Does body hair removal remain a domain of embodied gendered difference? A report from Aotearoa New Zealand.

Terry, Gareth and Braun, Virginia (2013). Does body hair removal remain a domain of embodied gendered difference? A report from Aotearoa New Zealand. In: BPS Psychology of Women Section Annual Conference, 10-12 Jul 2013, Windsor, United Kingdom.

Abstract

In relatively recent Anglo-western history, body hair removal has been a strikingly gendered phenomenon: women remove body hair; men do not. In the last decade, claims have been made of a “recent neutralization of differences in hair practices between the genders” – a shift towards men also removing hair, rather than women stopping removing hair. Anecdotal and some empirical evidence suggests significant cultural changes in men’s hair removal practices, but men’s practices, and their relationship to the ‘hairless ideal’ still expected of women in Anglo-western countries, remain relatively under-examined. We sought to explore whether body hair removal remains as a key domain of embodied gendered difference. Here we report on a mix of qualitative and quantitative data collected via an online survey from 584 New Zealanders between the ages of 18-35 (mean age 26, 48.9% male, 50.6% female, 0.5% other, demographically diverse). Women’s hair removal practices echo that found in other research, with high levels of hair removal. Men also appear to remove hair in substantial proportions, from multiple body sites. Through exploring concepts like acceptability and desirability, a complex and gendered picture of body hair practice appears, captured by the notion of flexibility. For women, hair removal appears still a mandatory requirement for desirable (hetero)femininity; for men, however, hairiness/hairlessness boundaries appear more flexible, less clearly tied to desirable (hetero)masculinity.

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