The TikToker talked about how beauty standards are nothing more than a social construct that has no place in the 21st century.
A 19-year-old TikToker is calling attention to one of the many sexist beauty standards society enforces on women: getting rid of body hair. Recounting the story of how this practice came into existence, she pointed out how ludicrous it is that many still try to make women feel bad about themselves for having hairy bodies. The TikToker — who goes by the username @solanathegreenfairy — explained how beauty standards are nothing more than a social construct that has no place in the 21st century when we are much more informed about the problematic origins of these practices.
"Let's talk about why as a society, it is an expectation that women should shave," Solana began in the video, which has been viewed over 1.9 million times since being uploaded in May. "Women have not always shaved in our western world. In fact, before 1915 when Gillette released their first 'safe razor,' it was not an expectation at all. But Gillette's campaign suggested that because safe razors now exist, women should use them to shave their body hair."
Solana went on to explain how with sleeveless dresses coming into style at the time, society started considering armpit hair a fashion faux pas. Then, when World War II brought about a shortage of nylon stockings, women were led to believe that they also had to shave their legs to be considered socially acceptable. With time, magazines, pornography, and increasingly explicit pop culture reinforced the beauty standard of hairless bodies for women.
"But we're in the 21st century now," Solana points out in the video. "Many people now understand that body hair on women is not unhygienic or disgusting. As men have never been pressured to shave and no one has ever questioned their hygiene, like the majority of beauty standards in our society, it was made by men to control women!!"
"[Body hair has] been deeply stigmatized -- it still is -- and cast with shame," Heather Widdows, professor of global ethics at the University of Birmingham and author of Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal, told CNN. "Its removal is one of the few aesthetic traditions that have gone from being a beauty routine to a hygienic one. Today, most women feel like they have to shave. Like they have no other option. There's something deeply fraught about that -- though perceptions are slowly changing."
PSA: @Gillette practically invented the "problem" of women's body hair, a perfectly natural thing to have. Just look at its ads for the first women's razor.— #𝗦𝘂𝗹𝗼𝗻𝗴𝗩𝗮𝗸𝗹𝗮𝘀𝗵 🌈 / 𝘽𝙪𝙩𝙩𝙚𝙧⁷ 🧈 (@MarchingHere) January 15, 2019
Between men with #MasculinitySoFragile and a company profiting from fake feminism, I choose to be a critical #feminist. 💜 pic.twitter.com/Uj6RKjNEoD
Rebecca Herzig, a professor of gender and sexuality studies at Bates College in Maine, takes a deep dive into the history of hair removal practices in her book Plucked: A History of Hair Removal. According to Herzig, the modern-day notion of body hair being unwomanly can be traced back to Charles Darwin's 1871 book Descent of a Man. The English naturalist's theory of natural selection associated body hair with "primitive ancestry and an atavistic return to earlier, 'less developed' forms," she wrote. Darwin also suggested that having less body hair, therefore, was a sign of being more evolved and sexually attractive.
As Darwin's ideas gained popularity, other 19th-century medical and scientific experts also began linking hairiness to "sexual inversion, disease pathology, lunacy, and criminal violence," Herzig added. Ironically, those connotations were never applied to men's body hair, the author pointed out, mainly because of the enforcement of "gendered social control" on women's rising role in society. Widdows explained that making women think they had to be hairless to be considered worthy of attention was a heteronormative way of controlling their bodies and their selves through shame.
As Solana mentions in her video, new fashion trends, World War II, marketing campaigns, and magazines further reinforced this sexist practice. "And yet shaving was far from being as extreme as it is today," Widdows said. "In the late 1960s and 1970s, full bushes were not at all uncommon, even in Playboy. Around that time you also had the second wave of feminism and the spread of hippie culture, both of which rejected hairless bodies. For a lot of women, body hair was symbol of their fight for equality. It wasn't seen as unnatural -- not yet."
What truly cemented body hair removal as a prominent beauty standard was the rising popularity of waxing, pornography, and increasingly explicit pop culture, she added. "Removing body hair went from being 'expected' to the norm," Widdows explained. "Being hairless has come to be seen as the only 'natural' and clean way to present the body. Except it really isn't."
"Anything associated with the 'abject' -- what we expel from our cultural worlds in order to define ourselves -- arouses disgust, shame, and hostility almost by definition," Herzig chimed in. "Visible female body hair certainly tends to be treated as abject today. It's worth noting that those are ideas about cleanliness, contingent social norms, rather than about actually removing 'dirt.' Most hair removal practices tend to introduce new opportunities for abrasion and infection."