I grew up with a pretty thorough knowledge of the absurd cosmetic rituals that women have to go through. Proud possessor of two older sisters, things like lipstick, false eyelashes and a variety of facial and body care products were familiar sights around our home. One thing that puzzled me as a lad, though, was the shaving.
My father, who was born before the custom of women shaving caught on, told me that it was "classy looking" when women shaved. I was an inquisitive kid, and remained unconvinced.
I was aware that ' foreign' women did not always shave. Occasionally, I would catch a glimpse of an unshaved shin or armpit at the mall or on TV. I always thought it looked exotic. I can remember, as an adolescent, seeing an Asian woman in a swimsuit (maybe some picture from the Olympics) and noting that she was unshaven. I thought that this was very sexy.
I was delighted when Playboy, of all people, decided to run pictures of Madonna with her lightly fuzzy armpits and legs. I hoped that perhaps the sight of a beautiful, sexually attractive woman with natural body hair might inspire more men to think of this as less fetishistic and more natural. After all, I had heard that the whole custom was started as a marketing gimmick to sell more razors, so couldn't it be undone as easily? This was not to be, of course, and a lot of people found the pictures disgusting, because she had body hair. I doubt that Playboy ever ran any more pictures of women with natural body hair after that.
On occasion, certain famous women have decided to fly in the face the depilatory custom. Gillian Anderson had an infamous picture with David Duchovny and X-Files creator Chris Carter. The magazine (Rolling Stone or Spin, I forget which) decided to airbrush Ms. Anderson's pits rather than risk freaking out their audience. Susan Sarandon has likewise raised a few eyebrows by bucking convention and singer Paula Cole actually accepted a Grammy and made a video with unshaven underarms. The horrors!
It actually does horrify people. My college girlfriend (the same one who grew up to be my current partner, best friend and housemate, 23 years later) once drew the disgust and anger of her mother, when mom found out that my gal was not appropriately de-fuzzed. "I will not have you going around like a street urchin!!" We thought it was a little weird, too ...
The thing is, when you get accustomed to natural growth of body hair on women, the converse looks a little weird. It looks fetishistic, maybe even pedophilic, as if our society is trying to get women to look pre-adolescent. Maybe that is the point, I don't know, I'm not a trained psychologist.
I don't actually think this custom will change in my lifetime, but attitudes in some places may have shifted a little bit. While on a trip to Austin, I happened to spy about six women who did not shave within about 30 minutes on the Guadelupe strip. That is more than I have caught in Dallas in the last six years.
It is not so disturbing that someone would shave a part of their body, what is weird is the lack of any choice in the matter. A man, for example, can go clean shaven, he can even shave his arms, legs and chest. He can grow a big mountain man beard, a pencil-thin moustache or a big old-timey handlebar. At worst, he'll be thought of as a wee touch eccentric. A woman, at least here in the Bible Belt, who does not appropriately shave her body, is considered too grotesque for words. But it is the way that God, or nature at least, decided to make women. And it is beautiful, at least, to some of us.