I Surveyed Over 100 Women About Their Body Hair And Here's What I Found
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Health and Wellness

I Surveyed Over 100 Women About Their Body Hair And Here's What I Found

A deeper look into how society influences women's perceptions of beauty when it comes to body hair.

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I Surveyed Over 100 Women About Their Body Hair And Here's What I Found
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In today's society, there are a lot of expectations placed on people based on their biological sex and/or sexuality. In the gender binary, women are to be clean, soft, and feminine while men are to be tough, rough, and masculine.

In reality, very few people's identities are that black and white. These pressures are most often exacerbated by a need to fit in, especially in younger populations. Very recently, more and more people are finding their freedom outside of the gender binary and societal expectations related to feminine and masculine traits. While that space is unfortunately not always safe, it is liberating.

One chunk of feminine social norms concerns how women are taught to view their own body hair. In order to explore this, I put together a short survey and shared it via social media to get some general feedback and further explore this issue.

The survey consisted of 10 multiple-choice questions and one essay-stye question at the end, for those who wished to add to or expand on this topic. In addition, each multiple-choice question offered takers an option to add their own answer if not already represented. I am so grateful to those who contributed their experiences and opinions around their body hair and our societal pressures. Most survey takers are of college-age.

Question #1

pie chart

Clare Cooley

The green and purple slices were added individually through the "other" option.

Question #2

Pie chart

Clare Cooley

The green slice was added individually through the "other" option.

Question #3

bar graph

Clare Cooley

Question #4

Bar graph

Clare Cooley

Options given from top to bottom:

  • Every day
  • Every other day
  • Once or twice a week
  • Only when I might be intimate with someone
  • If it's going to be visible to other people
  • Only when the length is uncomfortable in my clothes or increases body odor
  • When I want to feel sexy and/or enjoy my own smooth skin
  • I simply maintain it by trimming

Responses added by others:

  • It depends on the area of the body
  • Only when wearing a swimsuit
  • Before going out for the weekend
  • Every other week

Question #5

pie chart

Clare Cooley

This question was added late, hence it only receiving 45 responses.

Question #6

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Clare Cooley

Options given from top to bottom:

  • Shins
  • Thighs
  • Forearms
  • Armpits
  • Genital area and/or booty
  • Around belly button and/or nipples
  • Facial hair (sideburns, eyebrows, upper lip, etc.)
  • Toes
  • None

Question #7

bar graph

Clare Cooley

Options given from top to bottom:

  • Shins
  • Thighs
  • Forearms
  • Armpits
  • Genital area and/or booty
  • Around belly button and/or nipple
  • Facial hair (sideburns, eyebrows, upper lip, etc.)
  • Toes
  • None

Responses added by others:

  • I do it because I think I'm prettier without it
  • Maybe all, being a swimmer we had to, except I always refused to shave my arms
  • I no longer remove body hair to feel more feminine, I genuinely have just grown to crave the feeling of my own smooth skin sometimes. Sometimes I revel in being smooth/supple, others, I'll let my hair grow out for weeks-months without bothering.

Question #8

pie chart

Clare Cooley

Question #9

pie chart

Clare Cooley

The green, purple, and blue slices were added by individuals through the "other" option.

Question #10

pie chart

Clare Cooley

Responses added by others:

  • Maybe, hard to tell because I know how it feels without it.
  • I do not know. Hair removal has always been a part of my life.
  • Probably, lately, I've been more comfortable with my body hair because I don't really care anymore.
  • Don't really know because basically for all my life it's all I've known, it's hard to imagine these standards not existing and -how I would feel about myself. I definitely think it would be one less insecurity, but hard to really say.
  • I definitely think it would help, but over the past 3 years I have really come more into my own about body hair and personally like shaving, but if I find myself not shaven, I am a lot less ashamed or embarrassed than I would have been in high school which makes me really happy and proud of myself honestly.
  • I personally like the feeling of a clean shave so I'm not necessarily uncomfortable with my body hair because of society.
  • I'd like to say no, but I feel like if having body hair was a norm in society then I wouldn't feel odd about it.
  • It's not that I'm uncomfortable with my hair in a cultural way, I've grown past caring. I think if the standard didn't exist, it would be easier for women as a *whole* to feel comfortable with their body hair.
  • Hasn't ever bothered me.
  • If these standards never ever existed, I would not k ow the difference and I think I would be very comfortable with my body hair. However, I'm okay with these standards for MYSELF because I like being hair-free. At the same time, I feel frustration for those who struggle with it being a standard for those who want to embrace their body hair.

Discussion

five women sitting together on the floor, looking serious

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The final question of this survey offered takers to expand on these questions or introduce any other thoughts they might have about this topic. I chose seven of the most eye-opening responses to discuss further.

1. I feel like only huge social media & body positive beauty influencers openly display their body hair and are actually praised for it. I think a lot of this comes from their following (most people who are body positive follow body positive accounts) and their status. However, if normal everyday women were to do this I don't think it would gain the same acceptance/approval. For example, I was Snapchatting a girl I'm seeing and you could see my armpit hair in it and she immediately commented on it even though she labels herself as body positive. I don't think it's actually close to being normalized on a societal level, only within smaller groups, particularly on social media.

This perspective is very beneficial to the discussion because it considers that influencers with a large targeted audience and established aesthetic may have an easier time promoting self-love than any regular person. Defying social norms can be extremely intimidating when we don't know what kind of feedback we will receive. People who are already famous or well-known are often celebrated for being brave enough to defy norms. While these people are inspiring and necessary in promoting social change, there is also huge unseen bravery in everyday people who break free of social expectations in their social groups and families.

2. First of all love this survey and really excited to read this article! Second of all, I think for a long time I removed body hair under the guise of "hygiene" when in reality it was because of societal pressures. It's hard for someone who self identifies as a feminist to admit to adhering to misogynistic beauty standards especially when I encourage women to reject them. I think standards around body hair on women are so pervasive and extremely difficult to release yourself from. Those are just my general thoughts, excited to read what you have to say!

I enjoy this response because it poses the question, "Can you be a true feminist and also adhere to misogynistic beauty standards?" Like this responder alluded to, these standards are ingrained in so many of us. Releasing ourselves from them can be very challenging, especially if the people around us are not supportive. I think that awareness is key here. No supportive, feminist women would ever criticize another woman's choice to remove or grow out their body hair. We are all on our own personal journeys with our bodies and that shouldn't make anyone any less of a feminist. As the above results show, women also remove their hair for their own personal preferences, comfort, and hygiene. Feminism becomes hypocritical when we criticize and put others down for not being what we conceive as the "perfect" feminist. Supporting a woman's right to choose and cheering them on as they evolve is feminism (and don't forget to be understanding with yourself, too).

3. I feel like generally speaking BIPOC women who have darker, thicker hair often feels pressured starting at a young age to remove facial or body hair to conform to western beauty standards. Something that often happened during my childhood was that I would get made fun of for my hairy arms and sideburns which most Latinx people have and it made me very self-conscious of body hair at a young age.

This was a great point to bring to my own awareness and is why I added question #5 to the survey. Having lighter hair myself, I hadn't considered how I would feel about my body hair if it was darker. This took awareness on my part because a blonde person saying "I am comfortable with my body hair so you should be too" can come across insensitive when directed at anyone, but especially to those with darker hair. BIPOC individuals most definitely experience additional pressure to adhere to western beauty standards. For people who have in the past, and unfortunately still do at times, been called monsters, beasts, and animals, growing body hair can offer an additional excuse for racial prejudice.

4. I've always had an extremely difficult time shaving my body hair, as I am very prone to razor burn/bumps that are painful and visible. I turned to laser hair removal and have spent thousands, but I still have issues! I wish there was no pressure or standard to remove body hair— but I think I will feel obligated to for the rest of my life and will do whatever it takes to maintain it. Sad

All I have to say here is that I feel you when it comes to razor burn, girl. This is also a great example of how expensive products and services are for women who maintain their bodies in alignment with social standards. Many companies prey on women's insecurities by convincing the public that they are less-than without this or that product/service. very recently, some razor companies have made women with body hair more visible in their ads, which is a great step forward. With that being said, if you have the means and the passion to do something for yourself, do it.

5. I have a very complex relationship with my body hair and societal pressures. While I know it is perfectly natural and healthy to have body hair, and that having it makes me no less feminine, I truly feel more comfortable and confident after shaving. And then I feel guilty that I have to alter myself to feel this way:(

I want to address this because it is a super valid and common feeling! Your comfort and confidence come first. We are constantly evolving as we and our surroundings change, so embrace where you are at right now. It's a good idea to be aware of where you are now and where you want to be in the future in terms of your body hair. Either work towards a goal and get out of your comfort zone or accept your preferences and throw out any guilt, shame, and negativity. Defying social norms should never become a competition.

6. I think most of my perception of body hair has been shaped by the lack of education aimed at boys/men and how body hair is natural and beautiful on women. Similarly, because porn is mainly directed by men, most women are completely shaven, making it hard to embrace body hair as being "sexy."

Let's talk about porn. Porn has been known for a long time to warp young people's expectations of what sex and human bodies should look like. In reality, very few people look like porn stars and/or experience sex like the videos portray. Disregarding all of the ethical issues with most free porn sites, there is simply not enough emotional or visual realness in porn. On top of that, the majority of people watch or have watched free online porn, making it detrimental to sexual expectations and body-image as a whole in our society. The best we can do to combat this is to boycott these sites, communicate with our partners, and spread awareness and acceptance of all variations of people and pleasures.

7. I tried to let my hair grow and honestly, it was uncomfortable, my underwear didn't fit correctly anymore. This made me realize that women's undergarments are tailored to not having body hair either.

I can totally relate to this. Women's undergarments are tight, and many of us wear spandex and leggings frequently and/or to work out. In those cases, it can be pretty uncomfortable to have body hair longer than half an inch. I could even argue that women's thongs barely cover everyone completely, even when fully shaven. I am making it a goal of mine to purchase my undergarments from women-owned, inclusive, ethical, and environmentally friendly brands in the future.

Closing

I received so many amazing responses from women being raw and honest about their experiences with their body hair. A consistent response I found was the overwhelming support that so many women had for other women to break out of societal norms, even if it wasn't their own preference. It was incredibly empowering and inspiring to see those kinds of uplifting opinions.

Overall, I found that most women do experience the effects of our societal standards. Some women choose to defy these norms for their own personal comfort or to get out of their comfort zone. Others like to be smooth for their own personal reasons, and others are content with maintaining themselves to fit in these standards.

No matter what you do, you are valid and sexy.

As always, stay curious, practice acceptance, and spread love.


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