Eirinn Hayes takes us on a crash course on beards, burglers and body hair policing.

Image via r n o, Flickr.
Image via r n o, Flickr.
Image via r n o, Flickr.

“I reckon my friend has the creepiest burglar story!!”, Emma of 96.1fm’s breakfast radio program squealed. I reached to switch stations but, for some reason, refrained. “So at 3am right, my friend, she heard noises down in the laundry so she decided, you know, she was gonna go down and investigate and she found …”. Emma pauses suppressing her laughter, demonstrating the expertise only capable of a true professional. “She found …. In the laundry …. a random woman shaving her face!!!!!!”. Their hysterics filled my unimpressed red Corolla. “OMG Mike, I would rather have found a guy with a knife or something ….”.

Yes, you read that correctly. The prospect of physical violence for this radio presenter is more appealing than women growing hair in androgen receptive zones! Of course, not all women grow beards thick enough to shave like the intruder. Admittedly, it’s confusing this random woman saw Emma’s friend’s laundry as an appropriate place to groom herself. But Emma’s disgust and hate-filled reaction towards the bearded woman is reflective of something much more sinister. This is the apparent abnormality and deformity of hair on women in places other than legs, arms, underarms and the pubic region.

In real life, you only have to go so far as one of your local Laser Clinics Australia (they’re everywhere) to upset whatever ‘normal places’ to grow hair means. Laser services cater to your nipples, neck, sides of face, snail trail, anus, back or really anywhere the technicians will let you. In particular groups, women usually have no qualms admitting to plucking hairs on their nipples or complaining about their hairy stomachs. Yet these conversations are often tinged with embarrassment or shame and our reactions often assume this definitely isn’t normal. We awkwardly confess to our most trusted friends our inability to curb our bodily processes, as a woman should.

Lets’ think of a dumb enough situation to liken this to. For lack of a better one, let’s just say that women were – hypothetically – only allowed to urinate at the houses of blood relatives. Kind of Caesarean but bear with me here. In certain groups, you would potentially feel comfortable talking about urinating whenever nature called. However psychologically and emotionally, you would’ve internalised the abnormality of your need to urinate in many different places. At the end of the day, you would be measuring yourself against an ideal that modelled only peeing at your cousin’s house as a successful performance of femininity.

This is a perfectly ridiculous situation but it is surprisingly the same with hair. Hair is an involuntary bodily process that develops in different androgen zones to differing degrees between individuals. This includes women.
But men and women have been raised to believe that hair on women is strictly acceptable in ‘some places’ framing its presence anywhere else as questionable and masculine. But believe it or not, hair is a completely natural process for humans. Once more, this includes women! In fact hair is integral to regulating body temperature and protects you from various external hazards. So why is it that hair is only allowed to grow in some places for females?

Why is its presence in ‘unsanctioned’ zones such an intense threat to femininity? And why would people, even women, prefer the prospect of physical danger to a woman with facial hair?

Emma on 96.1fm is no example, but like the rest of us she has been subjected to ideologies that have naturalised hairless women. Obvious examples like mainstream porn, representations of women in most media and even presumably harmless sites like Buzzfeed idealise hairlessness and vilify anything that upsets this. I was scrolling Buzzfeed the other day and came across a ‘light-hearted’ series of images showing Disney Princesses with superimposed beards on their faces. It is hilarious that someone actually spent part of their day doing this. On a surface level, it trivialises medical conditions like female hirsutism and facial hair that women with polycystic ovarian syndrome often develop. It also trivialises the facial hair trans* women grow or may to continue to grow if they’re in the process of transitioning. Further, it reinforces a norm that is just not compatible with a lot of women’s hairy realities! Take a minute to imagine how many girls laughed at those princesses after waxing or plucking their own moustaches.

To an extent, medicine has also placed a mandate of authenticity on hairlessness for women. Medical journals typically frame hair growth in ‘unsanctioned’ zones as ‘excessive’, deeply embarrassing and a process that shouldn’t be happening. Some girls who grow ‘more hair than usual’ are sent to endocrinologists only to find out their hormones are factually fine. Whether or not hair is the result of a hormone imbalance or not, the language and associated emotions
these journals employ place a scientific stamp on hairless women. As it stands, one of the biggest issues the medicalization of hairlessness has perpetuated is our obsession with trying to align genitals, bodily processes and gender.
And the medical mandate on female hairlessness does exactly this: vagina equals female equals hair in exclusively four androgen zones. Go to the GP and test them out if you’re hairy. It could turn out to be an interesting social experiment.

So if you’re a woman who grows hair where it’s definitely not allowed, or a guy who feels inadequate for not growing enough, it turns out that hair doesn’t correlate with your prescribed gender: it’s just our shitty cultural norms that say they do. As the bearer of your hair you can grow, wax, plait, shave or do something more artistic with your bodily canvas. Be creative. As for 96.1fm? I’ll have to pursue my fix for nineties RnB hits elsewhere.