Have you ever looked at hair and wondered, “Why do I shave this?”.
For women, shaving isn’t just about “being clean” but keeping up with the gendered expectation that females should shave their legs and underarms. Society says that women should practically be hairless everywhere except their head, because if you don’t follow the rules expect negative judgements. What I’m getting at here is the lack of cultural acceptance of hair; but more specifically, the lack of acceptance towards women embracing their hair.
I am a 21-year-old woman studying Communication here at JMU and identify as a part of the Greek life offered at this university. Admittedly, I have always been a “tomboy” that loves fashion but when I got to JMU I wanted to experience something different. As @callingoutthebullshit mentioned in their post, JMU Greek life offers a more “inclusive culture” and even throws Panhellenic events promoting mental and physical positivity such as Be Beautiful week. I bring this up because in the four years I have spent here I have experienced both body positivity and body shaming through Greek life and the general JMU community. These years have taught me a lot about embracing who I am but I find it funny that, of all things, hair seems to be an overarching problem women face at all points in their lives. But, why?
Like many things, it all starts with puberty…
“The whole reason behind shaving is to make a girl feel good about herself”, states Jennifer O’Donnell in the article “Essential Shaving Tips for Tween Girls” . That sentence in itself sums up what every girl is meant to feel when taught to shave their legs when puberty starts. The true reason why girls are taught to shave is due to the social standard that women are not viewed as attractive nor feminine if they do not shave their legs. The same standard of femininity also goes for women choosing a hair style shorter than their ears, thus dubbed too masculine or “butch” for a woman to rock. If it was not evident enough, heteronormativity is the unifying theme here and I do not support such outdated and exclusive “rules” that cater towards male preferences when teaching adolescent girls about their bodies.
As much as women and men profess that they “don’t care about body hair”, I beg to differ with that answer. My male friends say they do not care, yet love to add, “I just don’t find that attractive!”. Well, this very common attitude towards hair and it not being attractive on women goes back to how kids are socialized and taught to act. Girls are taught to cook, clean, play “house”, babysit, and of course, act lady-like. Boys are taught to play rough and dirty, because after all, boys are just being boys.The idea of a gender binary is the root of many social issues, including the lack of cultural acceptance of hair. Gender roles, expectations, and beauty standards all arise from identifying as a male or female, as well as being socialized with these identities. The fact of the matter is, ITS ALMOST 2020 and our society still cannot accept all variations of people, whether race, sexual orientation, gender expression, stylistic choices like hair, etc.
This past weekend was my last recruitment and I ended up forgetting to shave my legs (quite frankly I do not even shave them for my partner). I instantlyrealized that I somehow felt and looked out of place but did not know why. Could it be my hair? It sure was! I had not felt that type of critical gaze on my person since I chopped my hair off when I was 13! After I realized I was being criticized for my leg hair, I reflected back on my 13 year old self with a pixie cut (aka, shorter than my ears)…
“You look like a dike!” was the first thing that came out of my older sister’s mouth when she saw my hair cut at 13 years old. To say that was difficult time in my life (all because I broke a gendered expectation)is not doing it justice, however I feel it is important to share my narrative and how we unknowingly perpetuate these gendered stereotypes every time we critic someone’s choice of hair. So before you assume someone’s sexual orientation based on a hair cut, or find someone “dirty” because they do not shave their legs or armpits, I urge you to reflect on how you may unconsciously be following the social construct of performing your gender.
So why should I care if I have hair? Well, ask yourself that question and see if your answer is not because of how you were taught to view body hair and gender.