I’ve been thinking about hair lately. Perhaps I’m thinking about hair because I have a lot of it right now. I can date photos based on hair length (and increasing amounts of grey hair or the need for hats) since every few years for the last 25 I’ve cut off all my hair and eventually grow it out until I can fit it into two braids. At that point I give in to my growing frustration with hair that gets too big, hair that goes in my mouth uninvited, hair that gets knotted, hair that only achieves that magazine sexiness with more effort than I am capable of. Did I mention that my hair is in two braids as I write this?
As a sexual health educator, I’ve been invited to talk to a group of 200+ 10-12 year old girls at the upcoming G Day for Girls, here in Vancouver. I’m going to talk about hair.
What does hair have to do with sexual health, you ask?
Oh, maybe you don’t need to ask because you already know. But do our girls?
A woman’s beauty (as defined by our culture) is in part determined by her hair. Sex appeal generally requires a lot of it. But wait, you didn’t think I meant hair below the eyebrows? No no, don’t be silly. Women are only supposed to have hair on their heads.
Long luscious locks. Hair that can be tossed, played with, or blown about in a windstorm.
I feel close to getting that haircut not just because if I go to bed with wet hair my pillow becomes a mildew factory. I notice the difference in how I’m perceived – especially by girls and young women.
- I know 6 year old girls that get short haircuts and then are told they look like boys.
- I know 12 year old young women who go from not really caring about their hair to incessantly flipping it this way and that.
- I know professional and accomplished women who talk often about how unhappy they are with their hair.
- I know women who, over a lifetime, spend the equivalent to the GDP of Liechtenstein on their hair often with an aim of achieving some sort of beauty standard. They straighten, curl, highlight, lowlight, condition, and repeat. They shave, wax, chemically burn, electocute, laser, pluck, bleach, itch and repeat.
Girls notice me differently when I have short hair. They also notice me differently if I’m wearing shorts or a tank top because they notice hair in places that they are told is not permissible.
The pressure to remove body hair is kinda intense for females. It’s not just about hairs getting darker on our upper lip at puberty. It’s about thinking that any hair on our bodies, save for a silky head of hair, is all wrong. It’s manly. Ya, human hair, is apparently manly.
Case in point: Veet. This week Veet, which claims to be ‘The worlds number 1 depilatory products’ company produced a handful of ads that they must have thought were hysterical and would happily compel women to spend money on their products. Instead a fierce backlash pointed out that the ads reinforce the idea that women need to shave in order to be deemed wanted or attractive. (The ads also have a strong dose of homophobia and transphobia – Veet didn’t want to only push misogyny!). Luckily, the power of the internet intervened. Via twitter and email, Veet was assisted in realizing that the ads aren’t funny but are shamey and pulled them.
With all the messages out there that say ‘get rid of it’, I think we need a lot of messages that offer alternatives. I don’t need young women to see my short haircut, or armpit hair, and want to be like me. I want young women to know that body hair doesn’t make them manly. It makes them human. Body hair doesn’t make them unhygienic. Never bathing does that. I want young women to see that the hair on their body doesn’t need to be managed.
They can manage it, of course, but I want them to see that they can do so from a place of choice. From a place of power – knowing they are beautiful with the hair under their arms or without the hair on their heads.