While Bitch Magazine issue #28 probably said most of what needs to be said on this, I still feel like I want to put in my two cents. Hair removal is a common body modification. Depending on the body area and the level of permanence it can be relatively noncontroversial. According to societal expectations, men shave their faces and women shave most everywhere else except the top of their heads.
Men can get away with hair removal elsewhere if they are bodybuilders or their body hair is considered “excessive.” Chest hair is favored over back hair, but even chest hair is only marginally accepted. Arm and leg hair seems to be expected, but recently it seems like even those expectations may be changing.
Aside from long eyelashes, hair on the top of the head and delicate eyebrows women are expected to be nearly hairless. Some even joke–barely chuckling–that this hair removal expectation is a tax on being female. Waxing or shaving takes on hair all over the body.
Part of me says that people should be able to modify themselves however they like. Immediately I feel the urge to backtrack, perhaps not modifications that would be debilitating. Does socially debilitating count or just over-the-top loss of functionality (limb/organ removal)? If I feel like people should be able to pierce and tattoo themselves why does hair removal seem troubling? Perhaps it’s because hair removal is not so much allowed but expected and even required.
I vacillate on my own hair removal practices. It seems as if I should not have to remove body hair to get people to perceive me the way that I perceive myself. If I want to remove body hair then it should be because it gives me some sort of satisfaction.
Haircuts and hairstyles add another dimension. Accepted men’s hairstyles seem far more restrictive than those socially acceptable on women. Some subcultures still expect women to have long hair, but they seem to be in the minority. Women are allowed short and long hairstyles with the limit being as short hair becomes a buzzed or shaved head. Men with longer hair are on the edge of acceptability. At the hairstylist, as one perceived as a man with longish hair, I am warned that certain haircuts would be girly and guided away from them.
So do I object to certain haircuts being markers of masculinity or femininity? Actually, this seems to be one spot where I’m fine with these sorts of cultural divisions. What makes it problematic for me is that masculinity is limited to men and femininity to women without the opportunity for individuals to choose from a variety of symbols to form their identities. Even in the midst of these symbolic choices people should be seen more for personalities and character than mere appearance