Hairy Legs

// 21 February 2010


I had some surgery on my leg last week, and when everything was being prepared around me, the surgeon shaved the patch of my leg that he was going to be working on.

My main concern at the time was that he hadn’t wet the razor, so he was taking off several layers of skin as well as the hairs he was aiming at. It was only when the other people in the room started telling me to not be embarrassed that I hadn’t shaved my legs, that it didn’t matter, that I’d had enough to worry about in advance without worrying about having clean-shaven legs too, that it even crossed my mind that people were expecting me to be ashamed of the hairs.

I don’t shave my legs. I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I must have done it in the last 5 years or so. I forget that I don’t do it, like I don’t think about other things I don’t do. So I didn’t feel ashamed, yet people’s expectations were that of course I would feel ashamed, and that they would need to reassure me.

Those people were all very lovely, and very supportive throughout the experience, and were reassuring me about so many things, that I didn’t think too much about it. They were, frankly, saying anything that they could say to calm me down, and I’m sure that there weren’t judgements within what they said. But their expectations were that I would be embarrassed, and I’m not.

They got those expectations by living in this society that we live in, which does make women feel embarrassed by the things our bodies naturally do. It is a strange situation we’re in, where women don’t have to explain why they do shave, but not shaving does so often seem to require explanation. I don’t think women should feel obliged to justify either, frankly.

The people in that room didn’t care, but they were concerned that I thought they would think badly of me. And if the Daily Fail is to be believed, women with furry legs in public is both newsworthy and horrifying.

Clearly, I dispute that! Not only will I not shave, I will also not apologise for it.

Comments From You

Elmo // Posted 21 February 2010 at 1:31 pm

Also in the news: plus-sized models back on catwalks wih “healthy curves” hoorah! My curves are healthy! But wait, my top half isnt very curvy, just my arse-does that mean only my lower torso is healthy?

I didnt even realise we wernt “meant” to shave our thighs-but apparently celine dion should-the whole thing is maaaaaaaad

Laurel Dearing // Posted 21 February 2010 at 1:53 pm

i can imagine some young girls being glad to hear not to worry about it, however, i think id rather actually hear that in advance of taking off my trousers or whatever. you know, to know doctors arent gonna judge you and its not what theyre there for, but to hear it after kinda has the opposite meaning. it says “ive noticed you havent shaved and taken it into account, you must feel ashamed of them, but thats okay” they HAVE judged you, what you do, what you should do, and how youll feel lol

Anne Onne // Posted 21 February 2010 at 6:20 pm

Elmo: You’re only ‘not meant’ to shave your thighs if you have naturally occurring fair, fine body hair or rather less body hair than usual. If you’re a WOC, on the Mediterranean side or just happen to be a bit on the hairy side for someone with pale skin, well, get rid of those ugly hairs on your thighs and arms! Not to mention monobrows or moustaches! Not shaving certain parts of the body is the privilege of those who don’t have that much hair anyway. It’s rather depressing that the reason we’re not supposed to shave them is because we’re naturally supposed to be fragrant, downy things and not have any hair to shave there.

It’s a bit of a privilege to be able to ‘pass’ for hairless if you shave just your shins. For plenty of women around the world, unless one shaves a good portion of their body, one will be very noticeably hairier than the Anglo-Celtic ideal. So a lot of women you know probably do shave these areas you’re ‘not supposed to’ and you never know, because it’s supposed to be a bit of a secret that they have so much body hair, or something.

Ethnicity plays into this, since on average Northern European and East-Asian women tend to have less noticeable body hair than others, and that it’s therefore harder of women from other ethnicities to play into beauty expectations that are even more unnatural for them. But it’s also complicated since amongst women of colour, even those of a particular ethnicity, there is lots of variation.

I’m in the depressing mindset of ‘well at least they reassured you’, having heard of how often people shame women for not having done so, to their face or behind their back. But it’s sad that anyone should need to reassure someone of this, since it shouldn’t matter. I wish we mammals wouldn’t need to apologise for having hair just like all the other mammals.

Renee // Posted 21 February 2010 at 6:44 pm

I wanted to write and say thank you for this post. I have not shaved my legs or armpits for years. I think the idea that we have to constantly transform our bodies to be acceptable is ridiculous. I also think the fact that people think that this supposed failure to shave is a political act. I simply like my body the way it is.

Elmo // Posted 21 February 2010 at 6:58 pm

Fair point Anne, I was only really thinking about fair skinned white people like myself when I made that comment.

I’ll tell a pretty

mad/depressing story in this area.

Ive got a friend from Ghana who actually has very very fine hair-you need a magnfying (eurgh, sp) glass to see her leg hair, and its even less noticable because she has dark skin. Anyway, she never used to shave, because it wouldnt have made much difference, but she told me a while ago that she’s actually started shaving it-even though you cant see it anyway-because everyone else does and she feels bad for not doing it!!! Its crazy that weve got to the stage when people who dont even “need” to shave are shaving.

dizzy_sparkle // Posted 21 February 2010 at 7:27 pm

I think it’s also worth mentioning that for some women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, having darker hair is part of the condition, as well as hair growth in more ‘manly’ places, due to an excess of testosterone.

I have PCOS, and find it hard to relax about the darker hair – not a problem I had before the condition started to show itself. One of my previous boyfriends even told me once I had ‘man hair’ because of a slight trail going up to the belly button. (He wasn’t a boyfriend for much longer!)

The pressure to conform can often appear invisible until you cross a boundary you didn’t even know existed!

Philippa Willitts // Posted 21 February 2010 at 7:29 pm

dizzy_sparkle, I also have PCOS and I do know exactly what you mean. It affects me more with acne and weight gain than excess hair, though I’m not exactly symptom-free with that either.

Glad you got rid of that boyfriend!!

The pressure to conform can often appear invisible until you cross a boundary you didn’t even know existed!

So, so true!!

Jehenna // Posted 22 February 2010 at 3:19 am

If only I could just shave my shins. But I have PCOS too. So I have the best part of a soft beard which runs down my entire throat. Plus hair on my chest. And stomach. And all down my thighs. Top lip. And apparantly I have ‘male pattern baldness’ to look forward to as well!

I’m lucky in that I’m anglo and very pale, and so far my throat hair is nice and blonde except the bits I’ve had to pluck because they came out too dark.

I’ve coped with most of the hair growth by simply refusing to show any part of my body that has hair on it – with the exception of my face and neck – because I’m not sure I’d get away with a burqa. 40 degree Celsius summer and I’m wearing long pants everywhere and I don’t go swimming.

I’m getting married this year. I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to get up the confidence to actually get into bed with my husband. Unless I do it fully clothed.

Is it any wonder that so many of us loathe our bodies, when what we’re held up to be is so astronomically far from what we actually are?

And that’s with white privilege. I really feel for WoC.

Side question to those with PCOS – have you also been told that if you just lost weight your PCOS would magically disappear and you’d be ‘normal’ ?

Rachel // Posted 22 February 2010 at 7:56 am

“The pressure to conform can often appear invisible until you cross a boundary you didn’t even know existed!”

So true – when I was about 13/14 I wasn’t even aware that women were supposed to shave their legs, or even that my legs were especially hairy. Then a couple of girls in my PE class helpfully pointed out that I looked like a man and wouldn’t be in the same team as me because of it. So from that day on I obsessively shaved my legs out of a mixture of bewilderment and wanting to fit in.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 22 February 2010 at 9:13 am


I’ve been told that losing weight will cure it, and know many other women with PCOS who have been told the same thing. It’s ridiculous, considering that it’s the very same PCOS that makes us gain weight in the first place!

aimee // Posted 22 February 2010 at 10:58 am

I have a little bit of fur on my throat aswell, and i’ve always thought it was quite fun. I like to show it to people… I think we need to embrace different people and their different bodies and not change them to make them all the same.

Laura // Posted 22 February 2010 at 11:33 am

Hear, hear! Stopping shaving was the best thing I’ve ever done for my self esteem and body confidence.

dizzy_sparkle // Posted 22 February 2010 at 11:45 am

Yes, bizarrely I have also been told to lose weight to get rid of the effects of my PCOS – which is insane, as I’m pretty thin and actually on the borderline of healthy BMI (though when I do put on weight its the classic PCOS distribution). I think this attitude depends a lot on the doctor you see – I had one tell me to lose weight, and the next got really angry with her for the suggestion.

I think PCOS is a particularly difficult syndrome to deal with from this perspective as a central part of it affects the accepted female body standards, and some basic female abilities, like fertility. I have suffered from PCOS related infertility for 2 years and the darker/’male pattern’ hair sometimes reinforces this feeling I have of being somehow less than female because I am finding it so hard to get pregnant…

Doubly ridiculous considering how common PCOS is!

The doctors as well are not exactly subtle about this in my experience. E.g. “We’re just going to look for some male traits now.”(!) How do they think that makes you feel when they say they’ve found some?! They could make the whole condition easier to deal with if they explained about the balance of estrogen and testosterone that every person has, and their own specific sensitivity to it. I have always had darkish body hair, but until the doctors labelled it as a problem I coped emotionally with it a lot better… (unlike my mother, who told me to shave my upper lip when I was 12!!!).

Anon // Posted 22 February 2010 at 11:51 am

Anne Owen, thank you so much for your post. I always feel alienated when people talk about how great it is not to shave their armpits or legs (read shins) and I know or can see that their hairiness isn’t on a par with mine. Frankly I just don’t have the energy to rage against the idea that women should be totally smooth AND reveal that women can have thick dark hair all over.

I don’t remove the hair at the base of my back, which is as “hairy” as many proudly hairy women’s legs. I damn well do remove my bikini line (and then some) because no amount of consciousness-raising is going to allow me to make peace with the industrial matting that extends down my thighs.

It’s an especial gripe for me as I think many people now realise that women with Mediterranean/Asian are hairier. Now, I have Mediterranean heritage and all the women on that side of my family are super hairy, but because I am very pale skinned no one would ever realise that my genes are my “excuse” for being hairier than others.

dizzy_sparkle // Posted 22 February 2010 at 11:52 am

I’ve thought of a more direct way of saying what I’ve just posted:

How does everyone out there with PCOS (or a condition creating similar symptoms) reconcile the fact our natural body hair/weight/etc has also been labelled as unnatural and diseased?

childerowland // Posted 22 February 2010 at 12:00 pm

I have PCOS and the hirsuitism that often comes with it and I am thin, so I don’t think losing weight would necessarily reduce the hairiness.

I’m very pale but unfortunately my hair is very dark!

Rachel, PE classes were when I realised I was hairy, too. Good times…

TL // Posted 22 February 2010 at 12:41 pm

Aimee, that’s brilliant! I used to have one, but now it’s two or three, rebel chin hairs and I think they’re funny didn’t occur to me til really recently that I’d stopped just laughing at them with my friends but was now pointing them out to vague acquaintances and inviting them to have a feel!

The come-on-everyone-join-in-having-a-feel bit doesn’t apply to all my body hair but embracing it and enjoying it does. Like (most? all?) other women I have hairy legs, thighs, that ‘garden path’ tummy hair, hair around my nipples. It’s fine and I keep it all – we are mammals after all.

One of the most important things I ever did growing up involved body hair too. I used to shave my pubic hair, from the age of about thirteen, when I first realised men were seeing me sexually, because I thought that’s what you did. I stopped doing that when I was about seventeen or eighteen because I suddenly realised why I’d started doing it and why those reasons were so wrong to me now – I’d seen it done in mainstream porn which is a vile abuse of women in my opinion, it makes you look like a child, it makes you look like not a real woman. Reclaiming my own genitals (and with it my sexuality) by stopping shaving was so very affirming and important. It was also important because that’s before I labelled myself feminist, it was just another thing on a long list of stuff I was starting to do that didn’t need a label, it just felt right to me as a woman. To me that really confirms the relevance of feminism – feminism is the name you realise is appropriate *after* already doing the things you know to be right for you as a woman, it’s not something dictating how you live your life or giving you boundaries about how to behave, which is how I’ve realised a lot of people see it (‘oooh as a feminist you can’t wear make up; you can’t like this if you’re a feminist; but you’re a feminist, why are you laughing at that ridiculous Lynx advert!?’). As a feminist you can actually be free to be whoever you want, hair and all, and I blooming love it!

Anne Onne // Posted 22 February 2010 at 1:41 pm

@ Anon: Yeah, I think a lot of people don’t realise ‘healthy’ women of all colours can get hair in a LOT of places (back, breasts, chest, tummy, thighs, arms, neck) that people don’t think is ‘natural’ for women. Apparently all the hairy women in the world don’t exist. They almost don’t, because so many women put in so much extra effort to look as hairless as the ‘naturally hairless’ ones that lots of people don’t seem to realise women come in all types of hairiness!

That’s not even going into PCOS which is a further more complicated and nuanced issue in how clinicians handle this with respect to the patient’s perception of their gender because of this. I can’t believe that you’ve had doctors and nurses who have been so insensitive in treating the commenters here. They should have known better. Having PCOS doesn’t make you ‘less of a woman’. Having different levels or balances of sex hormones doesn’t make you less of a woman. Being atypical with regards to your reproductive system doesn’t make you less of a woman.

@ TL, Aimee: That reminds me of the times I’ve had friends of various ethnicities complain about how hairy they are, only for me to whip out my legs somewhat proudly, a la Crocodile Dundee, saying something along the lines of ‘You call that hair? THIS is hair!’.

Alas, I don’t think I could do that with everyone. But I am fighting the rather contradictory messages, making peace with (and somewhat enjoying it) bit by bit…

Julie // Posted 22 February 2010 at 8:28 pm

I am middle aged, have always had really really long thick black hairs on my leg. Which I like! But it is astonishing how people feel ready and able to comment on them – men, women, children. Astonishingly rude. I’m sure people who remark on my legs don’t comment on other aspects of people’s appearance. There is something about the hairy woman that disrupts a very deep seated notion of womanhood.

Elmo // Posted 22 February 2010 at 8:58 pm

does anyone know when women started shaving their legs? I mean, did victorian/georgian/any woman with massive dresses shave their legs? What about women in newly colonised countries, did they take their leave from western ideas, or did they already shave their legs? would be interested to know. I bet cave women didnt-surely it would have taken forever! Maybe thats why the neandethals died out-too much shaving time, didnt notice the sabre toothed tigers…

Philippa Willitts // Posted 22 February 2010 at 9:05 pm

Elmo that’s a really interesting question! A quick google gives me this and this.

Elmo // Posted 22 February 2010 at 9:17 pm

Thanks Philippa! I suspected it might have been ww1 era, but its absolutly insane that weve had leg/armpit shaving for *less than 100 years* and yet its now regarded by society as something weve been doing since before time! As if people cant imagine a time before shaving! And yet within living memory (er, if you count my grandpa, who is 91) there was a time when removing said hair would have seemed a bit odd, when hair was the norm. Madness! Anyway, thanks for answering :)

Philippa Willitts // Posted 22 February 2010 at 9:24 pm

Ah it’s a pleasure, you got me intrigued! We know that ‘ideal’ weights have changed a lot over the years (particularly gone downwards!!), I hadn’t considered what body hair ‘rules’ there had been, and when.

I was talking to someone about Frida Kahlo and she said, ‘Oh, the one with a monobrow?’. As if the life and works of an incredible disabled feminist artist can be narrowed down to a few excess hairs between her brows!

Jessica901 // Posted 22 February 2010 at 9:31 pm

Around the ww1 era, that’s interesting.. coinciding with women taking on jobs and gradually gaining a recognised status in the work place. As if being the same as men in one dimension, meant we had to try and be ‘more’ female to compensate.

Of course this embodies everything that did happen as we gained more and more rights and education…. until we got to this point, where looking like pre-pubescent barbie dolls is a half-stated norm.

Jessica901 // Posted 22 February 2010 at 9:34 pm

Also, just to add the patriarchy hides when women did have hair.. it prefers to make everybody think we never had it there in the first place.

It’s not as if it’s banded around is it? That Victorian women were hairy. I guess gain some rights, you lose some. Maybe we have a lot to envy Victorian women for. Seems like women can only ever have the glass half full.

Elmo // Posted 22 February 2010 at 10:16 pm

Oh I love Frida Kahlo, she’s one of my idols! Everytime I show her pictures to my friends, they go “why is she so hairy, eww…” Arrrrgh! Is that ALL they can say about powerful vibrant works of art? Drives me nuts

aimee // Posted 22 February 2010 at 11:32 pm

Haha! I’m really happy that other people are not ashamed of their hair! I quite like showing people my armpit hair too, mostly because it only seems to grow in one armpit which is incredibly strange. Anyway… I think we should all start being proud of our hairness!

Miloronic // Posted 23 February 2010 at 12:10 am

I think hairy legs are brilliant!

Lucy // Posted 23 February 2010 at 11:25 am

I’m not sure about this “hair removal beginning in the C20” idea. If you look at art depicting nude women, hairlessness has been a pretty common thread for centuries.

Jessica Burton // Posted 23 February 2010 at 2:47 pm

Yay for hair! I haven’t shaved in years and I’ve made it a little bit of a mission for myself to show my hair in public so that “people” or “society” will eventually know that women have hair because they see it all the time – sorry kickboxing class, but it’s summer and I don’t shave!

Perhaps feminist networks around the country should have a summer-time “if you’ve got it, flaunt it!” campaign?!

I remember it was my mum who shamed me into shaving because she pointed out my armpit hair when I was about 12 and said “we better do something about *that*!”

Philippa Willitts // Posted 23 February 2010 at 3:31 pm

Jessica, I love your idea of a ‘If you’ve got it, flaunt it!’ body hair campaign! It’s one thing having hair, it’s another letting people know. I love it!

S // Posted 23 February 2010 at 5:29 pm

As far as I know, som ancient Roman women used to sugar their hair off so I’m not sure it’s an exactly new concept.

Without meaning to sound rude as everyone should do what they feel comfortable with, am I the only one who shaves because I prefer it?

Naturally, my hair grows very blonde and quite fine so nobody would really notice if I didn’t shave, but I seem to sweat more when my arms are harier (sp?) and I like the feel of my shaved shins.

I was just wondering if anyone else felt that that because it seems the majority don’t. *shrugs* Just curious really.

Elmo // Posted 23 February 2010 at 5:48 pm

I shave my shins for muay thai, (thai boxing) its the only day of the week i show any flesh. My hair is fine and blonde but there is lots of it, and I dont shave about the knee. I like the feeling, but i also like the feeling of hair too, so it just depends. The only thing I dont like is the prickly stage inbetween, which is why i keep shaving

Kath // Posted 23 February 2010 at 8:35 pm

True, art depicting nude women has never really depicted hair, because female body hair has always been taboo. But most women didn’t show their bodies in public, and so didn’t shave. It was only when it became commonplace to wear shorter skirts and sleeveless dresses that shaving was deemed ‘necesarry’. But men show more flesh these days too and aren’t told they should shave.

I’m talking about Western culture here cos that’s all I really know. I went out with a Turkish man who shaved his pits and pubes (but not chest) and said it was for cultural reasons. I’ve also heard that middle eastern women traditionally removed all body hair for their wedding but again I don’t know if that’s true and if it was just for the day or whether they continued once married. Does anybody know?

Kath // Posted 23 February 2010 at 8:58 pm

Hi S

The answer to your question is not as straightforward as you might think. I shaved my legs for many years and always maintained I did so because I preferred it that way. As a feminist I did know that I felt this way because of society’s expectations and our cultural construct of female sexiness being smooth-skinned. But I just couldn’t imagine liking my legs hairy. Smooth looked and felt great and was sexy. However I have recently discovered that all it takes to ‘unlearn’ this is perseverence. The more I leave my legs unshaven, the less I care about being smooth and sexy. I have started to like them as they are, sometimes I even think of them as sexy, especially when the hairs glint in the summer sun (I’m a redhead).

In the case of my armpits, I’ve always preferred them hairy and only shaved sometimes to conform. Now that I’m embracing my hairiness I seem to have reached the point where I don’t like the look of shaved pits on other women (not that it’s my business or I’d tell them – I’m just talking private, gut reaction). It looks like something’s missing, like with shaved pubes.

Basically what I’m getting at is that what we like or dislike is really heavily culturally influenced even though we might think it’s natural or innate. Often we like what we like and don’t try to change so never realise how fickle our preferences really are.

PS You didn’t sound rude and hope my reply doesn’t either :)

Kath // Posted 23 February 2010 at 9:07 pm

Oh, and in relation to the above, it’s interesting that I didn’t start to dislike my legs hairy until after I started shaving them, which was in response to being teased at school. Before that I didn’t care and conformed to what I knew from my mother, which was not shaving!

Tamasine // Posted 23 February 2010 at 9:32 pm

Kath, your second post is exactly where I was at. My mum tried to get me to not start shaving; her arguement was that it becomes a serious chore which is to be maintained…however, the reaction of people at school made me more keen to shave.

Now, I tend not to bother shaving, unless like others have mentioned i’m participating in a sports activity where it’s going to be really obvious eg. swimming. Whilst I don’t mind, I’m not sure that I want to face the reaction of people who do (I hope that makes sense!) Ironically, the one place that I could probably not be bothered by non-shaved legs is a yoga class, but i will shave if i’m wearing cropped joggers.

The one person who did suggest that hairyness was unattractive on me, also thought it was unattractive on him and he did shave…however, given that I don’t mind (and probably prefer) men who are hairy, just found it hilarious and spent more time questionning him on why he thought it was important than he did being able to suggest it was a problem!

I was frustrated by articles that were in the press prior to valentines day, suggesting that everyone should get waxed as it was the ‘right’ and ‘hygenic’ thing to do. Particularly as the ones that I read very much took the tone of ‘if you’re not doing this, then you should be’. However, the pictures of celebs who don’t shave are amazing, and I hope at some point I’ll have the courage to do the same.

Elmo // Posted 23 February 2010 at 9:39 pm

kath, im a redhead too-if only the hair problems stopped with the leg hair!

mornington // Posted 23 February 2010 at 11:05 pm

Kath – when I was living in Libya, I know my Libyan colleagues and students did wax everything off before their wedding night – everything except the eyebrows and lashes. It was also common among the Egyptian women living there, and all of them agreed it was fairly prevalent in north africa and the middle east. I’m not sure how long it had been around for though.

There, body hair seemed to represent a certain point in a woman’s life though – girls who plucked their eyebrows before they were of “marriageable” age were considered immodest, and shaving/waxing before marriage was rare.

fwiw, I shave, partly because I enjoy the sensation of smooth legs and partly because I find my leg tattoos look better when they’re not hairy. But I am aware that I was mocked at school for my body hair (I hit puberty early) and I was incredibly self-conscious about it, so I’m not sure how much of my taste for my shaved legs comes from said experience – if that makes sense.

Alice // Posted 24 February 2010 at 1:29 am

@Anon, it appears that I am in much the same boat as you when it comes to pubic hair. I’m also of Meditteranean heritage, and the place where this really comes out is, well, in the bikini-wax area.

I only shave my legs/armpits whenever the fancy strikes me, which isn’t very often in winter and slightly more frequently in summer. But I can’t adopt the same attitude towards my pubic hair – it just doesn’t appear to have a point where it stops growing. I’ve tried leaving it for extended periods of time, because I thought it had to reach some sort of maximum length sometime, but it just doesn’t appear to.

In a strange way, I envy women with less hair in that department, because I dearly wish that I could just leave it be – I find it more aesthetically pleasing – but for me that really isn’t an option.

Anne Onne // Posted 24 February 2010 at 1:27 pm

About liking shaving: It’s a complex one.

On the one hand, it is perfectly possible to like the feeling of having shaved, or how a shaved leg looks. Personally, I neither prefer my legs shaved nor unshaved, I kind of oscillate between the two, when I get bored of one I try the other. It’s perfectly possible to like feeling shaved.

But, the society we live in really, really, really works hard to tell us that shaving is the way for us. All those adverts telling us how goddess-like and lovely we would be if we shaved, how lovely shaved legs feel, and how much men like shaved legs. All the times someone has looked at our unshaved legs and made nasty comments. Even the times potential partners have made comments for some women. There are many ways in which our decision is influenced by society so that it’s not 100% a ‘free’ decision. Most of us don’t feel the same going out in shorts with shaved or unshaved legs.

To be honest, not shaving seems to make sense more to people when they’re not shown, e.g. in the winter when it’s cold and one might prefer warm trousers. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I’d get the same ‘LOL they must keep you warm!’ reaction when the weather’s fine and one chooses to ‘flaunt’ them.

@ Tamasine: that makes perfect sense. The sense of entitlement to judge your perfectly natural body that people feel is rather hard to deal with sometimes, particularly if it reminds one of PE lessons back when we were young…

And UGH on the ‘OMG, not shaving is so, like, unhygeinic!’ brigade. Sure, people managed to go millions of years without all this obsession with ‘hygeine’ but we really need it! Wait til they realise there are millions and millions of bacteria etc all over their skin, no matter what they try to do with it. Come to think of it, shaving can nick the skin so is probably more likely to put you at risk of an infection, not less… hmmmm

I’m sick of having all natural body functions (sweat, hair, the vulva itself) being labelled as ‘unhygeinic’. As if we want to be completely sterile and vacuum packed away! I suspect it’s the work of toiletry marketing over the years. Your body is wrong and unnatural! Make it better with our product! Madness.

Unless you’re smearing faeces over yourself, you’re perfectly hygienic. Washing now and again is all that’s needed.

Carrie // Posted 24 February 2010 at 8:34 pm

I stopped shaving my underarms a while ago, and my legs too. However I know what everyone else thinks about it so I can’t show them in public. If I want to, I shave them (and I have only shown my boyfriend my hairy armpits- I shave legs when with him).

I annoy myself with this. Because I don’t mind the hair, but I know if I got one comment about it being ugly from someone I would be upset. So I shave it. And I reaaaally hate shaving.

But on the other side of being annoyed and upset about it, I sometimes find the whole thing quite funny. It’s like some huge big conspiracy where:

– all women have body hair

– all women KNOW other women have body hair (as do men to some extent)

– but we must NOT under any circumstances show anyone that we have bodyhair. Despite the fact everyone knows it’s there and what it looks like.

I would think this was crazy, if it weren’t how things are.

Kath // Posted 24 February 2010 at 9:24 pm

About the hygiene thing, I do trim my pubes to stop them getting matted and sticky during the day, but I’d call it comfort rather than hygiene. As Anne Onne said, it would only be unhygienic if I didn’t wash. (sorry if that’s too graphic but where else can you talk about things like this :)

Ro // Posted 24 February 2010 at 10:29 pm

I never really participated in the whole shaving thing as a youngster – I suffered from horrific eczema and shaving my legs would have been downright dangerous (might as well have just taken a knife to my skin and slashed myself). Hair really was the least of my worries.

Anyway my best friend at the time couldn’t understand this and tried to get me to shave/remove the hair from my legs. I remember her trying to make me use some sugaring stuff from the body shop – it was amazing how she couldn’t comprehend that I didn’t need to do it and that I didn’t want to. She was literally completely brainwashed at the age of 16 (I pitied her). I was also a bit annoyed with her because surely she must have realised after 8 years of friendship that I almost NEVER exposed my legs due to my skin condition… maybe she thought it was because they were hairy.

Elmo // Posted 24 February 2010 at 10:49 pm

maybe, MAYBE, 50 years from now, bodyhair on women ( a great taboo of our time) will finally be acceptable- and people will go “I cant believe in 2010 people used to think body hair was gross-what prudes!”

Tanith // Posted 25 February 2010 at 7:04 am

I haven’t shaved for about two months now. I actually feel that I have better self esteem now that I’m not obsessing about how hairy I am. I have very dark body hair, so when I was shaving my legs and armpits I would be in the shower for half an hour reeling and upsetting myself about how I couldn’t get silky smooth and how disgusting I was. Not obsessing over it and concentrating on other aspects of my image (been making a goth tribal shaman costume for my next gig weee!) Which I see as art rather than for being attractive, my self esteem has shot through the roof. Really interesting, methinks!

Lilly // Posted 25 February 2010 at 4:06 pm

Carrie –

“However I know what everyone else thinks about it so I can’t show them in public. If I want to, I shave them (and I have only shown my boyfriend my hairy armpits- I shave legs when with him).

I annoy myself with this. Because I don’t mind the hair, but I know if I got one comment about it being ugly from someone I would be upset. So I shave it. And I reaaaally hate shaving.”

This is exactly my experience as well. I don’t mind the hair, but I just don’t have the self-confidence to let anyone see it. (I do shave my armpit hair though nobody sees it; not because it’s ‘unhygienic’, but because for some reason I tend to be Stinky McStinkers when it’s full-grown.)

I also love your description of the ‘conspiracy’. Spot on!

What’s even more bizarre is that the more you wax/shave, the more obsessive you become about body hair. Or at least I do. I remember being terribly, howlingly frustrated about a few hairs on the insides of my thighs that wouldn’t come off with wax, so I resorted to plucking them out, one by one. It was bizarre and I knew it was bizarre, but I was more self-conscious about those few stray hairs than I’d been about my legs being all furry.

I’ve also made the uncomfortable realisation about myself that when my legs are totally hairless, I move on to feeling self-conscious over something else about them – I don’t think I’ve ever been comfortable with my bare legs, and when I wear shorts or skirts in the summer, I always wear knee-highs or overknee stockings. Rash, red spots (FROM waxing, as it happens), scratches, discoloration? If it’s not silky smooth and uniform in colour, it’s ba-aaa-aaad. With bated breath I’m waiting for leg make-up to hit the shelves. (

Rianh // Posted 26 February 2010 at 12:25 pm

I hate that not shaving your armpits or legs makes people assume you are ‘butch’ or ‘masculine’. I’m neither, but I’ve never felt ‘feminine’ either, not even while pregnant. I feel like an imposter as far as being a ‘woman’ is concerned as I have never conformed to any ideal, and own no makeup, high heels or dresses. oh, the other lovely thing to be called for not shaving pits or legs here is ‘feral’. I hate labels. I’m just me, and i like my fuzzy legs.

Jack O'James // Posted 26 March 2010 at 12:53 pm

Some short time after my wife and I first met, she mentioned the chore of having to shave for men in her life before. Until that point, I never thought to tell her to stop shaving. To this day, she’s never removed a single hair. The only people I see raising eyebrows or even making a comment to her are females. One who was old enough to be her mother (so that makes her well into senior-hood) was verging on the side of vitriolic.

Our society’s still got a lot to learn about living together. The sooner we can stop expecting or requiring other people to fit whatever mold we have for them, the better.

Laura // Posted 13 October 2010 at 9:09 am

So good to talk openly and positively about hairiness! Usually I’m sitting with blond feminists who really have no idea what body hair on a woman can be. I am dark haired, pale skinned and pretty damn fluffy, without any obvious ethnic excuse for it. I’ve spent years scrutinizing other women’s skin for the hair patterns I have, so that I could feel more like a woman and less like a man. I would find women with moustaches and tummy trails and pubes down to their toes (which I don’t have) but no one with the amount of hair on the lower back and arms as me. Years of fun.

In the past I have thought there are more important issues for women than body hair, shave it off and carry on. But actually, if we can’t accept our natural bodies how can we truly accept ourselves? Wearing makeup, dressing up, making your skin hairless and smooth-all could be nice things to do, but when we depend on doing them to accept ourselves, I think we’re in trouble.

15 years after feeling like the hairiest girl in the room, there are only a couple of patches of hair that insecurity stops me showing. But I want to flaunt all my fur! I feel like if just one hairy teenage girl sees me and feels better about herself, then it will have been worth it. But I cannot muster that amount of nobleness, because shame is still on the throne. I want to be beautiful and all I’ve got to do is spend a few minutes with a razor.

So I’m thinking stories and photographs may be the way to help women realise they are perfectly normal, attractive and no less of a woman for a bit of body hair. The smooth skinned feminine ideal may remain, but I think we can pull each other out of our private hells. Keeping our hair secret from each other is a crime, though we don’t need to feel ashamed of committing it.

W // Posted 31 December 2010 at 5:14 am

yay, so glad to know I’m not alone in not shaving my legs, armpits, genital area anymore. I think I’ll stop plucking around my nipples now lol. It does hurt a bit. But I will still pluck the few chin/throat hairs and won’t go out in public showing off my legs or armpits. I don’t want people to stare or whisper, or even ask me about it, I’m too self conscious for that. I’ve never shaved my arms though, I don’t think they’re too bad, not like my legs. I think we should get together and help it become accepted for women to NOT shave.

About PCOS, because it’s a testosterone imbalance, there are more serious risks involved for women than just unwanted hair growth, weight gain and acne, increased risk of heart attack is one I know of. Anyone who has PCOS should find natural (there are natural, nutritional, etc) ways to help your body become balanced.

Thanks for the forum/site :)

Katharine // Posted 1 January 2011 at 1:00 am

What an interesting thread! I starting thinking about female body hair removal about 5 years ago now. My position at the moment is that people (of any sex/gender) should remove it if they want to, and leave it be if they want to – wherever it is. Obviously, this will mean different things to different people. It will be harder for many women to leave body hair than to remove it because of the sexist social pressures around the issue. For this reason, any campaign that shows that there ARE perfectly legitimate alternatives to the ‘bald from the lower eyelashes down’ look, are a fabulous idea. Dead keen for a photo campaign or a ‘flaunt it’ day!

For me, doing what I want with my body hair means shaving my armpits often enough to keep the hair quite short, as I feel fresher this way, trimming my pubic hair for pretty much the same reason, and leaving my leg hair to grow. I am very comfortable letting my hairy legs and far-from-smooth armpits be seen – with one exception. Usually I dress in a slightly alternative or ‘hippy’ style, but whenever I ‘dress up’, eg for a formal event like a wedding, in what I would describe as very stereotypically feminine clothing, I start to feel uncomfortable about showing leg hair. When I first realized this, it really puzzled me, but now I think I understand. I don’t exactly think it looks ugly, I just feel that it’s out of place somehow. I think this is because everything else about me is ‘conforming’ to a template of acceptable female appearance, eg wearing a dress and high heels, and the legs are the only deviation. I don’t worry about this – I just get them waxed for such occasions (usually about once a year!). I’m happier that way, and for me, that’s what it’s all about: choosing what makes you happy, not doing something because you feel obliged.

Kate. // Posted 25 April 2011 at 10:50 pm

I’m 14, and comsider myself a mature, independent woman. Basically, I’m an outsider. I don’t follow the crowd.

But I think the issue of ‘bodily hair’ is something that all teenage girls dread.

I was an ‘early bloomer’, and started shaving when I was about 10 years old. My mum -bless her – discourged me, saying there was no need. But I hated the hairs on my legs so much. I’d watched enough films to know that hair was unattractive. And still, now I have my legs every other day. The pressure from the other teenage boys and girls, and the media, have decided what they think is attractive, and we have to stick to that.

I think that the stupid issue of pubic hair is the worst. Since last year, I’ve shaved all of it off, despite the fact no one will ever see! Getting into the shower, and glancing in the mirror, and then seeing by hair the way it naturally is, makes me feel disgusted; like no one could ever find me attractive.

I was talking to a good friend of mine, and he said that he would ‘never have sex with a girl who had any hairs neck down, and if she had any pumice hair, he wouldn’t even be able to look at her’. I had a go at him for that. I blame it on the vast amónica of pornography that teenage boys are exposed to, and expected to watch.

Well, that and media. Cosmo magazine makes me so angry. ‘Cosmopolitain’? Such liars. If you’re between the ages of 18-27, middle-class and your sole purpose in life is to give a man the ‘best orgasm of his life’, then yeah, it’ll be crear for you. Do people not realiza the unhealthy amount of presente put on females? Im so sick of trying to fit into this perfecto image of a woman.

I just don’t think it’s fair. Maybe it’s just me that feels this way, but my female friends and I have all said that we go nude neck down. I don’t think this amount of pressure, and expectations are fair of developing, learning young women.

Pargol // Posted 9 April 2012 at 1:32 am

Thanks so much for this post. I especially appreciated this part: “They got those expectations by living in this society that we live in, which does make women feel embarrassed by the things our bodies naturally do. It is a strange situation we’re in, where women don’t have to explain why they do shave, but not shaving does so often seem to require explanation. I don’t think women should feel obliged to justify either, frankly.”

So often, women give other women flack for their decisions. Let’s face it – it’s a tough world to be a woman in. I know I struggle a lot with the issue of shaving my legs and bleaching the fine dark hairs on my upper lip. Much of my body is covered in fine black hairs because I’m Middle Eastern – and I’ve gotten my fair share of crap for it. In middle school, I shaved my legs and armpits excessively, but despite all of the horrible comments I got for my dark arm hair, I refused to “take care of it,” as my mother delicately put it. I felt I shouldn’t have to change my natural body just because of what other people said – on the other hand, as an Iranian-American growing up in a predominanty white town, and the child of immigrants, I was torn. I desperately wanted to be liked, accepted, and feel beautiful. An exceptionally sensitive child, I was devastated when my appearance made me an outcast, but I couldn’t fully resent the other kids for hating me. After all, I still wanted their approval.

Even now, some of the smartest, most thoughtful men I know can’t find body hair attractive. As I shave my legs, I wonder why I’m doing this. I wonder if I’ll ever meet people who don’t give a damn about the hairs on my body. Even the men I have been with, I can’t accept it when they tell me they love me body, that I’m beautiful. I end up hoping they haven’t seen too much of me. Too many times I’ve tried to build myself up only to have other people try to rip me down, and the pattern of pain has left me wondering.

I wonder if I’ll be able to like and accept the people whose ignorance has hurt me my whole life. How does someone recover from a legacy of shame and fear? How can I engender self-acceptance and self-love for myself when I want the approval of others? I’d love to hear some stories from people who have felt that horrible sensitivity of caring what others think, but have finally been able to love themselves irrevocably, no matter what. God knows I’m not there yet. I just hope I’m not alone, and that someday, I won’t care what I do with my body hair or care what anyone else says – that I’ll have done whatever I’ve done for myself.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds