I am in a rush to write today’s blog because I have an appointment at a beauty salon to have a manicure and underarm hair wax.
Did I really need to tell you that? Who wants to know about women’s hair removal?
If you’re a man reading this, chances are you’ve never thought about women’s grooming rituals, and why should you? After all, hairy underarms (and legs, face, etc.) is a perfectly normal thing if you’re a man. It ought to be just as normal for women, of course, because we’re all hairy to some extent, some us more so than others. Yet cultural expectations compel us to resort to painful, expensive and time-consuming procedures to remove as much hair from our bodies as possible.
As much as I resent this bias, I dutifully comply with it, because who wants to see my hairy armpits sticking out of a sleeveless dress at a black-tie dinner?
Preening is a natural drive, I’m told; we’re biologically conditioned to want to make ourselves look more attractive to the opposite sex. Even if that were true, societal expectations and cultural norms – not biology – determine what is considered beautiful and attractive. I don’t wax and paint my nails because my biological makeup compels me, but because I’ve been taught ever since I was a child that this is what women do.
I never thought twice about the shape or density of my eyebrows until I was in my early 20s and an older colleague advised me to start plucking them.
“It will really make a difference to your appearance, you’ll see,” she told me.
I’m sure her advice was perfectly well-intentioned, and for the next twenty years, I dutifully had my eyebrows plucked on a regular basis. Because that’s what you do if you’re a woman ‘cursed’ with a hairy body.
Last week I attended a conference for adults born with cleft lip and palate, and several people I met there asked,
“What brings you here? Are you looking to have more work done?”
By ‘work’ they meant restorative dentistry, a nose job, or lip fillers to even out the shape of my mouth.
“No,” I laughed uneasily, “thanks, but I’ve lived with this face for 46 years so I’m sure I can manage another 40.” My comment was not meant as a criticism of those who do feel the need to improve on their appearance, but for me, that train has long since left the station.
‘Beauty’ – what is it anyway and why is it so important for (some of) us to do what we can to make ourselves look more beautiful? Again, someone will surely tell me we’re hardwired to make ourselves look attractive to others. Once again, I’m not convinced. After all, the definition of beauty has never been constant but has always been shaped by cultural norms, historical context etc. Beauty, like so much in this world, is a social construct, and as such, subject to change.
‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ is a popular mantra amongst those of us who seek to resist the tyrannical imposition of beauty norms in today’s society. As much as it’s become something of a cliché, I still believe it holds true.
Lately, however, I have begun to ask myself, why it is that beauty – imagined or otherwise – holds such importance in society. Or, why is it that ‘ugly’ – imagined or otherwise – has got such bad press?
Even if it were possible to settle on a universal, objective definition of beauty, why the need to dis the ‘ugly’ ones among us as if we were less worthy, less virtuous?
I am starting to think I might just want to give beauty a miss and start celebrating the virtues of ‘ugliness’. Just think about all the time and money I’d be saving by not subjecting my body to endless visits to the beauty salon.
That said, I’m not quite brave enough to flaunt my hairy armpits at tomorrow night’s black-tie dinner.
But I won’t pluck my eyebrows.