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All photos courtesy of Billie

It’s the year 2018 and for the first time ever, there’s actual body hair in a razor commercial for women. What happened to all the hairless legs, smoothed armpits, and ‘perfectly’ photoshopped bikini lines?

Well, these ads still exist (just as blue tampon ads still do), but realistic body image is right around the corner, and we’re here for the time when all bodies are appreciated.

“No one has body hair in the media. You grow up thinking that’s normal and easily attainable.”

After we reveled in the newness of Billie’s razor ad, we also wondered: How has body hair shaped us and why does it bring such visceral reactions from the masses?

Maybe the answer, like many cultural answers, is in history — body hair removal can be traced back for centuries.

The history of body hair removal

According to the Women’s Museum of California, hair removal in Ancient Rome was often seen as an identifier of status. Wealthier women would find different ways to remove their body hair, including using pumice stones.

The first relatively safe shaving instrument was created in 1769 by French barber Jean-Jacques Perret. This initial hair removal tool was incrementally refined over the years in an effort to create a safer instrument that would be utilized by the masses. William Henson added his contribution by creating the “hoe-shaped” razor, the design most of us are familiar with today.

Fahs’ results revealed that most women were disgusted by the idea of body hair, both of their own and the idea of other women allowing their hair to grow out.

However, it wasn’t until a traveling salesman named King Camp Gillette combined the shape of Henson’s razor with his desire to make shaving easier that the first disposable double-edged blade was invented in 1901.

This effectively eliminated the need to sharpen shaving blades after each shave and possibly reduced the likelihood of skin irritation.

A few years later, Gillette created a razor for women called Milady Décolleté

This new women-friendly release and the rapid change in women’s fashion — the sleeveless tops, shorter skirts, and summer dresses — influenced more and more women to remove the hair growing on their legs and underarms.

During the 1960s, some movements — often hippie or feminist in nature — encouraged a more “natural” look, but most women of that time were opting for hair removal wherever they saw fit.

Over the years, pop culture and the media fueled this hairless trend as the acceptable standard by constantly portraying perfectly smooth bodies.

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“I make it clear to the women I date that I love body hair. On me. On them. It actually turns me on.”

In a 2013 study, scholar Breanne Fahs conducted two experiments surrounding women and their relationship with body hair, specifically what they thought of hairiness.

Fahs’ results revealed that most women were disgusted by the idea of body hair, both of their own and the idea of other women allowing their hair to grow out.

The second part of Fahs’ study challenged participants to allow their body hair to grow for 10 weeks and keep a journal about the experience. The results revealed that the participating women thought obsessively about their body hair and even refused to interact with others during the experiment.

And like Fahs, we were also fascinated by the relationship between those who identify with womanhood and their relationship with body hair, so we did our own research. After all, at the end of the day, it’s a personal preference.

What 10 women had to say about their body hair, removing it, the stigmas, and themselves

On how body hair affects their actions and interactions with others

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“When first dating someone, I make it a point to make my body hair visible. If she reacts negatively, then I discontinue relations with her. When we have sex for the first time, I similarly gauge her reaction; nonchalance and awe are the only acceptable reactions.”

“I try to hide my body as much as I can when I’m hairy. In the summer it’s so hard to constantly shave and I lag a lot since I had a baby so I end up with long sleeve tees or long pants a lot more than I should!”

“I used to always wax/Nair when I had new partners, but now I really don’t care. I definitely still get rid of underarm hair for going sleeveless, especially in work and formal settings. I feel pressured to do so and I’m too exhausted to convince people that my body is indeed mine in these spaces.”

“It doesn’t. At least not right now. It’s a me thing.”

“Not even a little bit. I make it clear to the women I date that I love body hair. On me. On them. It actually turns me on.”

“I may avoid sleeveless clothing if my underarm hair is very long. Everything else is the same.”

On removing body hair

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“I don’t shave my vagina — except to trim for ease of access during sex — and I infrequently shave my armpits. I don’t do these things because 1. they are tedious and time consuming; 2. if men don’t have to do it, why should I; and 3. I like the way my body looks and feels with hair.”

“Yes, but ‘regularly’ is a loose term. I do when I remember to do it or if it’s going to be necessary for me to show a certain part of my body. I have really fine and sparse leg hair so I often forget to remove it until I see an embarrassingly long hair. I’m more regular with removing the hair under my arms.”

“Yes, oh my goodness yes. Since pregnancy my hair has started coming in course and fast! I can’t deal with all the stubborn and thick hair growth.”

“It’s become a habit and I’m used to my mostly hairless body.”

“I don’t regularly remove my hair. I only resort to shaving my pubes when I can’t stop fiddling with it.”

On preferred method of body hair removal

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“I’ve always used a razor. I guess I was only introduced to this method and it seemed to work for me. I’ve since learned what blades work best and how to take better care of my skin. I’ve considered waxing but it seems more invasive and painful. I shave several times a week. Might be obsessive about it.”

“I prefer a chemical hair remover because shaving and waxing have negative effects on my sensitive skin.”

“I like waxing and using Nair. Waxing because I don’t have to do it as frequently and I use Nair in case of home ‘emergencies.’ I remove hair far less frequently than I used to because it bothers me less now.”

“Shaving. It’s the only method I’ve tried thus far. Every three to four weeks for underarms if I don’t visit the beach before then. I haven’t actually checked how long I usually wait in between doing my bikini line and I don’t shave my legs.”

On the way body hair is portrayed in the media and the stigma surrounding it

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“It’s bulls---t. My body was literally made with all this hair on it, why should I spend time removing it when it’s not putting me in danger? I don’t knock or shame any woman who does, of course, but I personally think that the social pressure on women to remove hair is yet another way of trying to infantilize her and make her conform to a beauty standard that men don’t have to adhere to.”

“We have issues, man. I will say I hold some of these stigmas and it’s bothersome to me. For instance, I think women (and men) who have bushy underarm hair are less hygienic (and bra burning feminists). And while I know this is completely false, my first thought lands there.”

“No one has body hair in the media. You grow up thinking that’s normal and easily attainable. I also feel like I grew up in a heyday of female razor marketing — I think the Venus razor came out in the early 2000s and suddenly everyone needed to have it. But you also needed whatever newest scent of shaving cream was out. At the time, I think it felt like a way to ‘modernize’ hair removal for the new millennium (it’s not your mama’s shaving and all), but now it’s clear they just wanted us to buy more products.”

“They’re exhausting and expensive. Honestly, we should just let women live however they want.”

“We need to stop policing what people do with their bodies or how much hair they keep on any part of their bodies. I think the media has made some strides in moving away from perpetuating the stigma attached to body hair. Articles are being written on body hair positivity and that’s amazing.”

On the relationship between body hair and their feminism

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“I think people should do what they’re comfortable with. Being a feminist doesn’t have to be synonymous with being hairy.”

“It’s integral to my feminism, though I don’t know that I would have said that before. Feminism is the freedom to choose and define yourself for yourself. I think social expectation for removal of body hair is just another way women’s looks and bodies are controlled, and so I push back against it.”

“My body hair doesn’t factor much into my personal feminism because, while it’s directly linked to body autonomy, it’s not a large part of what would play into my personal liberation and fight to end patriarchy. I do, however, think it’s very crucial for feminists and I do support any work to end the negative ideas we have about body.”

“Personally, I don’t make that connection. I don’t think I ever will. Maybe because I haven’t been placed in a position to have to carefully think about the choices I’m making with my body hair.”

“Even though it would be great to not feel uncomfortable in a spaghetti strap top with hairy underarms, it’s not where I think we should be focused in the fight for equality.”

“I don’t know if I’d connect my body hair to my feminism, but I do think about the pink tax and how products are marketed towards me. Because I almost exclusively Nair and use a men’s razor (four blades = closer shave) when I do shave, I don’t often need to go down that aisle in the store. But when I do, I’m really struck by how pastel it all is. The products seemed designed for visual appeal (on the shelf and in the shower) more than how well they work.”

On whether they’ve had negative experiences caused by body hair

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“Yes. As a teen you’re constantly made fun of for everything. To be made fun of for a little (skin) darkness was life or death. [But it also] depends on where you live, where the negative stigma of hair is for women. I lived in [Los Angeles] and everyone is well-kept. Now that I’m in Seattle, it’s no big deal who has hair on their body!”

“Not really. I’ve only learned to wear underwear that doesn’t trap heat or moisture because that, coupled with my ‘Afro’ tends to give me folliculitis pimples.”

“Sometimes I won’t post a picture to social media because there’s visible body hair in it.”

And there you have it, the view on body hair is as complex as it is simple

As one of the women we spoke to very elegantly put it: “It really hurts me when women shame other women for this. [...] I believe in the freedom of choice. And my choice is to not remove hair from my body because I like it where it is.”

Removing your body hair or letting it grow doesn’t have to be a statement, but it does exist — and like the first body hair positive razor ad of 2018, we should openly acknowledge that.


Stephanie Barnes is a writer, front-end/iOS engineer, and woman of color. If she isn’t asleep, you can find her binge-watching her favorite TV shows or trying to find the perfect skin care routine.