Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Depilation Dilemma

Here's some news that will raise a few carefully shaped eyebrows:  books and articles on depilation are back! I read a review in
the TLS of a book called Hairless:  Breaking the vicious circle of hair removal, submission and self-hatred, by Bel Olid, and - here's what made me laugh! - translated by Laura McGloughlin.



Do we need a book in translation from the Catalan on the sexism of depilation?  It's not as though American and British women have not already read and written countless treatises on this subject in Ms., The Guardian, The New York Times, sociology books, and feminist anthologies. 

The New Yorker recently published a humor piece on the subject, "Find a Hair-Removal Technique That’s Right for You." I appreciate the irony of the following method:

Not Caring

Free and painless. Though be warned: your hairy legs might lead people to believe that you’re making some kind of statement against the patriarchy (and it’s, like, who needs the hassle, right?). Stay bald, friends!


 In 2017, The Atlantic published an excellent essay, "The Casualties of Women's War on Body Hair," by Nadine Ajaka.  She writes,

The regular removal of body hair is ubiquitous: More than 99 percent of American women voluntarily get rid of their hair. It’s also expensive. The American woman who shaves will spend more than $10,000 over the course of her life, and the woman who waxes will shell out more than $23,000. These habits cut across race, ethnicity, and region. They are also relatively recent.


I enjoyed a recent essay in The Guardian by Dhruti Shah, a young woman who spent thousands of pounds trying to control the excessive hair on her legs. Nothing worked.


Shaving became a daily ritual, as did the cuts and blood and bits of tissue paper that came along with it. The excess growth meant seeking out small Indian beauty shops in west London to find the least painful but most affordable threaders and waxers. I must have spent thousands over the years, trying to be as smooth as women in magazine adverts. But that grooming didn’t make me attractive to the opposite sex or even make me feel at all comfortable. In fact, my arms started to become prone to scarring from ingrown hairs.

Finally she learned to accept herself during the pandemic and stopped shaving her legs.  The world didn't end.  She became comfortable with her body.

But back to the book, Hairless. Phoebe Braithwaite, the reviewer, makes it clear that this is a dialectic.

Olid’s argument is that depilation is a decisive, not a peripheral, issue. “By making out that it’s a banal decision we are robbing ourselves”, she writes of women’s potential power to affect these standards. Hair removal is made to seem an “unavoidable tax on womanhood” and its perception as ultimately a personal decision attempts to seal off the issue from the political webs into which it is woven.


Of course I agree, in theory.  I believe the body hair stigma for women is absurd and sexist  - but the issue of whether or not to shave or wax legs (and other parts of the body) is not high on my list of priorities.  I shaved my legs when I worked in an office.  I wore a lot of dresses back then. Now that I wear slacks it doesn't matter.


Many women- even those who are not feminists - are lax about shaving their legs. They shower and moisturize on a regular basis, but then do housework or collapse on the couch with a book.  They often wear light trousers till it gets very hot; they resignedly shave their  calves before wearing shorts on hot days; they might, before frolicking at the beach, shave thighs and underarms.  


Many TV sitcoms broach the subject of depilation.   In Season 3, Episode 14, of Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) gets a Brazilian wax  - so that her vulva is hairless - and she makes it clear that it actually hurt.  But, if I recall correctly, she didn't understand what a Brazilian wax was, and said Yes absent-mindedly when the technician at the spa asked if she wanted one. 

On Casual, another TV comedy, a middle-aged divorced woman, Valerie (Michaela Watkins), dates a much younger man who has apparently never seen a woman with pubic hair. It is Valerie's brother who explains the fashion of the hairless pudenda.  (The things we learn on sitcoms.) I don't remember whether Valerie decides to wax or not.  She probably does. It's TV. 

On Grace and Frankie, a sitcom about two aging women and their families, Frankie (Lily Tomlin) leans across the table and yanks out a long hair growing on the chin of Grace (Jane Fonda).  Grace is horrified.  She had told Frankie to let her know if she sees one.  Witch-like, Frankie cackles.  Frankie doesn't take life too seriously.  Does Frankie shave her legs?  I doubt it!

And so, yes, this will be another summer when I may or may not shave my legs.   It may depend on what sitcom I'm watching.

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