If you were to hear a woman was “going au naturel” – aka abstaining from the shave – what sort of image would that conjure?

For many, it seems to bring forth visions of a bra-burning, man-hating, feminist warrior, who believes that their refusal to depilate is of patriarchy-dismantling proportions.

Sure, for some ladies, keeping their hair might be symbolic of principles charmingly profound: self-love, embracing the parts God gave you, repelling the stereotypical constructs of femininity internalised by our psyches…

But, based on the overwhelming volume of anecdotal evidence floating around out there (thank you, social media), there seems to be a prevailing, though fairly basic motivation, for putting down the razor/wax strips; being (*drum roll, please*), that hair removal is time-consuming!

Literally, it’s as basic as that.

That’s not to say there isn’t a multitude of other factors at play, such as pain (read: ingrown hairs and razor burn) and the sheer expense of hair removal rituals (read: hundreds-of-dollars laser sessions, various creams, IPL treatments, and high-tech epilators).

As is customary with statistics, the facts and figures here can too be viewed through several lenses. First interpretation: hair removal remains preferable for the majority of Western women, with figures by UK research firm Mintel indicating that in 2016, 85 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds were shaving their legs and 77 per cent of that same group were removing hair from their underarms. Likewise, a 2016 study published in the U.S.’s Journal of the Medical Association (for Dermatology) reported that 84 per cent of women aged 18 to 25 consistently groomed their pubic hair.

Now for the second interpretation: widespread hair removal is waning, given that – in 2013 – the Mintel leg-shaving faction had 92 per cent favour, and the underarm-removal stat sat at a whopping 95 per cent; signifying declines of seven and 18 per cent respectively. As for tampering totally with pubic hair, The New York Times’ Marisa Meltzer (2014) had this to say…     

“In certain corners of Manhattan, the bald look of the Brazilian has become déclassé, more suggestive of a naked Barbie doll or a reality television starlet than an organic lifestyle of cold-pressed juice and barre classes,”.

The degree to which hair removal, as a concept, is encumbered by varying cultural, social and sexual implications, can render it a bit difficult to unpack. The practice goes all the way back to the days of cavemen, before popping up in Ancient Egypt, when good ol’ Cleopatra achieved the hair-free look through pumice stones, and then rearing its head again in Ancient Greece/Rome, when creams and tweezers became ladies’ new weapons-of-choice. And now, here we are; backed by thousands of years of history and a billion-dollar hair removal industry.

Amongst women who do remove their hair, there’s pretty much a consensus as to the perks. It’s cleaner, more hygienic, looks better, feels better and smells better than the ‘alternative’.

I, myself, am an avid hair removalist.

Realistically, I just wouldn’t feel comfortable not shaving. I remember one occasion; attending uni after being sick for more than a week. I hadn’t left the house, and as such, had been lax with my usual shower-time routine. It wasn’t until I got all the way to campus and looked down at my legs in the light of day, sticking out beneath my skirt, that I actually registered the extent of… ‘the growth’. “Stay calm”, I told myself. “You’ll be seated the whole time”. Wrong! We got up in the middle of class to do a walking tour. I was mortified to the point I literally trailed behind the rest of the group while on our little jaunt.

It sucks that I felt that calibre of shame. And while I’d love to say, “it’s on me,” “I have a preference”, I certainly recognise that I’m governed by eons of history and a plethora of engrained societal norms, values, mores, and all those other fun things. I understand the impact cultural expectations have levied, truly; but, at the end of the day, whatever the roots of my choice to remove my hair may be, it’s simply that… a personal choice.

It’s an invaluable exercise; supporting women’s right to choose how they deal with their own bodies. A massive kudos to any girl who’s only doing what feels right or natural… and making zero apologies for it.  

Because, realistically, majority of the ladies who retain their hair aren’t doing so as part of some wild or errant scheme to see their choices weaponised in the ongoing gender debate. For a college student, it can be as simple as, “I didn’t want to wake up at 5am to shave my entire body in a communal shower when I have a hectic schedule and am exhausted most days”. For a time-poor mum, neglecting to purchase razors during the weekly shop – a mere oversight – might pave the way to forgetting “just one more time”, then another, and another, until, before long, she’s rejoicing in the absence of the dark and prickly stubble that crops up so soon after shaving.

How powerful; if ‘hair’ were to become normalised. If us shavers could forgo our ritual one week and evade unadulterated panicwhen we inadvertently leave the house in a sleeveless top. If we could shave, decide we were sick of it, then recommence the practice, without society casting a critical eye, ready to dissect our decisions and assign us some futile label. How impactful; if we could choose to never shave, yet be free from the disapproving glances of those who feel sporting a bit of tuft under the arms is a blight on a well-groomed and clean society. If we spare ourselves the initial discomfort before inevitably making peace with our choice… “to hell” with everyone else. How lovely; if we simply avoid thinking of anyone else, at all.

So, call it whatever – a trend, a movement, or my personal favourite, proliferation in the exercise of personal choice we’re all entitled to – we all need to respect each other, support each other, and be glad that our fellow ladies feel comfortable doing what they damn well please.

May it only continue.

Kendyl Bailey