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'Don't Risk Dudeness': What's the Big Deal About Body Hair?

14/04/2014 12:28 BST | Updated 12/06/2014 10:59 BST

Last week, Veet made the catastrophic mistake of revealing to its customers that it actually makes all of its money from their insecurities. In a series of adverts, it literally claimed that women who don't remove their body hair are men. Obviously, this resulted in a huge backlash from the thousands of women whose leg hair was more than a millimetre long, myself included. We were confused and angry, mainly because the last time we checked, we still had vaginas.

The ads have now been pulled, but their cultural significance still remains. Men and women both naturally have body hair, so how did we come to a place where it is acceptable for only one gender to exist in their natural form? Why are women who have body hair stripped of their femininity by international corperations, when they have been sprouting it since before we evolved into modern day humans?

Of course, part of the answer to these questions lies in the cosmetic industry, which primarily exploits the insecurities of women. So far, this industry has succeeded in making women feel so ugly in their natural forms that they paint their faces, apply chemicals to their hair and, in extreme cases, dye their labia. The removal of body hair is just another thing that women are told they should do to be attractive, which is clearly the sole purpose for our existence on this planet. The scary part is that it has become so ingrained in some of us that we do it automatically. I have spoken to women who shave their underarms and legs every day, and who feel uncomfortable when they are unable to do this. Of course, if women want to be hair free because that is genuinely what they prefer, there's no problem with that. But it is worth questioning how many women would feel this way if they hadn't been told their entire lives that it was a necessary part of being feminine and attractive.

The beauty industry isn't the only factor affecting our perceptions of body hair. I recently spoke to a gynaecology nurse who has noticed a gradual increase in the number of young female patients who completely remove their pubic hair, to the point where she now says it is almost all of them. She thinks that pornography is one of the key reasons for this change. There is no denying that mainstream pornography offers little (if any) variation in its portrayal of female body hair. A BBC3 documentary last week showed that one of the main ways pornography affects young people's views of sex is through its portrayal of the female body. The absence of female body hair was noted to be a key issue here. The idea that women need to be free of pubic hair in order to be attractive is heavily reinforced by porn, which effectively denies them the right to choose how their own bodies look. A woman who refuses to partake in this cultural practice is laughed at, insulted and told that she is not really a woman at all.

It seems that at some point - most likely in the 90s - we stopped demanding that we make our own decisions about our own bodies. It's about time we told Veet and the porn industry to F off with their prescriptive ideas of femininity, beauty and sexuality, and started making our own choices based on our own preferences. Want to grow your leg hair for summer? Do it. Want to cover yourself from head to toe in Veet? Go for it. Just make sure it's your decision, and not the decision of an industry that dares to call you a man if you don't do as it says.