By Sydney McInnis
A ntoaneta Bunea peels off her gloves and makes her way through the salon’s hallway to her desk. The walls she passes are plastered with advertisements that push mottos like “Look good, feel better” and “Gain confidence, liftspirits, take control.” There’s a scent hanging in the entryway that speaks a similar message of tolerable vanity — almost like a mélange of menthol, sunscreen and latex. The vivacious redhead shouts to her client who’s on her way out, “Have fun in Tampa!”
Bunea is an aesthetician at Slick Wax Bar. The salon is located just east of Yonge-Dundas Square on Church Street. All sorts of folks make their way into the salon to rid their bodies of the fuzzy stuff sprouting from their pores. Many of these people visit her every 10 days to keep themselves as smooth as hairless kittens with a full body wax at Slick costing $250 for women and $300 for men. Individual areas, like the famous Brazilian or Manzilian, are only a fraction of that price.
Hot waxing is just one of the many methods of hair removal that people endure — they also shave, pluck, thread, use depilatory creams, do laser removal and get electrolysis. These techniques all have different prices, effectiveness and health risks, but there’s something they all have in common — serious pain potential and the reinforced idea that there’s something weird about having hair in the certain places that humans naturally do.
So, to endure or not to endure is the question, and more importantly — why? Body hair has become a deciding factor in personal confidence and sexiness, which is largely shaped by the media’s portrayal of what sexy looks like. Body hair’s link to gender binaries is heavy, which has most women reluctantly bent over in the shower every morning and men questioning their masculinity.
Western women are growing up with the constant pressure of photos of smooth, manicured models staring at them on every magazine. For many women, the idea of not removing their body hair has never even been an option; it’s become the norm. If you’ve ever watched a porn video — which you probably have — you’ve noticed that almost all of the women are bush-less.
A study by Flinders University psychologists Marika Tiggemann and Suzanna Hodgson explores what the appeal of this hairless image is, and suggests that it may be pedophilic. “The complete removal of pubic hair is also removing a key marker of adult female sexuality. The result is a pre-pubescent-like body that is highly sexualized,” the study states. “Thus it is another practice that may contribute to the increasing objectification and sexualization of young girls.” Of course, in specific situations with sex partners or in the performance industry, men may also experience shaming for their body hair, but systemically, the pressure is generally specific to women.
B ut the hair sprouting all over our bodies is there for good reason. Armpit hair, which both men and women often have copious amounts of, actually grows on the sweat glands to act as a kind of fragrance diffuser. At one point, when humans needed to communicate with potential mates without the ability to use language, armpit hair allowed our scents to lift into the air and broadcast our presence, according to ear, nose and throat surgeon Mahmood Bhutta in his article “Sex and the Nose”. Pubic hair, perhaps one of the most taboo human hair patches, also has a purpose besides marking the start of sexual maturity — since our pubic areas don’t come out into the light very often, the skin is very vulnerable. The hair acts as a barrier for that sensitive skin and protects us from bacterial and viral infections that could be really harmful, says physician Emily Gibson in her article “Pubic hair has a job to do — stop shaving and leave it alone.”
Hair removal dates back to 3,000 B.C., when women were using harmful depilatories to remove body hair to come across as wealthy. Men were also partaking in hair removal, but mostly for hygienic reasons, like making sure their beards weren’t harbouring lice. By the early 1900s, widespread magazine advertisements encouraged women to destroy the hair on their bodies using creams and razors. At the same time, hemlines shrank and women were showing more of their legs, which is when it was decided that leg hair on females was unattractive. This hairless, feminine image was pushed as a sexy ideal and was certainly successful in becoming the norm.
Emily Eymundson, a second-year creative industries student, started removing her body hair at around the age of 12. “I remember playing on the playground once and a boy teasing me because I had underarm hair. I had a crush on that boy, so I was so totally heartbroken. I got my mom’s razor and removed that shit,”
“I remember playing on the playground once and a boy teasing me because I had underarm hair. I had a crush on that boy, so I was so totally heartbroken. I got my mom’s razor and removed that shit,”
she says. “I’ve always been really self-conscious of my body hair — my body hair is very, very dark and literally a day later after shaving it’s already back. Plus, I’m so prone to razor bumps, which is why I chose to move to laser hair removal.”
Laser hair removal is not only expensive, but demands a huge level of commitment. Before most people see any results, they have to undergo the procedure six times every four weeks. After those six months, the hair is meant to disappear for more than 60 years.
Eymundson’s view of body hair was also shaped by porn — which is a huge driver in body hair stigmas and misconceptions. “When I found myself being attracted to women, I didn’t understand how women could have sex with other women, so I was educated through the internet by watching porn,” Eymundson says, adding that the porn was hairless and manicured, which engrained in her an ideal of how all sex should look.
N ow that the time of expression and experimentation has come, the conversation of quitting the battle with irritated skin is on the rise. Not shaving is a serious push against societal expectations, especially for women. Second-wave feminists started conversations and campaigns about leaving the body in its natural form — and though these messages contribute to women showing off their stubble to defy norms and take pride in their unaltered selves, the stigma is ever present.
Jackie Mlotek, co-founder of the Ryerson Feminist Collective, takes pride in her fuzz. “Sometimes I get a visible look of confusion and disgust for my body hair, which sometimes makes me feel offended, but sometimes it makes me feel more comfortable,” Mlotek says. “When I was younger I was scared of repelling people with my body hair, but now I really enjoy it. It makes me feel a lot safer having that defence mechanism.”
The fact that body hair on a woman has the power to turn them from flirt-worthy to not is suggestive of the standards set in our society’s unrealistic idea of what sexy means. “It’s a myth we’ve created. In our heterosexist, kind of binary-driven world that we live in, we’ve created understandings of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman,” Mlotek says. “We’ve created opposites so that we can understand each other just to uphold the binary so that we can have some structure, so it’s just become that men are hairy, and women are not.”
A lthough men aren’t systemically shamed for sporting their fur, there’s a significant chunk of heterosexual, metrosexual and gay men who choose to take part in “manscaping,” the term coined for male body hair removal. According to Bunea at Slick Wax Bar, when they opened shop, the ratio of women to men was somewhere around 80 to 20, and now she estimates closer to 60 to 40. Certainly, there was a time when having a hairy chest and being able to grow a substantial beard represented masculinity, but now that body hair presence and removal have a thinner line in terms of masculinity or femininity, the option of doing whatever you please stands a better chance. “Having long hair down there is annoying and gross, and totally gets in your butt sometimes. I guess I just associate having less hair with being more well-kept,” says Mason Prout, a third-year business marketing student.
As much as men have a preference on how they keep themselves, of course some have a serious preference on how their sexual partners keep themselves as well. As long as these ideas of preference are communicated and accepted by both parties, the likelihood of a related comment feeling like a gender-binary driven diss is a lot lower — unfortunately this is not always the case. “I definitely would prefer if there was minimal or no hair [on a partner]. Not saying it needs to be squeaky clean like a dolphin or anything, but I just don’t find it attractive, in fact I find it the opposite,” says Prout. “I have no idea whether it’s based on social aspects or if it’s actually some intrinsic feelings that are innate to me, but if I were to hook up with a girl and then all of a sudden they have leg hair, I’d just think it’s kind of manly.”
A s Bunea’s workday finishes, she prepares her waxing room for the next day, where she’ll see another handful of guys and gals to restore their silky smoothness. She refills her waxes, which come in rainbow colours, and wipes the sticky stuff away from the counters and client’s bed. Bunea has been in the business for over 20 years, so her ritual is steady in pace and she even has time to check the mirror to make sure she’s still looking her best. “Growing up in Romania, I saw my grandma going to the spa every week. My mother took me to get a Brazilian when I was 16 and told me we don’t go out from the house if we don’t have makeup on. I just grew up in that sort of environment,” she says.
With beauty-instilled confidence acting as a foundation of her character, she aims to bring this sex appeal and confidence to her customers. “I’ll put it this way: for girls, it’s a must. Guys can choose,” Bunea says. “But girls, you shouldn’t have hair on your underarms or your legs. If we were leaving it, it would be kind of like men.”