I can still remember the first time I shaved my legs. As a young teenager, I took a used Bic razor I found lying on the side of the bath and with little more than a film of soap, hacked away at my black haired covered legs.
The daily embarrassment, or shame which is actually what I felt, at my ugly long black hairs, poking through my school uniform regulation white socks made me succumb to what I thought was an inevitable expectation anyway. May as well start now.
PE lessons, with legs bared to the class, were the worst. Short netball skirt and ankle socks and trainers meant there was no hiding place for my hirsute legs. My fairer haired girl friends would bemoan their lot too. But to me, their blonde downy, barely noticeable, wisps, were something I would have gladly accepted.
Shaving brought about stubble. Thick, sharp, stubborn, incessant black hairs. I bought epilators – they didn’t make a dent in my leg forest. I challenge any advert selling razors, epilators or hair removal creams to show my fully covered pins and see how well their products work.
I remember in my teens, painstakingly plucking my leg hairs out individually. A mammoth task I can tell you.
Waxing proved painful (obviously) and requires a period of hair growth before you can submit to having wax smeared on your body parts. Ripping out my bikini line was something I paid another woman to do. I have been known to accidentally use nail varnish remover instead of eye make-up remover so I was not going to attempt covering my own nether regions with a red hot substance. I may have bought into the multi million pound beauty standards myth, but I am not totally stupid.
Ingrowing hairs, rashes, bleeding shins and ankles and red raw arm pits and bikini lines are just a part of the grooming ritual we are meant to expect.
As a young girl, no-one told me I should shave my legs. I just knew it was expected. And the expectation for girls and women to have zero body hair has not gone away. It has got worse.
Legs, arm pits and pubic areas should be bald. Sans hair. Nada. Smooth as a peach.
A trip to my local pharmacy is telling. The aisle for hair removal products is longer and more densely stocked than the tampon and sanitary towel section.
The array of products is a pink assault to the eyes. Wax strips, wet and dry epilators, trimmers, facial wax strips and microwaveable wax pots. Hair removal cream, hair bleach, shower power cream, spray on hair removal solution and hair removal mitts. The razors are twin blade, triple blade and even five blade. There are gels and creams. Serums are available to fight the look of facial hair regrowth and solutions to tackle pesky ingrowing hairs. The creams and razors are given names such as colour collection, tropical, spa breeze and a pink ‘miss’ collection obviously aimed at young girls. They promise you will be left ‘clean’ ‘smooth’ ‘silky’ and ‘lush’ if you use the products. There is a handy ‘on the go’ trimmer so you can remove fail hair anytime, anywhere. Phew!
Women have body hair. It is natural, but we have been conditioned to believe it is somehow dirty and makes us slovenly having let ourselves go. Talking to female friends, it is clear there is and has been since puberty, the expectation that we are smooth of skin. But there does seem to be a gentle shift towards feeling more relaxed and self-confident about body hair.
Figures from Mintel show that 83 per cent of women aged 16-24 believe there is too much pressure on women to remove or groom body hair. The gradual shift in attitude saw 85 per cent of 16-24 year old women remove leg hair in 2016 down from 91 per cent in 2014. But, like the vast range of hair removal products on sale shows, it is a lucrative market. Figures show, despite a 5 per cent fall in 2016, sales of shaving and hair removal products still raked in £567 million.
I no longer feel the need to remove body hair. And if anyone has an issue with that or finds it gross, then that is their problem. I find it is a quick and easy radar for those to avoid.
Women have body hair. That is not something to be ashamed of. That is normal.