Eighteen-year-old Suraiya, a student from Dallas tweeted a selfie back in December.
It pictured her lying on her side in her underwear and a striped T-shirt. She was showing off her body because she was proud of it. The exposure showed her true skin color, her hip-to-waist ratio and her belly, covered in fine dark hairs. The image isn’t sexual.
The tweet went viral. Internet trolls left comments like “maybe instead of buying walmart (sic) underwear you should buy a razor,” “shave pls,” and “I threw up a little.”
Showing off her body hair turned into a controversy. For many women who want to flaunt their natural body hair, it still is.
I asked a few Texans what their opinions were of body hair:
“We’re mammals, that’s part of the deal when you are a mammal,” Kaitlin Raftus says.
“I’m a guy and I think back hair is gross and I hate mine,” William McConnell says.
“Right now, I own my hair, yeah, I’m proud of it,” Pye Brown says.
“For hygiene purposes, especially here in Texas when it gets hot, you don’t need all that extra hair,” Tonya White says.
From acceptance to disgust, the topic of hair and whether or not women and men should remove it has been controversial in the U.S. for about a century, says historian Rebecca Herzig. In her book “Plucked: A History of Hair Removal,” Herzig says hair issues started out as a “euphemism” for politically charged topics such as immigration.
“Hair came to be seen as unhygienic and problematic when large numbers of new immigrants were coming to the country in the late 19th, early 20th century,” she says.
Those immigrants were mostly white, from Southern and Eastern Europe, but they were not like Americans. They were hairy.
“Hair became seen as dirty, as polluting, as possibly disease ridden,” Herzig says.
With the explosion of mass media came a global definition of beauty: beautiful people were white, slender and hairless, regardless of gender.
“If you just flip through men’s magazines – Men’s Health or GQ or whatever – you’ll see an awful lot of men who’ve been buffed to a shine,” Herzig says.
Americans spend about 3 billion dollars a year in shaving products. Waxing and threading salons are making a killing too with annual growth rates of seven percent.
Lorie Young owns Wax That! in Austin. “That’s why I started doing waxing. The truth of the truth is because I knew that it was a good income,” Young says.
Young says through waxing she helps heal the wounds of clients who are ashamed of their body hair – some have been ostracized for it.
“‘You are totally normal, this is totally fine.’ I’ve said that to every client that I’ve ever had,” Young says. “I’ve had to tell them at some point or another, ‘This is perfectly normal.'”
Change is perfectly normal too. Historian Herzig says, at the moment, the world is again redefining concepts like beauty and body hair.
Remember Pye Brown? At the beginning of this story she said she “owns her hair.” What she doesn’t own is a razor.
“Sometimes I’ll put on some heels and a nice dress and think that it would look a little nicer if my armpit hairs weren’t sticking out and my big hairy legs weren’t at the end of a nice pair of high heels,” Brown says. “But the feeling of not worrying takes over. I think it’s more attractive not to follow the social norms than it is actually aesthetically appealing.”
That’s how she’s redefined her beauty.