There were some great comments in response to yesterday’s blog — thanks to everyone who contributed to the conversation (see comments). I am so fascinated by this conversation about (as Amy L. writes) “how we internalize both the experience of being viewed AND the knowing that we are socialized to being viewed.”
The notion of being-looked-at-ness is so interesting when applied to pubic hair, because it raises all kinds of interesting questions. There is a tension (as Lara writes) to being aware of the “constructed, objectifying and demeaning expectations on female bodied people,” but then feeling emotionally vulnerable lest we not comply.
It is a conversation that lends itself so readily to discussions around body hair grooming, and particularly to pubic hair (because of its association with a part of the body women may already feel vulnerable about). It’s a real chicken-vs-egg situation. I talked to an esthetician recently who said that though many women initially start having their pubic hair whisked away because it’s what their partners (predominantly male) prefer, they eventually learn to prefer their bodies that way and then start doing it “for themselves” (more from that interview will be posted here soon).
Now young women who resist the call to do away with it all are being seen as strange, old-fashioned and (possibly) dirty and unkempt. Even though humans have been tending to their body hair in some form or another for eons, it’s interesting when things seem to shift dramatically at once in a particular way.
Body hair removal is such a fascinating topic because while it is ubiquitous among North American women, it is so rarely commented upon (except in the case of women NOT complying — and then it’s headline-making, isn’t that right Julia Roberts?)
Julia Roberts at the 1999 premiere of Notting Hill -- her armpit hair nearly upstaged her work on the film
But the fact is, that North American women didn’t always shave their armpits. Nor was leg-shaving always de-rigeur.
In fact, according to an article by Susan A. Basow called “The Hairless Ideal: Women and Their Body Hair” (1991), body hair removal wasn’t commonplace among American women until after 1915. That’s when “The Great Underarm Campaign” began. Gillette was marketing a new razor specially designed for women: the “Milady Decollete”.
A 1915 advertisement for the Gillette "Milady Decollete"
As Basow writes:
“Most ads were instructional and informed women that the new dress styles (sleeveless or very sheer sleeves) made removing underarm hair important since visible hair not growing on the head was “superfluous,” “unwanted,” “ugly,” and “unfashionable.”
My presumption is that until Gillette started to tell them that their bodies as-is were problematic, most women were perfectly fine with their armpit hair.
Psst. Anyone need a bikini razor? You sure? (see my previous blog post for more).