Body issues

‘Sexist’ double-standards on removal of body hair fuel fierce debate

Social media personality Little Bucket says she hasn't shaved her legs in three years. (Instagram)

Debate over sexist double-standards on body hair have erupted on social media following the publication of a razor ad featuring women with unshaven legs and armpits, and a contrasting Kim Kardashian body fragrance campaign that only showcased women with completely hairless bodies. Commenting online, women having increasingly pushed back against the notion that they need to shave to be seen as feminine. Men, on the other hand, have found themselves facing rising pressure to take up the razor themselves — despite many considering body hair an important symbol of their masculinity.

In a report for BBC News, presenter Frankie McCamley spoke with social media personalities, psychologists, and a variety of other figures in an attempt to understand the debate and the shifting cultural attitudes surrounding the practice of shaving.

Ashley Armitage, a film photographer and director of an advertisement featuring “hairy” models for “female-first” razor company Billie, said that the reason the ad garnered so much attention from women was because razor ads had only ever featured already shaved models — a trend that she said exemplified the “double-standard” on the topic.

“A woman having armpit hair and a man having armpit hair is exactly the same thing,” she explained. “That Billie commercial was the first, to my knowledge, that ever showed women with body hair. The response was overwhelmingly positive, it was incredible. It did get some negative response to it. There are always going to be internet trolls.”

Annie, an internet personality from Michigan, who is known online as Little Bucket, says,” I haven’t shaved my body hair in almost three years. I realized that I wasn’t shaving because I actually wanted to,” she added. “I was only doing it because society made me feel pressured to just because I’m a woman.”

The ever-present internet trolls have targeted a number of female social media users who have dared to post pictures of themselves sporting body hair. Popular photographer and model Arvida Bystrom revealed in an Instagram post that she received rape threats after posting a picture of herself with unshaved legs to Instagram, an outsized response that at least one expert said could be interpreted as an expression of men’s long-standing desire for control over women’s bodies — including how they dress and present themselves.

“A rape can be seen as a way to express control. So here we can ask ourselves: is body hair something that is out of control and needs to be controlled?” observed psychologist Laura Moazedi, adding that for men being hairless was a choice about “beauty but not masculinity,” whereas for women having a “feminine” body had become conflated with being hairless.

In recent years, studies have indicated that removing body hair — including pubic hair — has become the norm for most American women. A study published in JAMA Dermatology two years ago found that 84 percent of a nationally representative sample of 3,316 women groomed their pubic hair — with 62 percent saying they typically shaved it entirely. The younger generation, however, appears to be pushing back with increasing force. A study from research group Mintel revealed that nearly one in four women aged 16 to 24 didn’t shave their armpit hair in 2016. In 2013, just 5 percent of young women said they didn’t shave their armpits.

Watch BBC News’ full report below.

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