This blog post has been floating around my head for ages, but since I was writing that dissertation thingy that I haven’t shut up about for the past year I haven’t really had the time. Now that I have got the time, it seems body hair has already been “done”, so whilst I’m going to look at body hair, I’m also going to look at body fascism as a whole.
Body fascism is when someone else tells you what to do with your body, or when something becomes so societally normal that erring from that thing can mean that you are seen as deviant or other. Your body is the only thing you will own your entire life that belongs only to you. Only you can work your body, only you can instruct it to do things. Well, in theory. If we are allowing others to tell us how to dress our bodies, adorn or alter our bodies, does our body still belong to us? The body is a geographical space and we use it to perform things such as gender every day, it should be our choice what we choose to do to it.
So, body hair. I recently discussed on a forum the notion that a woman could choose not to shave any of her body hair and the reaction was quite frankly awful. The notion that people who don’t shave smell or are dirty was a strong one, obviously ignoring the fact that we have far more hair on our head that gets washed probably less than body hair does, and yet no-one sees that as “dirty” and unless it hasn’t been washed in a while it won’t smell either. I posted a picture of a beautiful lady from The Hairy Pits Club tumblr and all people saw was the armpit hair, not one of them looked at her face. One man professed that the picture made him feel physically ill. If an image of a woman in her natural state makes you feel physically ill, then there must be something a bit wrong there. Also if you think it’s unnatural for a woman to have body hair, that can’t be right either. I’ll give you some space to think about that one.
Here’s some news everybody, women grow body hair! We grow it on our arms, on our legs, on our armpits, our stomachs (admittedly some is more visible than others) and, most contentiously, on our genitals. Just like men do. Yet in recent decades it has suddenly become “normal” and in some peoples’ eyes more “natural” to shave, wax or laser it off. I’m not saying you should stop shaving anything, because that would be me telling you what to do with your body. And that’s what I’m trying to get you all to avoid.
Some women report that they have met men who will not have sex with them unless they remove their pubic hair. Now asides from sorting out the jerks from the nice men, this is actually worse than just telling a woman to shave, this is emotional and sexual blackmail. It is body fascism. It seems an alien concept that someone would pass up such an opportunity because of a small amount of hair, but it happens and it happens because of societal conditioning. If anyone EVER tells you to change something about yourself before they engage in any kind of sexual activity with you, please don’t be afraid to tell them where to go. If you keep moulding yourself to another’s fantasy, then you begin to lose ownership of your body. Also, removing pubic hair is painful, itchy and just generally not fun, and whilst, as I said, I’m not saying don’t remove your hair, I believe people should really think about why they put themselves through that. And if it’s because “men prefer it”, well that’s just patriarchy isn’t it?
Social conditioning has caused the demise of the pube, alongside the armpit and leg hair, but why is this the case? No doubt it has a lot to do with women’s magazines, after all it is not just men who tell women what to do with their bodies, it’s other women as well. I lost count of the amount of times as a teenager I was told to shave my legs or pluck my eyebrows or wear make up by girls in the PE changing room. Body fascism is a cross-gender thing. Doubtless though, the biggest influence on body hair fashions in recent years is porn, and now that a few clicks can get you a thousand hairless moving images of men and women, the modern influence is far more substantial than that of the years were porn was bought from the top shelf and hidden away under mattresses. Interestingly, both soft and hard porn have contributed in different ways to body fascism. Hard pornography is generally non-hairy due to the extreme close up and detailed shots of the genitalia, in this instance hair would shield “the view”. It is because of such porn that some men have never seen what Jilly Cooper tweely refers to as a “bush”, and why they react so badly to seeing a woman in her natural, or even trimmed state.
But more worryingly, it is soft pornography, the type still seen in playboy magazine which sparked a far more disturbing trend, the “designer vagina”. Soft porn is all about soft focus, blurred lines and no dangly bits. Very, very, very few people have labia minora like those of a soft porn star, (and really why would you want to, the more there is the more feeling there is…). Unfortunately though, the porn industry has led some women to believe that their vulvas are abnormal, and they go as far as having surgery to remove pieces of labia minora to give them the stream-lined look of a porn star. Undoubtedly some women do have the types of dangly bits which get in the way of living a normal life, but most women do not. Again women do this because they feel “men will prefer it”, again this is body fascism. On the other side of the cultural spectrum, girls are forced to go through humiliating and painful “female circumcision”, which can involve removing the clitoris or labia minora, or sewing the vagina shut. All of these things steal the girl’s sexuality from her, yet women choose to remove parts of their genitals to increase theirs. The world is a strange place.
Perhaps the most extreme cases of body fascism s that practiced by pro-lifers, standing outside abortion clinics harassing the women who enter. Our bodies belong to us, as do our uteruses, and we should have control over what grows in there. Whether abortion is legal or illegal women are still going to have them, and we only have to look at the film Vera Drake or the situation in Nicaragua, where abortion is completely illegal, to see the consequences of turning back on the abortion act of 1967. To tell someone what to do with their body is body fascism, to tell someone to let something grow inside of them when it’s not wanted, to force a woman to bring an unwanted child into the world, to tell a rape victim her baby is a gift from god and everything happens for a reason (yes Justin Bieber, I heard you), well that is body fascism to the extremes.
Why someone has an abortion is nobody’s business but the woman’s, neither is whether we choose to remove our body hair, let our vulvas dangle or do anything to our appearance. Our bodies are the only thing we will own for the entirety of our lives, and nobody should get to say what goes on within or upon them.
We have to stand up to those who try to tell us what to do, because otherwise it will just continue until our bodies are all in the hands of our partners, women’s magazines and the public.