Hairy Women: Why Are We So Freaked Out?

ThinkStockHair-removal is a necessary evil, but Huffington Post Spain writer Paloma Goni calls it torture—so she simply stopped doing it.

In an essay published Thursday, Goni describes how as a teenager, she mindlessly shaved the hair on her legs and armpits, then felt miserable about the time and effort she spent enslaved to societal beliefs she didn’t truly subscribe to.

“I'm very conscious of what I want, that if it were up to me, I wouldn't do it,” wrote Goni. “But is it really up to me? Logically, I can do what I want with my body, but I don't want to turn going out for a stroll into a quarrel, and don't want to decline plans because I feel like I need to hide. Because yes, I'll admit it: I'm not ready to listen to the criticism or endure the stares. I'm not a revolutionary. Yet.”

Goni is in good company. According to an Indiana University study of 2,451 women, among 18-24 year olds, two thirds had either partially or totally removed their pubic hair over the previous month.

Pubic hair is there for a reason—from an evolutionary P.O.V., it served as a sort of ‘sexual ornament,’ according to Robin Weiss, a virologist at University College London. It was a sign of adulthood and possibly a hub for transmitting pheromones, a set of hormones that convey sexual signals. There's also a physiological benefit—a layer of hair protects the area's sensitive skin and mucus membranes. Strip it bare, and you’ll be vulnerable to infections, inflammation, ingrown hairs, even STD’s.

What’s to blame for the bare look? Ashley Fetters at The Atlantic points to the porn industry, the shrinking size of bathing and lingerie bottoms, and pressure to conform to pop culture ideals—Kim Kardashian famously pointed out that women "shouldn't have hair anywhere but their heads.”

It’s those social pressures that frusterate Goni the most. She wrote, “But not shaving is still a taboo. A topic one does not talk about. One that people do not want to talk about. That's why I decided to write this article, because I think we have to bring it up and talk about it. Women need to know they have options without seeming like revolutionaries. Women need to know that we have the choice, that hair removal is not an obligation that comes along as part of being a woman.” Goni spent the last three months without shaving and asked her boyfriend to photograph her arm pit and leg hair. “So hairy, feminine legs can come to light, can be seen." See her photos here.

And there’s clearly an audience for them. Facebook groups such as F*ck! Shaving serve a community of women who don’t “cave to so-called beauty standards.”  The page boasts more than 5,000 likes and viewers can flip through dozens of images of women showing off their burly armpits and legs.

Goni hopes groups like these and her own efforts will change public perception of what it means to be feminine. She wrote, “When I asked my boyfriend to shoot these pictures, he refused. I think he didn't want my hairy legs to be made public. He had enough with having to endure the plan (ha!). We had an interesting conversation and a few seconds later, he admitted he was wrong and agreed to take the pictures. He told me the pictures were an assault against aesthetics. I agree. They're an assault against an aesthetic, against an image of female beauty that we have ingrained in our culture and in our society. That same image I want to change, simply because it's not real. Women have hair on their legs. We have hair on our armpits. And on our pubis. And in a thousand other places. We're hairy, the same as men. And that's real.”