Hair We Go Again

This week saw the television appearance of Emer O’Toole, a young lady who has decided not to shave her body hair; going against what she sees as unfair cultural expectations for women. Apparently, she stopped shaving as an ‘experiment’ and stuck with it.

I have a number of issues with this story, over and above the obvious cultural norms debate. Firstly, I’m not sure how refraining from doing something that will lead to inevitable consequences can be termed as an ‘experiment’. It’s a bit like going on hunger strike in an experiment to see if you will lose weight.

Secondly, how the hell was this woman booked for a TV show? Does she have an agent, or did they place an ad somewhere? Or maybe her hairy body has given her notoriety in her home town,or she was pro-active and contacted the producers herself in an effort to seek fame. The mind boggles.

The main point of her argument, was that it is cultural norms that ‘force’ women to shave and pluck their bodies again and again in order to please men. Whilst that may be true to an extent, the majority of the negative feedback to her appearance was from women. So blaming men is probably too simplistic.

And why do we need someone to blame? Who can say that women don’t simply choose to do this because they believe it looks nice? That’s why men shave their faces and increasingly attend to other areas too. Should we really discourage those men who appear to be the missing link in the evolutionary chain from waxing their hairy backs? I would say that at least half of the men in my gym remove their armpit hair. Personally, I think it looks a little too feminine, although on some men it does need to be kept in check. No-one needs to see pits like Chewbacca’s.

I think it’s a good idea for a woman who feels at one with her body hair to let it flourish. If I met a woman with hairy pits, then it is like a natural sign to warn me that other areas of her body would be like jungle exploration. I might find an undiscovered tribe down there…

Ultimately, the hair removal choices we make are personal choices, just like the clothes we wear and the length of our hairstyles; clearly these are also influenced by fashion and cultural norms, yet we still make our own decisions. If you really feel uncomfortable doing something to fit in or if you don’t think it looks good, then why not follow Emer’s example and opt-out? If that seems like too scary a thought, then you’ve probably already subconsciously made a decision to conform. Either way, why blame society or the opposite sex? You’re in control of your own life.

24 thoughts on “Hair We Go Again

  1. Lol I’m not really sure how I came across this post, but I’m really glad I did. I never heard this story before I completely agree with you. I don’t see how choosing not to shave can change the way society influences women to keep up their appearances. Besides, I’m sure that before she began this “experiment” she was regularly shaving her pits and “unmentionables”, so why choose now to come out with an opinion?

    Thanks for the morning read.

    • It was daytime TV so I only stumbled across this due to girls at work talking about it. But it actually made the UK edition of the Huffington Post as well! Not really news is it? Glad you liked it and I can see that this sort of thing stirs up strong feelings. Which is a good thing I think.

  2. I spend a fortune removing hair from my body. This woman would put millions of beauty therapists out of work! We all have Emer days, but keep it under jeans & long sleeved tops. But on the beach…oh Stewie, save us from this

    • I feel sorry when her children grow up and get teased at school. One of my school mates had a mother with hairy pits and that was an easy way to wind him up!

  3. I think her point is a bit stupid, just like you said, women have a choice to shave, and we do it because it looks nicer and more hygenic. Great that she wants to stand up for women, but this just doesn’t make sense.

    • I agree. People who are looking for culturally-derived reasons for this fashion are maybe missing the point that it just looks better to most people.

  4. I think it´s too simple to say that every woman has a choice not to shave. The issue is so complex & the media are making women & men feel bad about the “hair issue”. It starts as early as with Nickelodeon shows! I was watching Icarly with my daughters & Carly mentioned twice that a girl is nuts if she doesn´t shave her armpits! If you are taught that early to shave-I wouldn´t say that you have much of a choice.
    I do shave, but I find it quite annoying that I feel bad if I am at the gym & forgot to shave. & I know people that have a lot of hair on arms & legs & it´s a huge problem for them. A lot of us don´t feel attractive with furry legs & we don´t find it hot when men has a hairy back. Women put extensions in their hair-color the hair it when we start to go grey. We make ourselves feel so awful about ourselves-it´s silly.

    • There will always be pressure to look good to others, that’s natural. Whilst I maintain that well groomed looks best, of course people shouldn’t worry too much about their appearance, although it is the first impression that we get about someone, before they speak. I wouldn’t say that this is a particularly complex issue! Ultimately everyone has free will and they can decide on the amount of time that they want to spend on their appearance, be it very little or far too much.

  5. I think there is a lot that you don’t really understand about a lot of this, and you are kind of playing into and perpetuating it as well. The “you’re in control of your own life” kind of misses the point too.

    “I think it’s a good idea for a woman who feels at one with her body hair to let it flourish. If I met a woman with hairy pits, then it is like a natural sign to warn me that other areas of her body would be like jungle exploration. I might find an undiscovered tribe down there…” -Do you know see how this is read or comes across? You are a part of the problem, as you embrace the lines of thinking that are culturally accepted at the norm currently.

    Do you groom your own man areas?

    Beyond that, your a man who has learned what is “sexy” and thereby holding others accountable to these standards and norms. Just be aware of what your doing and how you come across. I think selfawareness is (really) hard to come by these days, but it is something to important to invest in.


    • Yes I do groom, otherwise I’d be a hypocrite. I do understand that norms are culturally formed, but I am happy to perpetuate this one, and yes, I am aware how my flippant comments come across. That’s just my sense of humour and it’s not for everyone’s taste. I have my own opinions about what is sexy, they are not ‘learned’ – it is just what is aesthetically pleasing. I think that men and women look better if well groomed from top to bottom. Otherwise we would all look unkempt. Maybe you would prefer that?

      • No, I do not prefer ‘unkept’, as my own personal visual aesthetic is more in line with what is considered normal, but I at least tend to respect other’s choices when they reflect something other than what I subscribe to. (Also: Nice little gab there, original and unexpected. Sarcasm font.) Also excusing this general type of thinking as your “personal sense of humour” doesn’t really bode well either. It kind of shows your privilege, if you are able to be so “post-post-post ____” about it. I’ve done just about everything out there, in regards to the various body grooming techniques and really do hope that more women, sooner than later, realize it really is *their choice* and to proceed to give a loud “f**k off” to those they deal with who disagree or ridicule them for their choice. I think that thinking women know beyond a doubt that this is even really their “choice” is something we need to work more on also.

        Personal “sense of humour” or not, we need to realize that there is a bit of privilege/power that comes from being able to adopt these lines of thinking in the first place.

        • I’m not sure I follow all of what you are trying to say, but I do respect personal choice. Just like it is my personal choice to disagree with it and not like it.

  6. I do agree with Kaie-you don´t seem to understand asymmetrical powerrelations. It is not our free will to do as we please. Human beings like to be acknowledged & somewhere along the way it was decided by the majority that it is hot to remove hair & that is why you feel the need to be groomed as you call it. & you can´t imagine having it another way. It´s the same kind of powerrelations that makes it “wrong” to be gay, colored, muslim and so on.

    • I would say that studying psychology to masters level gives me the capacity to understand the intricacies of social relations to a fair level! I disagree that this is an example of asymmetrical power relations – men feel pressure to conform in this way too, it is not so one-sided. By the way, I don’t think ‘colored’ is exactly considered a PC term as it groups all non-whites together, rather than recognising their unique identities.

  7. I disagree that women remove hair for men. I am in a secure happy & loving relationship with a man who couldn’t care less about my body hair. I don’t remove it for him or anyone else. I shave my legs & armpits because I like it like that. I wax my bikini because it’s frankly more comfortable. I pluck my eyebrows because I like to see two, not one monobrow. I cut my hair on my head because split ends are unhealthy for hair. This is not cultural. I’m not on the pull. It’s how I want to be. This woman is the one manipulating media by using cultural norms to get attention. Otherwise she would still be hairy & we wouldn’t know. Plus doesn’t leg hair slow down cyclists? So it’s to do with physics too.

    • Not sure about leg hair slowing down cyclists – how much would you need to have to cause a drag?

      • It Improves Your Aerodynamics On The Bike
        The Theory: In this age of seamless skinsuits, aero frames, dimpled helmets, and ultralight deep-rim carbon wheels, it’s senseless to ignore the slight but real advantage of having bare legs.
        (To wit, a 1987 study conducted by Chester Kyle for this magazine concluded that the aerodynamic improvement is roughly 0.6 percent, which could result in a savings of around 5 seconds in a 40km time trial ridden at 37kph.)
        The Reality: “It [the actual benefit] depends upon how hairy you are. I mean, look at the skinsuits of today. They fit really well, there are no seams, no grippers. So if all that makes a difference, then a lot of hair on your legs could slow you down.” —RadioShack pro Levi Leipheimer

          • It could be the difference between 1st & 2nd!!! Lol.

          • So it is only important for pro cyclists. Still not convinced that little hairs will make a difference. Did they test different hair lengths? Seems like there would be many confounding variables. I’d need to see several supporting studies, not just one.

  8. I loved your conclusion to this. The entire thing reminded me of the lovely Amanda Palmer- she doesn’t shave her ‘Map of Tazmania’, but she does shave her eyebrows 🙂 It is indeed all about choice, the world would be a boring place if we we all the same level of hairiness.

  9. I will go ahead and generally agree with most of the ‘for women, hair is not as simple as free choice’ argument, bc it’s been expressed pretty well by a bunch of people here.

    What tickled me was this line: “I’m not sure how refraining from doing something that will lead to inevitable consequences can be termed as an ‘experiment’”

    1-not doing something is actually an act of doing something – an act of growing out her body hair
    2-while it’s reasonable to accept as axiomatic that there will be SOME consequence, even the reaction to this post shows that the consequences will be multiple and varied, including their scale. social interaction consequences. romantic consequences. sexual. hygiene/personal health. Professional/career. And so forth.

    Figuring them all out is indeed the essence of an experiment.

    Cheers, Anna (daughter of a science professor)

Leave a Reply to Stewie Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s