Do you think Wonder Woman shaves? I’m serious. Does she wax? She wears a strapless bathing suit when she goes out and we’ve never seen a sliver of hair on her body besides the perfect, luscious, and suspiciously neat (despite the crime fighting and flying) mane on her head. Still, I don’t imagine she has ten extra minutes out of her busy day to shave from ankle to thigh. I mean, she’s got the world to save.
For us regular humans, figuring out what to do with our body hair can feel even bigger than saving the world. When I was in sixth grade, a girl in my class was sitting next to me and touched my calves, eyes bulging, and said, “Damn, you’re hairy. Like a mammoth.” Naturally, I went home, spent forty minutes crying because I’d probably never been more embarrassed in my life, and spent forty more minutes in the shower trying to learn how to shave with my mom’s razor so I wouldn’t look so hideous ever again.
Girls grow up in an environment that pressures them to be as hairless as possible. This is part of the maintenance ritual women are supposed to keep up throughout their lives to remain, as is society’s One True Mission for them, attractive, especially to men. Women who let their body hair grow out are considered dirty, or hippies, or lazy, or ugly. When I was eleven years old, I got called a mammoth. Because I had leg hair. Blonde, nearly invisible leg hair. Because of the way society pressures women to have this sex appeal, women constantly must conceal and tame their body hair: we pluck our eyebrows, upper lips, and chest hairs. We shave or wax our legs, armpits, and bikini lines. We keep whatever pubic hair (if any at all) neat and trimmed; sometimes, we even shave our toes and arms.
Growing up, boys have to worry about body hair too, but their stress over it comes in different forms than women’s. Men, by contrast, are encouraged to grow more body hair: chest hair and peach fuzz are seen as endearing and a positive sign of manliness in pubescent boys, and shaving facial hair becomes a rite of passage a boy learns from his father. When a boy rifles through his comic books or cartoons, he sees the hyper-masculine, fully-clothed Superman, with his face so clean it had to be just shaved.
Like most things, our perception of our body hair is shaped by the environment we grow up in. American society, in particular, loves the gender binary, and body hair fits neatly into this: women are less feminine when they don’t shave and men are less masculine when they don’t grow enough facial hair to make it necessary for them to shave. Of course, the growth of hair in both men and women depends on hormones, genes, and other factors. While women can control the amount of body hair they shave off, men can’t force themselves to grow facial hair. So women are victimized if they don’t conform to society’s standards of being hairless Barbie dolls, and men are victimized if they can’t conform to society’s standards of having both the neatness of Superman’s bald face and Brad Pitt-esque scruff after three days of not shaving.
It’s not really a winning scenario for anyone. Like many fictional comic book women, Wonder Woman is a perfect, if improbable, specimen of society’s ideal for "strong women": she kicks ass and exudes effortless beauty, never missing a spot of hair on the back of her thigh like us mere mortal women. But that’s just it: Wonder Woman isn’t a real woman. She’s fictional (and she was created by a man), and fights bad guys all day looking fresh as hell. Real, living, breathing women must wake up and face society’s expectations - which are their bad guys. The disproportionate standards of beauty women are held to, including standards of body hair, are unfair and take up time and energy we could be spending on millions of other things.
So what about other lady heroes? Black Widow? Catwoman? Do they shave or wax? More importantly, why do we care? Actual black widow spiders have eight sleek, glossy, legs, and a cat’s whole body is covered in fluff. Do you think spiders or cats care about their body hair just because another spider or cat has more hair or less hair?
Society needs to change the way it sees body hair, particularly on women. There are body hair routines I have tried and hated and body hair routines I have tried and loved and will keep doing for possibly the rest of my life. I started shaving because a girl expressed to me that I wasn’t living up to society’s expectations of girls being hairless. I keep shaving now partly for that reason, but also because there’s nothing I like better than to crawl into bed with newly shaved legs, and because it makes me feel sexy and happy and comfortable in my daily life. It’s okay to shave because of those reasons, but it’s also okay to not shave because you don't care what people think about your armpits. It's all up to you.
Rachelle is a WLP major from California. She likes coffee but also naps, which means she makes tough decisions on a daily basis, and should not be underestimated. You can find Rachelle on Twitter.
Images: suprisinglysane.com, polkadottango.files.wordpress.com