Body Hair: Degrees of Grooming

When I was growing up as a teen in the United States, I remember seeing pictures on TV of European women with hair under their arms, and wondering why they didn’t shave. Now that I have spent time living in both Europe and Asia, I’ve discovered that the body hair issue is a very complex one, and as with most things, there are no blanket stereotypes that are accurate across the board.

First of all, European women are not universally hairy. Most women I have seen in Europe shave their legs as well as their armpits. Waxing is also becoming popular, both for those areas, and for the eyebrows and bikini line as well. From time to time you do see a woman with hair under her arms, but really it is very rare, and certainly nothing like what I had been led to believe was the norm for Europe.

Women in the western part of Asia and the Middle East, however, are generally pretty militant about removing body hair. I hadn’t particularly noticed in the beginning, until the first time I went into a public bath, and pretty much everyone gasped when they saw me naked. I thought, What, what’s the problem? until I looked around and noticed that I was literally the only woman in the room with pubic hair or hair on her forearms. There was some giggling, from me as well, and one of the women came over and offered to take me up to the spa so I could get waxed. There seemed to be some hurry about it, like it would be terrible to let me go on one more minute with all that unsightly body hair.

At first I was hesitant, because I misunderstood the intention. I was under the false impression that one waxes the bikini area strictly to impress men, which I wasn’t interested in at all. But as the woman taking me to the spa pointed out, most of the women I had just seen were conservative young girls, many of them virgins. For them, hair removal had nothing to do with vanity or men, but rather personal comfort and a feeling of femininity.

So I went for my first full-body wax, and I have to say, I was impressed with how nice it felt afterward. All of a sudden I felt like I had spent my life on the other side of the equation that I had always felt so smug about. Now, instead of gawking at photos of European women with armpits au naturel, suddenly I was the hairy, foreign behemoth who didn’t know anything about personal grooming. It made me realize how judgmental I’d been of those I’d seen with unshaven legs or unkempt eyebrows. I learned about body hair maintenance from my mother, who was conforming to the standard of the culture I grew up in — a culture which is critical of leg and armpit hair, but not of forearm or pubic hair. Other cultures, however, have different standards. Now that I’ve had experiences in different parts of the world, I see that there are degrees within everything, even personal maintenance. I have since tried all kinds of varying regimes, not just for body hair, but for the hair on my head and skin, as well. It’s interesting to learn how women from around the world differ in how they take care of themselves.

Body hair is a very private thing, and of course each woman is welcome to experiment and change her mind from time to time. As I have experimented, I encourage others to, as well, because what was right for our mothers isn’t necessarily the best choice for us. Take a cue from women around the world, and try some different methods of personal grooming to see if maybe, just maybe, you find a new technique that works better for you than the one you always used in the past.

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