Gender, Social Justice

I think the “body hair feminism” movement is totally missing the point

It just sounds like a stupid trend to me, but who am I to say anything?

There’s a recent trend that’s caught my attention.

It’s pulled in everyone from women’s rights advocates in China to Hollywood celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Madonna, and Lena Dunham. The trend: women taking pride in their body hair. They refuse to shave any parts of their body, sometimes even dying the arm-pit hair neon-pink, and donning the look with pride while posing for photos.  

The purpose of it all, they assert, is to show solidarity with every woman who chooses not to shave and who wants to disrupt the idea that feminine beauty consists of completely shaven bodies. It is a way of indicating that women have agency over their bodies and what remains on them.

Some say it’s good for the body, that it’s a means of appreciating what we have been endowed with naturally. Not shaving body hair has become a symbol of empowerment for women.

But I fail to understand how.

It’s similar to when we saw Facebook’s logo changing to reflect its commitment to women empowerment. Such symbolic empowerment, though, does very little to solve the woes of a battered or a financially-trapped woman. It doesn’t translate into real action. We forget that many women do not have the option of choosing.

They are in much bigger dilemmas than those pertaining to what grows over their bodies.

“Body hair feminism” is an offshoot of Western feminism, with a side of individualism. It promotes individual choice over group values and conformity. If I’m obese, for instance, then I won’t let anyone say it might be bad for me – all in the name of championing individuality. When my partner or a friend finds my hairless body attractive, I— a women’s rights ally—would trust their judgment, because individualism is not a universal norm.

This trend falsely assumes that gender equality is about following men. This is why we have women’s rights activists asking, “If men can grow facial and body hair without being looked at with disgust, why can’t women enjoy the same liberty?”

But this question is giving out the message that women should have the same aspirations as men – to me, that’s a disappointingly one-dimensional version of feminism.

I’d call it a great advancement of women empowerment if we would start to accept the differences which exist between a man and a woman; to see men as women’s partners and not as their rivals, gods, or mirror images; and to elevate women’s status to one of tangible independence.

I can’t see how refusing to shave bodily hair achieves any of that for women in all circumstances, even after attaching empowerment buzzwords like bodily agency.

Sure, this trend could serve well as an anti-bullying symbol. But as a symbol of women empowerment? I’m not so sure.