Hair and Its Influence on Society
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1) Introduction:
In recent years there has been a great demand for hair removal methods available to women, the most recent being laser facial and body hair removal. The epidemic of hair removal has stemmed off of the pressure that society sets on women to be beautiful. Hair on women has been depicted as being “aggressive”, “dirty”, “masculine”, and “too dominant”. Though much of the hair removal movement has a strong focus on facial hair, it also includes hair in other regions such as arms, legs, bikini area, and even the hair on ones head. The maintenance of hair in our society has become a reflection of ones class and social identity. Its influence is so powerful that it is now a means for discrimination in the corporate world as well as society itself; primarily for African American women who have “kinky or nappy” hair. These expectations are much to blame for self-image issues that many women and teenage girls experience in our society. This self-consciousness leads to many resorting to diet pills or serious issues such as eating disorders. Surprisingly enough, hair expectations is not an issue only affecting America but regions all around the world, such as Zimbabwe, the Middle East, South America and areas of Europe.
Some feminists, like Theresa Carr and Jennifer Miller, have chosen to go against mainstream ideals by growing out their facial hair to prove that it is not only a male acceptable feature. Carr has not shaved since 1973 and states that “… I think wearing your facial hair is an announcement of that self-determination.” The need to be sleek and clean by the means of painful, agonizing, not mention costly hair removal methods for social acceptance, has led to feminists movements of reclaiming the status of woman and the right to personal beauty from ones own measure, not society’s claims of the norm.

2) History and Background:

Contrary to popular belief, hair is not a modern day issue. Since before the 1600’s, hair has played a vital role in the acceptance of an individual, as well as class identification. For example, the larger more lustrous a woman’s hair was, the higher in class she was. But hair is not only limited to the scalp. Facial hair has been a concern for many centuries now, especially in relation to women. In early England, a woman with facial hair was a mockery to the male patriarchy. As the article, "Bearded Women in Early Modern England" explains, a beard on a woman was only a metaphorical explanation for her social standing. “An overtly sexual or economically independent woman could, as we shall see, be allusively or metaphorically rather than literally bearded” (Mark). For a woman to have a beard was seen as defiance to the patriarchy and a loss of gender to the male species.
Present day feminists have taken it into their own hands to revolutionize the mainstream idea that facial hair is only a gender-specific biological occurrence. In Bitchdfest’s “Beyond the Bearded Lady”, Dowel refers to Jennifer Miller as one of the key activists. Miller is a 44 year old circus director who plays the role of the bearded lady. “Women have fear of being a freak…growing their substantial facial hair sends a message to others about the realities of women’s bodies and personal freedom” (Dowel).
The recent methods of a hair removal include waxing, shaving, threading (an Indian method), and laser hair removal. Though shaving and waxing are the most common methods, laser hair removal has become increasing popular among younger women. Though laser removal lasts longer, it is very costly and has several negative side effects. If not done properly, melanin pigmentation could be ruined in that area and the skin severely burned. This electrical method of hair removal seems to be a form of self-mutilation for the cost of social acceptance, a pity if you ask me. Though it is a matter of choice, many women are against painful and costly hair removal methods because hair is seen as a right of passage to women.

3) Importance of hair in various regions of the world.
The influence of hair is not only limited to America, its impact on society is felt all over world in places like the Middle East, Zimbabwe, and many other countries. In the Middle East for example, hair not only plays a social role but it also displays who’s ones kin are and how one sub misses or retaliates to social norms. The article Hair: From the West to the Middle East through the Mediterranean”, explains that in the Muslim culture, a woman’s hair is concealed because hair is a temptation and because hair is seen as a masculine virility. The Iranian culture requires a clean cut look both on the scalp and on facial hair. “God wished women to be smooth, to rejoice in their natural locks as a horse would rejoice in her mane. But God made bearded man like a lion and endowed him, as an attribute of his manhood, with a shaggy breast-a sign of his strength and rule” (Bromberger). This quote shows the high regard to which hair is held to in each gender. So if a woman is to have excessive hair, she is going against God’s will. The irony? In Iran, the Shi'ite culture believes that when the apocalypse and Twelfth Imam comes, a bearded woman will appear at the Grand Mosque according to the Panthic Weekly (Kaur).
Zimbabwe and other parts of southern Africa have also been affected by the mainstream pressures to fit ideal beauty. In “Urbanisation and the Beauty Myth”, Tasneem shows just how much media and society have enforced the idea of beauty upon women of Zimbabwe. “Regardless of the content of the articles, advertisements in these magazines favour the light anti curly-haired Black woman over the dark and makeup-less one” (Tasneem). She explains that movable hair is preferred over nappy hair and that skin-lightening creams are advertised to women as being “fresh and clean”. Her overall message was that Zimbabwean magazines all “embody a campaign to convince African women that beauty is not natural, instead beauty is weaved, extended, coloured, straightened or applied” (Tasneem).

4) Affects of hair expectations on adolescents and minorities.

The epidemic of hair removal has not only been limited to grown women but it has also had a toll on young adolescent girls, as early as 8 years old. Much of the reason for the recent trend of young middle school aged girls looking for hair removal methods is because of influence from mothers. As the MSN-NBS article "Too Young? Preteen girls get leg, bikini Waxes" states, "“For waxing, 12 years old is the ‘new normal,’ ” Engle said"" (Rao). According to Rao, the International Spa Association says that 16 percent of teenage girls who have gone to spas have gotten hair removal procedures. The pressure of both parents, generally mothers, and society has caused young girls who have not even hit puberty to be self-conscious of hair on upper lips or legs. In the past, this did not become an issue to girls until they hit mid-teens. This ever growing obsession is going to create problems in development in hair growth for these young adolscent girls if they continue to start shaving and waxing at such young ages.

For many years now, African American women and men have been stigmatized as having kinky, unmanageable, ugly hair. These stigmas led many African American women in the past and especially today to perform time consuming and painful hair treatments and styles in order to be socially accepted. During the civil right movement though, many women refused to straighten their hair in efforts of the “Black is Beautiful” campaign. As the article Style & Status: Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920-1975” states, African American women faced particular challenges. For all American women, maintaining a fashionable appearance demonstrated conformity to current feminine ideals and was an important means of establishing that they deserved respect” (Fields). Though many African American women continue to wear their historically “knappy” hair, many have been influenced by the white ideals of beauty and perform endless chemical straightening treatments as well as dye their hair blonde to better fit into the society and avoid the prejudice and racism of an ever-developing society.

5) Conclusion
Though there is no sure outcome of the pressure society sets on individuals in terms of hair, I feel there is a lot to be said. The expectation of women to be smooth and beautiful is a double-standard that is causing many women to question their beauty, when beauty really can not be measured by a society but rather by personal preference. Hair is biological and is acceptable to both sexes. It is not right that women must resort to all kinds of methods to eliminate every inch of hair on their bodies. For a woman to have hair does not mean she is dirty and unapproachable, nor does it mean she has more power than a man. Men and women are equals, regardless of hair. Our bodies are not objects to be ridiculed; it is a matter of personal opinion and satisfaction. If a woman chooses to have facial hair, then she is granted the right to do so. No societal standard should say that women or men must look a certain way. This ridicule is a means for discrimination and causes many individuals to develop serious self-image issues. It is because of social expectations like these that African Americans are choosing to bleach their skin or chemically straighten their hair, or that Zimbabwean’s associate beauty as unnatural, or that Iranian women fell pressure to be smooth like a horse so that they will not be interfering with men’s virility. Overall, I feel that societal expectations are the cause for self hate in most societies. It is important that women and men alike, learn to embrace the assets and features that they have because it makes them unique and individual, and no one has the right to tell them what is beautiful or not.


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