To shave or not? Why we are unbothered
By Ann Nyathira
Body hair is something all women and men can relate to, whether it is growing on the underarm legs or pubic area. Body hair has been removed, retained, waxed plucked, and shaved for decades.
Although, female hairiness is still far from mainstream, it is becoming more visible in popular culture — the 21st century enthusiasm for hairiness has had female body hair sprouting all over. Celebrities such as Madonna, Miley Cyrus and Amandla Stenberg have all exposed their underarms growth.
In January this year, Laura Jackson, a British college student, ran a campaign, “Januhairy,” urging women to grow out their body hair and post selfies on Instagram.
Well, for Liz Wanja, her earliest memory of body hair was in secondary school and by that time it was not uncommon for girls in her dormitory to wax and shave their legs. Since it was not an entirely private session, she witnessed her peers shaving and this triggered her to do the same, feeling like it was a necessity.
“I taught myself how to shave while in high school even though I definitely did not have to do it at that time since I was just a teenager. If anything, body hair should not be of concern to any teenage girl. It just felt right and sometimes, I would cut my poor adolescent legs,” recalled Wanja.
She says she is currently unbothered by, especially her leg hair which she does not mind displaying. For her, shaving her body hair comes at a price of shave bumps and itchy skin she would rather avoid.
“I proudly display my body hair, which has become normal for me, and I love wearing short dresses. I rarely get comments about it, but once in a while, I get comments like ‘you are really hairy for a girl’. To which I do not find offensive because I do not even think about it.
According to Dr Gladys Nyachieo, a sociologist, although body hair is more female than male war, it should be a personal choice. “Body hair becomes a problem for women when it ‘enters the public domain’ and shaving and trimming of the bikini line tends to be dictated by choice of swimwear, underwear and sportswear. Go to any swimming pool and you will see women trying hard to ensure no pubic hair peeps out of their bikini or underarms. Female body hair is frowned up, but men do not have the same experience. In fact, body hair for men is not seen as private, it is actually perceived as masculine, hence not under pressure to get rid of it,” explained Dr Nyachieo.
Mercy Asunta’s awareness of body hair goes back to when she was 12. She hit puberty early and her body hair was dark, making it more visible. She also grew facial and leg hair. This, she knew made her conspicuously different from her peers.
“I have always felt self-conscious about my body hair. People would say mean things about it. This birthed a lot of discomfort and anxiety and often, I wore pants or long skirts and socks just to cover up,” she recalls.
Asunta says female body hair remains a bizarre sticking point. For many years, she thought body hair should be invisible. She once shaved her leg hair and her skin started burning immediately because of her sensitive skin.
“The amount of anger and hate that can be fueled by something that does not affect anyone apart from the individual woman is incredible. Most of the time, I walk in town, I always receive some mean comments. But I have learnt to ignore and embrace the whispers and stares. A woman having armpit hair and a man having armpit hair is exactly the same thing,” she says. She notes she now wears her body hair as half-statement and half-ornament.
However, Lydiah Awiti feels uncomfortable when her pubic and armpit hair grows. She says shaving makes her feel more feminine. “I cannot imagine visiting my fiance with a ‘Karura forest’. It’s a no no for me,” she says.
Body hair removal is associated with several risks that are rarely discussed. Medical research shows electrolysis and laser hair removal (procedures often considered low risk) can cause irritation, scarring and pigmentary changes. The use of razors is associated with burns, nicks and cuts, ingrown hairs, infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and contact dermatitis (either from shaving or aftershave products). Also, shaving and waxing can cause trauma to the hair follicle and increase the risk of folliculitis (infection of the hair follicle) and development of painful follicular pustules that require antibiotic therapy.