Facial grooming: Yet another ‘have-to-do’ for women

Woman shaving her face

Over the last couple of months a lot of attention has been given to women’s facial hair grooming. The beauty world endorses the new women’s shaving ‘treatment’ and there are now plenty of ‘How to shave your face’ videos on YouTube.

Although the trend has not yet hit it on the mainstream market, it is supported by women’s beauty advisers such as Cosmopolitan and Popsugar which compliment the benefits of shaving one’s face. The new shaving method claims to create a youthful look and prevent your skin from early ageing since shaving stimulates the skin like an exfoliation.

Discover a Lovelier You (Woman Alive, 1972)
Discover a Lovelier You (Woman Alive, 1972) – Image Credit: Katherine of Chicago (Flickr)

The hair removal industry seems to have found a new way to increase profits by pointing out yet another female flaw, and simultaneously introducing a solution. Puh! Aren’t we lucky?

It is not enough that women already feel the need to shave armpits, legs, pubic hair and whatnot to fit in to the hairless norm of femininity. Now we are starting with the face as well, adding another item to our list of how to attain flawlessness.

Feminist critics of normative femininity have long pointed to the ways in which women are socially required to expend time, energy, and money transforming their bodies to better fit the feminine ideal.

–  Toerien, Wilkinson and Choi (2005)

Women’s hair removal, however, is not a new trend. Accounts of the procedure have been documented in regions like Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome; Uganda; South America; and Turkey. For example, looking at female statues from ancient Egypt and Greece proves that some form of pubic hair removal was practiced. Female pubic hair was considered ‘uncivilised’; hence, the statues mirror the ideal pubes-free women in these cultures.

Vintage shaving ad for women
– Image Credit: HA! Designs – ArtbyHeather (Flickr)

The idea of hair removal amongst Western women did not really begin until the 20th century. With the introduction of the sleeveless and leg baring fashion, shaving of the underarm and legs became acceptable. In 1915, razor producer Gillette took the opportunity to market the first razor for women and implied that body hair was unacceptable and needed to be removed. The idea of body hair removal was then perceived as feminine and healthy.

This is a conception we still believe today – hair grooming is sanitary and makes us more attractive. It has become a significant part of the mass media’s idea and reproduction of ‘acceptable’ femininity.

1972 Beauty Ad, Lady Remington Electric Shaver
“Until recently a shaver strong enough to shave the hair off your legs probably was a little too savage for your underarms. And a shaver gentle enough to shave your underarms was just effective enough to tickle your legs. But now there’s the Lady Remington shaver.” Image Credit: Classic Film (Flickr)

So, there are cultural, social and historical conceptions influencing our choice of personal grooming, and it is important to realise how these relate to the issues of sexuality, body image and the power of the media.

 Some researchers have noted that even though women don’t acknowledge societal pressure to remove pubic hair, certain standards of female beauty are so prevalent in advertising and popular media that they are merely absorbed unquestioningly by many women.

– Sexualityandu.ca

Hair is not just hair. It has symbolic value. The growth (or lack of growth) of body hair has almost become a socio-political statement, whether it is the issue of beards, hairy armpits, female ‘whiskers’, hair covered legs or pubic hair. Though remember, what you choose to do with your hair is none of anyone’s business but yours.

"The more you shave, the more you have to shave. Zip-Wax discourages hair from growing back!"
Ad published in Cosmopolitan, July 1977 – Vol. 183, No. 1 – Image Credit: Classic Film (Flicks)

It is important to acknowledge that commercial factors work to reinforce false ideas about what defines femininity and masculinity. These messages are socially constructed and work to maintain gender normative values and norms, and unfortunately they are found and reproduced everywhere in today’s media.

This article does not aim to criticise or shame women who choose to remove their hair, because that is up to every woman herself. However, its aim is to criticise the continuous commercialised stigmatisation of women’s body hair. The female body is already being objectified on so many levels in our society and by introducing yet another ‘have-to-do’ in order to attain the ideal, sorry, the unattainable ideal of femininity, doesn’t help to empower women.

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