This essay, by Shivali Vora, age 17, from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Edison, N.J., is one of the Top 10 winners of The Learning Network’s Eighth Annual Student Editorial Contest, for which we received 11,202 entries.
You can find the work of all the winners and runners-up here.
It’s Just Hair
I’ve always been a hairy girl, and I’ve never seen a problem with it. Hair, the mark of mammals, has clear biological purposes, from thermoregulation to protection of sensitive body parts. Yet quite bizarrely, female body and facial hair is shrouded in stigma: The average woman spends anywhere from $10,000 to $23,000 on hair removal over a lifetime. It can be a particularly arduous ordeal for women whose genes, ethnicities or conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome predispose them to increased hair growth. Methods abound, but no panacea exists; from ingrown hairs to the agony of a full body wax, hair removal can be painful. And why shouldn’t it be? Pain is the body’s protest against a fundamentally unnatural act. Nonetheless, the multibillion-dollar hair removal industry continues to boom.
At-home shaving did not become popular in the United States until the 1910s, when Gillette debuted the first women’s razor. As soon as the industry’s potential became evident, advertisements characterizing body hair as unseemly proliferated. Author Rebecca Herzig writes that such emerging ideas were a form of “gendered social control,” accomplished by convincing women that they had to be hairless to stand a chance. Over the following decades, hair removal went from a status marker to a standard blindly followed by the masses, until the default was established: If you don’t want to raise eyebrows, shave. Despite all our long strides, in this respect, society is moving backward; while millennials are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of “going natural,” today’s girls feel compelled to remove their body hair at alarmingly young ages.
Traditionalists might argue that hair removal is hygiene, or that men shave their faces too. But why is the same bodily feature hygienic on men, yet unhygienic on women? Hair is not dirt. In fact, hair removal opens doors for infection. And for men, shaving is a personal choice, as it should be, not a cemented norm demanding unquestioning compliance. As long as more is societally required of a woman because of her gender, we are holding women back. There is so much about female bodies that is expected to be kept under wraps or changed to fit an arbitrary ideal, to the point where a woman who doesn’t alter herself is automatically perceived as a social justice warrior. When did it become bold to simply be? Why have we resigned ourselves to the ridiculous notion that the natural female state isn’t enough, or that beauty can only be attained through blood, sweat and tears?
Women are people, not works of art. It’s high time we started celebrating our inherent — not earned — beauty and appreciating our bodies as the miracles they are, hair and all.
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Basyah, Jihan. “How Hair Removal Became A Beauty Standard.” CR Fashion Book, 7 May 2020.
Cerini, Marianna. “Why Women Feel Pressured to Shave.” CNN, 3 March 2020.
“Hair Removal Products Market Size, Global Industry Report, 2019-2025.” Grand View Research, July 2019.
Harrison, Lauren R. “Shaving and Fashion: A Storied History.” Chicago Tribune, 14 Sept. 2010.
Savini, Loren. “A Retrospective Look at Women’s Body Hair in Pop Culture.” Allure, 23 April 2018.
Vora, Shivani. “Professional Hair Removal Catches On With the Preteen Set.” The New York Times, 19 March 2019.
“Women Spend up to $23,000 to Remove Hair.” United Press International, 24 June 2008.