While binge-watching all four seasons of Please Like Me over my summer holiday, I was thrilled to see Ella, one of the main characters, lift up her arms to reveal underarm hair. I was even more thrilled that this representation of female body hair went by unmentioned.
“Is television finally starting to embrace female body hair?” I wondered.
Only a few episodes later, Ella’s underarm hair was attributed to her feminism.
“Ah, of course,” I thought.
Any representation of female body hair in the media is important. Particularly when you realize just how underrepresented it is. No matter how hard I rack my brain, I can’t think of any other instances where women are shown with body hair on television.
Sure, female characters discuss their body hair. There’s the moment in Broad City when Abbi’s waxer shames her for letting her hair grow too long. Or the scene in The Other Woman when Kate declares “I can’t even remember to shave my legs.”
The stigma on female body hair is so extreme that TV shows won’t even show the body hair.
These scenes and countless similar ones have a common theme. They’re about women removing body hair rather than embracing their body hair. Something else I have noticed about these scenes is that even though the women are discussing their body hair, it’s rare that you’ll ever actually see said body hair.
The stigma on female body hair is so extreme that TV shows won’t even show the hair that supposedly needs to be removed.
Don’t believe me? Apocalyptic series like The Walking Dead make sure the female characters have hairless underarms while male characters wear rugged beards. Most of the time, not even female razor adverts, which are marketed towards body hair, will show women shaving actual hair.
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Posted by Veet UK on Wednesday, May 27, 2015
You may ask so what and who cares? Well, the media happens to play a big role in shaping society’s standards and ideas of beauty. This means that without representations of female body hair in the media, society is far less likely to embrace it. As a result, the stigma around female body hair remains strong.
I can attest to this.
As a woman, I struggle with the idea of body hair. I am conflicted because, on the one hand, I want to embrace it. But on the other hand, I am attached to the idea of a hairless body. I am attached to the idea of a hairless body because this is what society and the media have sold to me all my life.
Last year, I wrote about the history of female body hair. When I realized how sexist the practice can be and how it’s been shaped by the male gaze, I decided to ditch the razor. But it didn’t take long for me to pick the razor up again. Because, despite everything, my body hair made me insecure.
Despite everything, my body hair made me insecure.
When I watched that episode of Please Like Me, I felt reassured. The two-second glimpse of Ella’s underarm hair told me that it was OK to defy the hairlessness norm. And it made me consider embracing my own body hair again.
My relationship with body hair is still complicated, but realizing what a powerful role that one scene played speaks loudly to how necessary representation is. Removing body hair should be a choice. But with the stigma around female body hair, most women aren’t given a real choice.
If one scene in a television series reassured me that having body hair is OK, just imagine how much power greater representation of body hair would have.