Body Hair: New Year New Rules

Believing that female body hair is abhorrent while male body hair is acceptable is sexist - plain and simple.
— Emer O'Toole, author Girls Will Be Girls and Badass Body-Hair Activist

Female body hair is surrounded by stigma and social conditioning. It's divisive. Your body, your choice, feminism can applaud. Yet, still this natural human process is a big deal. It has the power to make us question our own prejudices and just how far we have been conditioned ourselves. How do you even begin to go about changing the norm? Why is making a stand held up as spectacle? Should we feel guilty if we still want to carry on shaving? Absolutely not. But should we feel pressured to keep hair-free for the rest of our lives? No way. 

You can argue that the social construction of a hairless female allows us to create visual categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’ that then provide justification for an unequal gendered society.
— Emer O'Toole

Emer O'Toole is a pioneer for removing the stigma about shaving, stopping altogether herself and finding out what the reaction would be. She soon discovered that rebelling against the social norms surrounding body hair created quite a stir. Describing how the cogs of the media machine quickly got to work, Emer wrote an article for The Gender, then The Guardian and was then invited onto This Morning, spurring on huge media attention and both the fans and trolls that came along with this. She has gained incredibly valuable insight on the issue, and has certainly got a lot to say about it. Not only has she made a change for herself, but she has also created a conversation for many other women to tap into, fuelling a political agenda for feminism and equality. 


As she reveals in the Youtube clip below, the issue of body hair is deeply entrenched into social conditioning, and the ability to break down this conditioning has the power to change sexist attitudes, not just towards hair but on an overarching scale. Indeed, Emer believes that through fostering a choice towards body-hair, we will be making steps towards a more equal society. Yet, there's no denying that the issue of body hair can be very easily trivialised. There's no resolute standing point. And maybe there shouldn't be either. Some women may decide not to shave, statement or not, others may choose to shave and still feel just as empowered. It's about having the choice and not having to face up to scrutiny and stigma whichever choice you make. 

However, there still remains un-comfort around that matter of choice and just how far we have been socially conditioned. Even if we choose not to shave, there's a mindset of 'bravery' involved in going against the grain and not conforming to the previously ingrained beauty standards. How can we change the mindset of young girls at school who, despite any encouragement to resist from shaving, will still feel the pressure to conform and see hair-free bodies as the 'feminine' ideal? Is there not a way to subvert this pressure and celebrate puberty instead, despite its at first seemingly bizarre and unsettling changes to our bodies? Yes, easier said than done. 

Wouldn't it be great if we could remove the tensions between choice and conditioning. It's the New Year after all, so instead of there being pressure to fall into one side of the argument or the other, why not remove the rules surrounding body hair altogether. New Year, New Rules, with body hair a plenty, none at all, but fundamentally an open mindset. 

[Body hair] fractures the myth that we live in an equal society and it makes you confront your prejudice in this really visceral way.
— Emer O'Toole
WOW Bites ran over the course of the Women Of The World festival weekend - little talks with inspiring ideas and everything in between. In this Bite, Emer O'Toole talks about women, body hair and why she's stopped shaving. More information:

More recently, body hair has been under the spotlight in advertising, marketing and the world of models and fashion. Just the other day, Madonna posted a picture on her Instagram with her daughter Lourdes proudly showing off her underarm hair, revelling in the caption "We are ready for you 2018!". Take a look at the adidas Originals campaign, and Gigi Hadid in Love Magazine's famous advent calendar too. Did these media giants tap into controversy and the feminist movement to promote their products, using that backlash mood of society for their own profit and benefit? Yes maybe they did as Emer argues in her Guardian article. But as hugely recognised platforms, surely this is doing more good than harm? It's raising the issue to a huge demographic of people. They're facing up to the trolls and have the backing, big name and following to get away with it. Emer made a statement in her own way, they have too, and any steps towards fracturing the expected and the conditioned has got to be a good thing, no?

Words by Lottie Franklin