Why do girls remove their body hair, for boys?

Last Friday, I went to see Russell Howard live on his current arena tour. It was brilliant and everyone needs to go see it, especially young men and women. Mainly because he had a long segment about how inaccurate porn is and what it’s doing to young teenagers.

No guy is going to enter paradise but then back out because of what the garden looks like!

As brilliant and hilarious as the show was, I would like to disagree. Yes, they do. I will admit that the pressure on young girls to shave everything off everywhere, does in large part, come from their female friends. Apart from the two guys I’m about to explain, every other person who has told me to get my legs waxed or shave my pubes has been a female friend or another girl in my year. This does not mean we can ignore the genuine sexism that young girls face from boys, when it comes to body hair.

The first guy I ever encountered to tell me to shave off everything was by a guy I fancied, back in Year 11. I was really insecure about my body back then and so any guy interested in me was a good thing, right? It became clear he had no interest in dating me, only in losing his virginity. In order for me to have the privilege of taking his oh-so-precious cherry (even though I was a virgin, too), I had to shave it all off. Not only he refused to actually go on a date and get to know me before we had sex, but he was already refusing to sleep with me unless I looked like a plucked chicken! I was insecure about my body, but I also knew that it was my body and I was not comfortable with someone else telling me what to do with it. Nothing ended up happening and shortly after we stopped talking altogether.

The next guy who tried to tell me what to do with my body was my ex. The first time, it was a “have you ever considered shaving it all off?” Followed by screenshots of how expensive waxing strips are, how often you have to do it, the further expense if you go and have it done professionally; an explanation that shaving leads to rashes, itchy stubble and that I have eczema and so I can’t shave; the fact that it’s my body and that I don’t want to look like a child: Inevitably, our first argument. It became a recurring theme in our relationship. Me being comfortable with our natural pubes and him feeling very uncomfortable with his, which I had to tell him not to shave off for my sake.

Towards the end of our relationship, it became clear that he would only make me feel good during sex if I’d had a bikini wax. It even extended to my armpit and leg hair. I’m not going to pretend I’m some kind of free-spirited all-hair-is-good-hair woman. I like having my legs waxed and I don’t mind a bikini wax (enough off to still feel like a woman, but not so much off I feel like a child) but I genuinely have had to stop shaving my armpits as my dry skin/eczema is so bad. I gave myself rashes from my upper arm down to my breasts from shaving and the pain! I will take hairy armpits over that any day! My ex knew this, and yet, it was better for me to be shaven than for him to be a man, and accept that women have hair.

Everyday, young teenage girls face this pressure from boys in their year group. Boys who tell girls that their hair is gross. Girls so scared of what boys think that they push these insecurities onto their friends. I’ve seen it and experienced it. It’s never “oh you just feel better when it’s [pubes] all off”, it is always “well that’s what guys like”. Why does our society tell our young girls that it is OK to take away natural occurrences in their body for someone else? Is this the 1950’s, where a woman lives solely for her husband? No! Yet, we let young girls’ bodies be ruled by what boys are told to want by the media.

Just look at the adverts out there. Pubic hair removal strips, razors, creams that are only targeted at women. Hair removal adverts demonstrating how good the product is on already waxed legs. Adverts for creams to stop shaving rashes and dry skin as a result of hair removal. We wouldn’t need these creams if we didn’t shave in the first place; society is telling us that our body hair is so offensive, we’re not even allowed to see if the product we’re about to buy actually works! Corporations have made us insecure about our bodies, given us a solution, then realised the solution causes genuine problems and have given us another expensive solution to a problem they gave us in the first place, all because the media decided that our body hair was undesirable and companies wanted to make more money!

It makes me so angry. Like I said, I actually like having waxed legs, but I do it for me, because I like how they feel after and I don’t find the act of waxing painful. The issue is not that we are waxing and shaving, but that we are expected to. Yes, some guys do get their pubes waxed or shaved and that’s fine, but I don’t see adverts for men’s pube-removing razors and creams. I don’t hear teenage boys telling their classmate “you gotta remove it, that’s what girls like”. Men have not been systematically told by magazines and capitalism to remove all visible hair from their bodies – in fact, they are given tips as to keeping their beards stylish. When we go to the beach, most men and women have the same amount of skin exposed, and yet only women are expected to be shaven from face to toe (because of course, she has to have vibrant, swaying-in-the-wind hair tumbling from her head).

To answer the question ‘does my leg hair offend you?’ the answer is ‘yes’. In fact, the first time I’d ever heard that boys had an issue with girls having leg hair was in Year 8: a boy in the year broke up with his girlfriend because she dared to have leg hair. What will that have done to her confidence? At such a young and awkward time, with insecurities and hormones, to be told that your own body was the reason your boyfriend broke up with you – and let’s be honest, the extent of their sexual contact was holding hands and a quick peck on the cheek, it’s not like he was seeing these too-hairy-for-me legs every day. I have so many anecdotes like this that there simply isn’t the justification to write them all.

This is the daily sexism we women face. We are made to feel that we are unworthy and un-f*ckable if we have any hair on our bodies, other than on our heads, from such a  young age. I could discuss how this perpetuates a “paedophile culture” but there’s already this brilliant article explaining that. If a woman wants to wax and shave any and all of her body, then that should be her choice. It should be for her. Not for any man. No man is worth the pain and expense of hair removal. If a woman loves the look and feel of no pubes, then that is her choice to make. For me, it makes me feel like a child. Nobody has the right to comment on what anybody does with their body hair. My body, my pubes, my choice – not yours: men, society and other women.