Not undertaking any kind of hair removal on my legs this summer wasn’t any kind of feminazi protest against today’s beauty standards. And I certainly have been showing off my calves regardless – it’s been far too hot to shy away from my sundresses. And look, I have to be honest, my friends do get a little jealous that my leg fuzz is fair and thin – I’ve been waxing and epilating since I was 14, slowly destroying the hair follicles each time I rip the hairs from their roots. But when I put it like that, I do start to question why girls do what we do – why is it that hairy legs on a girl is considered gross?
Compared to many of our animal relatives, humans seem positively bald. A number of competing arguments have been put forward in the academic arena as to the reason for this, but more generally, as humans evolved a few million years ago, there must have been a benefit to having sparser, relatively short fine hairs all over the body, instead of a thick coat.
Hair removal practices have been well documented by anthropologists and historians alike, with archaeological and historical evidence pointing to reasons of both practicality and aesthetics. Cave men removed facial hair, ancient Egyptians removed hair to keep cool, the Greeks believed smooth skin was a sign of being civilised, and Romans associated a boy’s first removal of facial hair as a sign that he was entering manhood. This tradition of males grooming their facial hair has persisted into modern times, with a well-groomed look, be it a cared-for beard or a clean-shaven face, far more accepted than untamed growth.
Plenty of literature exists regarding studies of how people perceive a range of traits (e.g. age, success, attractiveness) either consciously or unconsciously based on facial hair or the hair on your head. This makes sense – your head and face are often looked upon when interacting with other people. But who even looks at your legs that closely? I’ve been running a fairly unscientific study over the last week: I fell off my bike whilst riding home from uni early last week and grazed my left knee and leg quite convincingly. Now, I’ve done some crazy stuff in the name of science, but this was a legitimate accident. Don’t worry, I’m okay! But I think the big scab on my knee is pretty obvious and draws some attention.
Only twice were my injuries noted all week without me bringing it up. Both of these instances I was sitting on the ground in a group with my legs bent in front of me, where my scabby knees were more in the field of view. If I brought up the fall as a conversation topic first, people seemed quite surprised when I pointed out my injuries. And no, nobody recoiled and shrieked in horror at the hairiness. In fact, the only three people who have mentioned my leg hair all summer are: my best friend who lamented that I can get away with it, being so fair whilst she suffers darker hair; my boyfriend who made an unsolicited joke one evening that he thought he’d found a fifth hair on my legs (to be fair, I think I had been contemplating waxing that day and didn’t); and, surprisingly (to me at least), my mother, who actually made the comment that I should wax or epilate or something soon.
So is it worth it? Is it time to undo this fashion revolution (given leg hair removal really only entered Western culture less than 100 years ago under the influence of women’s fashion magazines)? I don’t think it’s necessary to get all women to stop shaving, but I think it’s worthwhile considering why you do it. In researching this post, I read articles about encouraging good habits when young girls start removing their leg hair for the first time, but is 10 years old too young for this to happen?
I can’t help but feel concerned that many articles also mentioned removal of pubic hair for pre-teens. Choose to do whatever you choose to do when you’re in your 20’s, but allowing children a happy childhood is an issue that I do feel strongly about. Showing young girls by example that they can be confident as they are is so important, and if letting our legs go a little fuzzy is just one way that we can do this, then I’m all for it.