10 Eye-Opening Facts About Body Hair

Women face stark double standards with respect to body hair.

Posted Dec 16, 2020

Perceptions of body hair are rapidly evolving. Some of the biggest changes have been evidenced in film. For instance, classic representations of James Bond, portrayed by Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan, sported hairy chests and clean-shaven faces. In his most recent appearances, however, Bond exhibits a hairless body and stubbled face as showcased by Daniel Craig.

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Source: 123rfanton/123RF

Emerging research on the topic suggests that while views of male body hair are more permissive, body hair issues in women are socially policed by members of Western society.

Here are 10 evidence-based findings about body hair.

  1. More than 90 percent of women in Western countries remove their armpit and leg hair, with increasing numbers of women removing pubic hair.
  2. Between 60 and 70 percent of Western men remove some pubic hair, most commonly by trimming. Increasing numbers of men are removing chest and back hair.
  3. In Germany, 70 percent of men report removing armpit hair, and 30 percent report removing pubic hair.
  4. Research has shown that women in the UK and Sri Lanka appear to find body hair on men attractive.
  5. Some research has shown that men tend to manage complex expectations of masculinity by trimming body hair instead of completely removing it, thus negotiating a middle ground that is both “masculine” and “clean,” as well as still accentuating penis size.
  6. Based on findings from a study published in Body Image, both homosexual and heterosexual men exhibit similar body-image concerns and remove hair from the buttocks, back, and pubic areas to invest in their appearance.
  7. According to the research, women cite public invisibility, privacy, and attractiveness as reasons to remove pubic hair (e.g., bikini-line hair removals). More generally, women cite concerns about attractiveness and desirability, as well as social conformity, as reasons to remove body hair.
  8. Although framed as an individual choice, research has shown that the removal of body hair by women can be motivated by social pressure, including that from friends, partners, imagined partners, and the media (including pornography).
  9. Women who choose to display body hair in public are often met with harsh social rebuke, with such displays viewed as dirty, animalistic, “manly,” and aggressive, as well as putative of a lack of education or mental illness. These reactions can negatively affect well-being, according to the experts.
  10. Fine body hair may serve a purpose in helping with the detection of parasitic bed bugs, according to the results of a study published in Biology Letters.

Double standards with respect to body hair and the sexes are rampant, as highlighted by the results of an experimental study published in Body Image. Investigators Gareth Terry and Virginia Braun surveyed 584 male and female New Zealanders aged between 18 and 35 years to ascertain perceptions of body hair.

“Substantial proportions of women and men see male body hair as acceptable unless it is on the back—but there, too, acceptability of body hair was higher than for almost every region of the female body (with the exception of the arms, and the pubic area),” the authors wrote.

The researchers noted that high numbers of both men and women felt that either male retention or male removal of body hair was acceptable, whereas only a small minority of participants found women retaining body hair in its natural state as acceptable.

References

Dean, I, Siva-Jothy, MT. Human fine body hair enhances ectoparasite detection. Biology Letters. 2012. 8: 358–361. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0987. Accessed 12/15/2020.

Martins, Y, Tiggemann, M, Churchett, L. Hair today, gone tomorrow: A comparison of body hair removal practices in gay and heterosexual men. Body Image. 2008. 5(3): 312-316. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2008.04.001. Accessed 12/15/2020.

Terry, G, Braun, V. To let hair be, or to not let hair be? Gender and body hair removal practices in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Body Image. 2013. doi: 10(4): 599–606. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2013.07.001. Accessed 12/15/2020.