Why We Need to Stop Shaming Body Hair!

For centuries, societal expectations have compelled women to maintain smooth, hairless bodies. Our author Cleo King delves into the fundamentally problematic nature of this social norm.


As an eagerly awaited and long-overdue dance evening approaches, I can hardly wait to throw myself into my skin-tight yellow dress and proudly showcase my diligently growing hair. It’s been far too long since I’ve dressed up. Gatherings like this are always glamorous, and I am unbiased: my girlfriends have the most beautiful beards on this continent.

The elaborate styling of our beards demands a touch of sophistication. Personally, being blonde, my beard just doesn’t grow as thick, so I often add a bit of beard dye into my grooming routine to make my beard hair look fuller. Using combs the size of a pinky finger, we meticulously shape our hair to achieve an extra purr-fect look, depending on its length. My creation tends to be sparse; narrow and elegant at best.

Without a doubt, Magdalena boasts the most impressive beard style among us. Her beautiful, long, dark beard hair becomes a canvas for creativity. She expertly braids it into endless pigtails or lets it grow upwards with gel, resembling a proud, headstrong rose. To complement the beard style, she paints her eyebrows in the most exquisite colours, adding even more flair to her artwork.

What I appreciate most about my yellow dress is its perfect complement to my finely coiffed and shimmering golden leg hair. Rarely have we been able to celebrate our bodies as uninhibitedly as we do now.

For centuries, women have been expected to present their bodies as hairless as possible. Various methods, ranging from cut stones, tweezers, and razors to wax strips, epilators, and lasers, are used to achieve the smooth appearance of a naked cat. As important as maintaining a full head of hair on the head, it is equally important to be silky smooth on the body. I didn’t understand how fundamentally problematic this social habit is until I researched and studied the history of body hair.

Blonde & White

If you ask the internet about body hair, the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians are often cited as historical examples with an interest in eliminating body hair for reasons ranging from hygiene to class-specific standards. Hygiene is frequently presented as the decisive argument, though the historical idealisation of hairlessness is inherently tied to whiteness. The Western image of an ideal woman, characterised by whiteness, blondeness, and hairlessness, has persisted from the era of the Roman Empire to the present day.

In Qajar Iran (1785-1925), beauty standards were notably gender-insensitive. Similar concepts of beauty applied to men and women in terms of body and facial hair. “At this time, the moustache was a distinctly prized sign of female beauty.”

Counter-Gendered Beauty

It was only through the cultural denunciation by Europeans* that Iran began to move into a binary gender system, adopting the binary beauty ideals of the Western world. Early on, Europe and North America excelled at feminising beauty. Originally un-gendered symbols, such as angels, were transformed into feminised figures. This contributed, among other things, to the establishment of heteronormative norms in love and sex. “The male beloved [once adored], now feminised, became subject to ridicule.” Throughout the centuries, elaborate practices for eliminating every hair on the body or head became the norm.

The Problem of Classification

Lack of body hair has historically been a sign of “civility.” Many scientists misinterpreted Darwin’s theory of evolution, using it to assert that race formed an evolutionary continuum. According to this racist categorisation, so-called “savages” were considered closer to animals, while white “civilised” people were deemed the most evolved. Consequently, body hair became linked to characteristics of animality and degeneration.

In the 20th century, with the increasing participation of women in the workforce, the male-dominated world strategically sought to regulate female appearance to maintain control over women and emphasise the contrast between men and women. “Jewish, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants, in particular, were targeted by advertisements for x-ray epilation because body hair removal would enable them to integrate into Anglo-dominant whiteness.” (Alok Vaid-Menon)

Even today, body hair remains banned in mainstream magazines much like nipples are on Instagram. While monobrows, moustaches, and sideburns are increasingly celebrated, especially in the queer community and on Instagram, there is still much progress to be made. When artist and model Arvida Byström displayed leg hair in an Adidas ad in 2017, she faced months of rape threats. In movies, commercials, and pornography, we’ve been consistently presented with nothing but naked, smooth bodies for the past few decades.

While a bit of armpit hair is now more accepted, leg hair is still often deemed repulsive. Although pubic hair has been allowed to return to a more natural state, it’s mostly accepted on the mons veneris, while the labia are expected to remain silky smooth, and no bushy hair is allowed to spill out of bikini panties on the right, left, or top. And what about back or chest hair?

Slowly but surely, especially in porn aesthetics, there’s a shift towards normalising body hair. Maybe we can come back to the understanding that body hair is genderless and doesn’t equate us to animals or remove our femininity.

In conclusion, I must admit that I’m not entirely immune to the allure of our hairless cat ideal. I find myself more beautiful with shaved legs, for example. Nonetheless, I hope that both I and society can gradually break free from the racist, sexist, and elitist notions surrounding body hair. To start, I highly recommend exploring the Instagram accounts of Alok Vaid-Menon and Queen Esther.


Herzig, Rebecca M. (2015). Plucked: A History of Hair Removal. NYU Press.

Najmabadi, Afsaneh (2005). Women with Moustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity. University of California Press.


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