Society has been clinging on to the social norm of shaving body hair for about 101 years. For women, removing body hair is socially preferred and there is a stigma attached to women who choose to opt out. Some argue that this stigma is not only misguided, but senseless because body hair has beneficial functions for the human body.
An advertisement in the May 1915 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, marks the starting point of negativity toward armpit hair on American women, though there are some known instances of hair removal dating even farther back. The advertisement features a woman with cleanly shaved underarms and reads: “Summer dress and modern dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair.”
The 1920s revolutionized fashion by swapping long-sleeved Victorian gowns for a more modern approach to femininity. Flappers popularized sleeveless shirts and shorter skirts, and the previously “indecent” exposure of underarms and legs.
In a sense, the female body had been freed from more traditional, modest dresses. But this freedom challenged social norms and increased scrutiny on women’s bodies. Women began removing body hair and practicing other beauty norms that have persisted into the modern day including dieting, applying makeup and wearing bras.
Jennifer Valdez, 21, an FRCC student, is one of the many women involved in the revolutionary movement to put down the razor. Refusing to shave body hair has become a trend. Many women dye their armpit hair different colors, and some even add glitter.
“I don’t think it should be seen as a fashion trend; it should just be seen as a normal thing. Just like it is with men,” Valdez said.
Biology, Anatomy & Physiology, and Pathophysiology instructor, Anne Riedl, PhD., shares Valdez’s opinion about women and body hair.
“I think it’s silly. There are many cultures like in Europe who don’t really put emphasis on shaving. The advertising and modeling industry has an unrealistic ideal of female beauty that a lot of people subscribe to,” Riedl said.
There are scientific reasons that support the necessity of body hair. Early humans used to be covered with much more hair than humans do now. In fact, current humans are the only primates in existence that are not covered with hair.
Despite the purposeful removal of body hair, it is a trait that natural selection will unlikely phase out. According to Riedl, “Our species is currently not too susceptible to natural selection in that regard. There’s no selective pressure right now that would call for the disappearance of body hair altogether. It doesn’t really seem to matter much either way in our society. If we were in the wild, it would be a different story.”
The human body has a multitude of different uses for what little body hair it grows. Thermoregulation, for example, is the process by which a living body maintains and regulates its core temperature. Tiny muscles in the skin pull the hairs on the skin’s surface upright to trap warm air to reduce heat loss, as when lying down, they increase the loss of heat.
The primary physiological purpose of the armpit hair is to aid ventilation by naturally pushing moisture away from the skin. It is also believed to give individuals more distinctive scents.
From an evolutionary and physiological standpoint, body hair has a purpose. My opinion is: it is a woman’s choice to either shave or not shave. If a woman chooses to shave, she should do so for herself as opposed to shaving based on societal pressure. Similarly, society should stop demoting women who chose to let their body hair grow.
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Written by Joshua Speer