Hair Removal: Men vs. Women?

July 18, 2012, 11:04 AM GMT+0

Body hair – everybody has it. Some have dark hair, some have light; some possess scarce traces of it, while others boast it as a more prominent feature. Natural though it may be, it's not everybody's cup of tea, as our recent discussion in Labs on the matter deftly highlighted.

In May, Emer O'Toole became a source of interest because of her body hair. The 28 year-old had decided to conduct her own, personal, 18-month experiment, wherein she let all her body hair grow without intervening to remove it – no waxing, shaving, tweezing or threading allowed – to see if she could get used to it, and be at one with it.

And in the end, she did and was – but is she a lone maverick? And what is it about male and female body hair that splits opinion – and the sexes?

In Labs, we posed the following questions:

Q1. Do you think women should or should not shave or remove their body hair? (i.e. from their armpits, legs, bikini line)

Q2. And do you think men should or should not shave or remove their body hair? (i.e.from their armpits, chest, or groin)

  • Perhaps predictably, a significant number of people felt women should remove hair to be 'feminine'; to avoid ridicule and isolation by not 'fitting in', and to appear more attractive to the opposite sex. Emphasis was given to what were felt to be social or Western 'norms' that smooth, hairless women look 'better'; of hair growth as being undesirable; that keeping trim might enhance a woman's confidence; and show that she 'takes care of herself'. Some also noted that, thanks to evolution, hair had lost its original purpose ('we now have clothes to keep us warm!') (but had left us with an aesthetic complex to deal with).
  • A good portion of respondents also felt, however, that men too should aspire to be clean shaven in many areas, in order to attain an idealised, clean, smooth figure.
  • Perceptions of 'hygiene' in particular played a large role in the pro-hair removal comment spectrum, with many holding the view that body hair on both men and women can lead to foul odour, gathering bacteria, and skin rashes.
  • But taking an opposite view, there were many respondents who said there is no "should" or "should not" about removing body hair, but rather felt the practice a choice solely for the individual, man or woman – and society should throw off what they saw as arbitrary 'rules'.

Here's what you had to say in Labs:

'Why I think women should remove their body hair'

“For many reasons: fashion, popularity, hygiene, smoothness, appearance and because we don't technically need body hair anymore - we wear clothing to keep us warm”

“It can cause self-consciousness. It doesn’t do much harm if taught properly and if it makes girls feel better about themselves

“I think it's more hygienic (and in my opinion, better looking) when a lady shaves. More hair means more sweat and more sweat can lead to itching, dandruff, rashes and other personal problems if not kept in check”

“Because it promotes cleanliness and is greeted with greater attraction in the western society

“They look more womanly and better presented; they take pride in their appearance

“Hopefully we are no longer animals, we have clothes and hair serves no purpose other than a cosmetic one. It therefore comes down to personal preference, and mine can be summed up as less is definitely more...”

“It is the social norm in this country and is deemed disgusting if you don't remove hair. I wish this wasn't the case, as it can be annoying having to do it, but that is the country we live in!”

Armpit hair is unsightly, especially in hot climates, it hangs and exudes sweat and tends to smell heavily of bacteria. In hot dry climates body hair on legs and arms is very handy for keeping dust off the skin and for cooling down… it does relate a lot to the location in which we live and our social/cultural ways

“Because of the way most women dress these days it would look a bit odd, as modern fashion is designed assuming they will shave or whatever. However if they are walking from Land's End to John O' Groats they shouldn't bother”

“I agree that women should remove body hair from armpits, legs and especially facial hair. It is very embarrassing and debilitating; when you suffer from heavy facial hair. I even feel that facial hair is causing distress to someone; it should be removed via NHS funding”

'Why I think men should remove their body hair'

“A nicely shaved man can really show off the definition of his body, and it is much nicer to snuggle up with than some guy with hair like cowhide over his body. Plus man-sweat just soaks into hair (especially armpit and pubic hair) and smells awful, no matter how much deodorant they slather on

“Because you do not want a person to have a forest of hair and smell due to the sweat on the hair

“Shaving or trimming is probably healthier and better looking though in my opinion”

“Yes, men look so much nicer hair free. Especially if they are a little toned”

Men should look like men and not apes

“I believe that men would feel more comfortable with no hair because they are able to show off their body

“They should remove excess back hair and from their pubic area”

“Men’s facial hair/stubble looks awful and un-groomed; a good mature beard is very attractive if kept well groomed and clean, especially around the mouth. Stubble is very harsh for ladies to endure/rash during physical contact. Wet, sweaty, long, and drenched arm pit hair is very off putting

“Personally I think it looks better, requires less soap to wash and more hygienic

“I personally prefer a hair free man, as women are expected to shave and I think it should be equal as it looks equally attractive on both genders. When cuddling/lying on a boyfriend, body hair doesn't feel nice. Also, removing from their groin feels/looks better during relations”

'Why I think women shouldn't remove their body hair'

I don't think women should shave or remove their body hair but society dictates otherwise”

“It doesn’t bother me if a woman is nice. Hairy arms and legs will not make a difference

There should be freedom to remove hair if they choose to, I feel that we have got to the stage where there is pressure on girls to view any bodily hair as disgusting. Personally, I view the fashion for removing all bodily hair as removing a mark of adulthood, and contributing to the sexualisation of children, as well as encouraging a dimorphic view of what humans look like

I don't think that they SHOULD have to. It's they're choice. However, I think it's better if they do”

“Because it's there; removing it is rendering oneself a child

“I find artificial and airbrushed looks unattractive and stubbly armpits especially unattractive. I far prefer the cute, natural appearance of feminine hair

“Because we are humans that grow hair, it is natural, and only a social misinterpretation that hair on women is 'gross'. If they are perceived as such, it represents a problem in the way of thinking of the onlooker, not the hairy lady”

“Hair is there for a purpose, we should be as nature intended

“If we weren't meant to have it, it wouldn't be there – we have hair for a reason!

It is quite unnecessary to waste resources on removing hair from the body. It is an attempt to look like a child, hairless, and it does not work. It would be better if we changed our ideas of what is acceptable and what is not”

If women were not supposed to have hair where it grows naturally then there wouldn't be any!

Nothing wrong with hair. Removing it can cause pain, discomfort and skin problems. Accept women as they are and stop making them feel inferior

'Why I think men shouldn't remove their body hair'

“It’s more acceptable for men to have body hair – seems a bit feminine to remove it unless they have very hairy backs”

It looks wrong! Certainly not from the groin or armpits – chest I can kind of understand although I find that weird, but why would men want to look prepubescent?

They are cuddly with hair. Shaving hair is girly. The only exception is their faces, as I think shaved faces are better than beards”

“Generally speaking, it isn't very ‘manly’… men lacking body hair appear vain and self-centred

“Men are hairy – it’s masculine – removing it makes them look neither manly nor attractive

“The dislike of unnatural appearance – but on men it is just affected and foolish, apart I suppose from competition swimmers”

“Because I like my men to look like men, as nature intended them to be! I find chest hair incredibly sexy. I love men’s facial hair too and do not like clean shaven men – who wants to get a mouthful of aftershave when kissing?”

“As far as they can keep it clean, there’s no problem in having body hair

“We have hair for a reason – it is meant to be there!

Men are human beings not 'Ken dolls'!

“Men’s body hair is tougher and thicker than women’s and is not easy to remove. Body hair is a sign of testosterone, so is sexy and acceptable on men. It could be trimmed / tidied if too long but not removed completely”

“Men generally wear more clothes, and even when they don't, these clothes are designed with the expectation of body hair

“It's natural to have hair, leave it as it is. Removing hair can cause discomfort, pain and irritation. Accept men as they are”

"It depends"

Aside from those who felt removing body hair was a personal preference, others felt it should depend on an individual's personal circumstances, such as sporting activity, cultural background, or medical conditions, rather than conform to social expectations:

On Women:

Individual choice

“It simply depends on whether or not the woman in question WANTS to remove their body hair

“It should depend entirely on whatever the woman in question wants to do, but we live in a maelstrom of conflicting social, cultural, and individual pressures, so that's unlikely.”

“Depending on their culture and their personal choice - some men might like a lady with body hair. I like shaving mine but I don’t mind what other ladies do

“It depends on personal feelings. If a woman decides not to for religious or other personal reasons then that's their belief and should be respected

Personal circumstances

Some are hairier than others, so they may need a little more attention but in principle why remove it? My wife is continental born and they are not obsessed with body hair removal”

“I would say it depends on whether their body hair is fine or not - i.e. some fine hair is hardly noticeable, but with constant shaving it would grow thicker and stronger so leave it!”

It may be necessary for instance if swimming or trying to show the doctor parts of the body covered by hair. Also if getting overheated

“Well, it depends on where the growth of hair on the body affects personal hygiene or causes medical issues such as dermatitis etc.”

On Men:

Individual choice

“It's really down to that man's personal choice and his reasons for doing it. A trim is becoming very socially acceptable but complete hair removal from those areas is a bit strange”

It should be entirely up to the man. Obviously there are some circumstances where certain elements of body hair are impractical (beards interfering with breathing apparatus and so on), but in general we need to get over our prejudices and stereotypes about this

Societal expectation should not take priority over personal likes and wants

Personal circumstances

“It depends on their look, some men looks good with hairs in chest

“Where the hair growth affects personal hygiene or causes medical concern

“It depends - swimmers do it for streamlining and cyclists do it so if they fall off there is no hair in the wound and a lot of men trim the groin area because it makes them feel more confident or just more comfortable

What's your opinion on removing body hair? Would you consider one gender has a greater obligation to remove hair than the other? Tell us your views using Disqus below

Follow and discuss: @YouGovLabs on Twitter