We grow up in a world where hairless female bodies are the norm. When puberty comes knocking and hair starts growing in places it hadn’t before, we react with disgust to our own bodies, whipping out the razor and getting to work. For teenage girls, shaving is a rite of passage, marking a transition into womanhood.
Apparently, eleven-year-old me didn’t get the memo at the start. She didn’t think about it too much, wasn’t all that bothered by body hair. But her peers were. Humiliated by a group of boys in a playpark, rejected by the girls in P.E. class, she shaved for the first time. To be accepted, she didn’t see that there was any other option.
I didn’t see women with body hair in public – even the women in the razor adverts were shaving already smooth legs. So there was nobody to tell me that it was okay. The stigma around female body hair is an example of the control that society has over women’s bodies. And because we don’t talk about it enough, the perception that it is ‘disgusting’ and ‘unnatural’ goes silently unchallenged.
The first step is representation. On an individual level, just seeing other women who didn’t remove their body hair was hugely empowering for me. But organisations can play a big role, too; shaving company Billie is known for its adverts featuring women with body hair, sending the message that it does exist, that it is natural, and that we can remove it – but only if we want to. We are not worth any less if we don’t.
The period taboo has been around for centuries, and continues to be a global issue. Almost everywhere in the world, we struggle to talk about it.
Not talking about it has meant that some girls feel shame about menstruation, and this embarrassment can be a barrier to accessing sanitary products.
Not talking about it has meant that there haven’t been any major innovations in sanitary care in about 70 years, when the first menstrual cup was made commercially available.
Not talking about it has meant that many menstruating people are not educated about the alternatives to single-use menstrual products (like reusable cloth pads and menstrual cups). Over their lifetime, the average menstruator will use around 11,000 single-use pads and tampons, with all of this going straight to landfill, some of it making its way to the sea.
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