Understanding body hair
Body hair which is also called androgenic hair is the end hair that develops on the human body during and after puberty. The level of androgens (male hormones) and the density of androgen receptors in the dermal papillae are responsible for the growth of body hair.
Regardless of our sex, we start growing vellus hair which is the short, thin, barely noticeable hair that develops on our body right from childhood. The density of the human hair however differs from person to person. Common areas where the hair is distributed are the arms, pubic, armpits, and the face.
Why is body hair important?
Body hair and its growth is a natural phenomenon. The hair on our body helps us to reduce friction as skin constantly rubbing on bare skin may cause some form of irritation or discomfort.
It also shields our skin from sunburn as the hair follicles ensure that we have blood vessels all over our body. The hair follicles also help in the healing process of cuts.
For women, pubic hair functions as a protection for the vagina against dirt which might want to get into it. The removal of pubic hair naturally irritates and inflames the follicles left behind which becomes tiny open wounds. Because you shave consistently, you have to regularly remove those bristly hairs to stay as smooth. Doing this opens you up to irritation and itching, especially when the irritated area becomes warm or moist which can develop into a nasty bacteria.
Pubic hair also functions as a dry lubricant, it reduces friction during sex and makes movement easier when hair rubs against hair as opposed to the bare skin on the genital area which is sensitive. Besides hair keeps the genitals warm and helps with sexual arousal.
The shame around body hair
For decades, the narrative about body hair being unsightly, especially that of women, has been pushed by companies, markets, thereby creating new insecurities around the human body. Reinforced by the media, shaving products present women with baby-faced underarms, pubic, and legs, which has mounted pressure on women, once again setting unrealistic societal standards that say, “be hairless all the time.”
Sometimes, when the hair grows on unconventional places or for an unconventional gender like a woman having a moustache or a man growing up to be bare-faced, he/she is body shamed and ridiculed. Body hair shouldn’t indicate one's sex, gender, or sexuality because body hair is non-binary and can’t be attributed either in absence or presence as the criteria for beauty or sex.
The decision to completely shave one’s hair should be a personal choice and not one that comes from the stigma associated with the presence of body hair especially as there is no real reason why body hair should be shaved in the first place except for societal pressure.
The absence of body hair doesn’t necessarily mean cleanliness, and the presence of it doesn’t mean dirtiness. Like every other part of the human body, body hair can adequately be taken care of by having a decent trim rather than an all-out shave, proper hygiene, and using the right products like rose water and considering exfoliation.
The first step to unlearning the stigma around body hair is to understand that the presence of hair in the human body is completely natural. If you have body hair or wouldn’t like to shave yours off, take your time to indulge and celebrate your appearance, this will help to boost confidence. Ultimately, the media still has a long way to go in reshaping the perception of people towards body hair, but it starts from normalizing the growth and presence of body hair.