauty and sexuality. This is harmful to everyone, not just women who identify as their gender assigned at birth, or cis-women, in a number of ways.
For cis women, being forced to shave is expensive, time consuming, and again reinforces the idea that their main priority is to conform to standards of beauty so that they can be looked at and objectified. Hair removal is also another industry that takes advantage of gender roles to make a buck, charging way more for women’s razors of equal quality to the cheaper men’s versions. More on gendered marketing for another day, though. For transwomen, non-binary, or gender fluid people, this norm is yet another gender role that erases their place and leaves them feeling uncertain of what the “right” answer is for their appearance. This can lead to an increase in body dysmorphia and can become downright dangerous when it comes to self-confidence, in addition to the harassment and societal sham to which they can and do fall victim.
When it comes to No Shave November or really any time of the year at all, whether or not you shave should be completely up to you. Everyone’s bodies are different, and whatever amount of hair makes you feel like a rock star is what you should be striving for. Humans are in fact, mammals and body hair grows for a purpose. Body hair is protection from bacteria and dirt particles just like eyebrows and eyelashes are for your eyes, so keep that in mind when you’re deciding between the hairy peach or honey crisp apple look. If you think you might like to try going natural but are feeling uncertain about it, I say November is the perfect time to test the waters. One final parting thought: why do women in post-apocalyptic movie and TV stories always seem to find time to shave their armpits in the midst of fighting off zombies, famine, and natural disaster?