Beauty Under the Name of Hygiene

Women’s hygiene needs aren’t always oriented toward practical cleanliness, but toward following society’s standards of a feminine woman.

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Good hygiene is expected of everyone, but the expected hygiene level seems to differ by gender. Oftentimes, being overly hygienic is just as large of a problem as being unhygienic because women are pressured by society to erase their bodies of “impurities” like body hair. Society’s unnatural obsession with hygiene exclusive to women does not regard actual cleanliness but is yet another unrealistic standard women have to abide by.

Recently, social media has fueled a trend of dermaplaning, where women use a small razor to take the “peach fuzz” off of their faces, leaving more radiant skin, clean of debris and bacteria that small facial hairs contain. Getting rid of micro hairs barely visible to the eye seems unnecessary and foriegn, but it might become the new hygiene norm for women, as shaving has become. In the near future, women with a slight hint of hair on their cheeks might be seen as lazy or inappropriately prepared for a formal party.

When music artist Halsey posed for a magazine with mere stubble visible under her armpits, she was bombarded with hateful comments; even hints of hair are seen as unhygienic to people accustomed to the paper-smooth skin of waxed, laser-removed, and photoshopped images of women. Of course, male celebrities don’t face this problem, and nobody is shocked at a full bush of hair on their legs. Naturally growing hair, even when it grows in the same places, is only socially acceptable for men, while women are left to believe that hair removal is a basic step of hygiene.

The irony of this shaving frenzy is that men usually grow more hair—their facial hair easily grows longer and thicker than dermaplaning can get rid of. However, shaving is seen as a stylistic choice. Body hair can be perfectly maintained as long as proper hygienic procedures such as showers are followed, showing that shaving, unlike what women are taught to believe, is not a matter of hygiene but of beauty.

One driving cause behind these unnecessary hygienic practices is the need to force women to be socially acceptable. Femininity has long been associated with purity, and because youth is also associated with purity, women are pressured to look younger to be more feminine. Pressure to remove body hair, which grows prominently after puberty, is one way to make women seek validation for looking youthful and therefore “womanly” enough for the rest of society.

The media also plays a significant role because it reinforces the standards of femininity by limiting media exposure to women who have flawless skin, often purposefully. The money made from razors, wax strips, and depilatory creams sold to women encourages companies to promote aesthetic choice as hygiene to garner a greater profit. Companies also target women with a pink tax, which charges women a higher price than men for shaving products that often have lower quality.

Due to these double standards, women spend much more money, time, and resources than necessary on body hair removal, even if they don’t personally want to shave. The average cost for shaving across a woman’s lifetime is $10,207, an expense that many women pay without doubting its necessity. With body hair destigmatized, women would be given the freedom to determine their own verdict on shaving, and thus the choice to decide whether shaving is a worthwhile investment of their time, money, and effort.

Nobody outwardly expresses that shaving, exfoliating, or other less practical hygienic practices are obligations. Rather, there is a deep-rooted social stigma that brings about a fear of seeming unhygienic. It takes courage to oppose this stigma as the media, peer perception, and even our own judgment intensify our insecurities around our bodies. Thus, celebrities like Miley Cyrus who publicly show their armpit hair and even dye it destigmatize body hair.

Hygiene expectations for women have extended beyond the simple act of staying clean to a beauty standard that judges our natural bodies as shameful. The media should represent unshaved women alongside men and bring hygiene back to maintaining health, not aesthetics.