Guest post: The 'burden' of facial hair
By talking more openly about our facial hair, we could start to change the way we feel about our bodies, says Laura Cofield
Posted on: Tue 29-Mar-16 11:02:09
(37 comments )
The indulgent illusion of gliding silk, comforting horticultural metaphors - these are commonly used images in hair removal adverts. They're necessary because the model is usually depilating an area of her body which is already hairless. Apparently, the sight of female body hair, even in the context of its removal, remains too nauseating to be visualised.
The invisibility of female facial hair operates on an even greater scale. Its stigmatisation means that its physical existence is concealed and discussion of it is usually silenced. We tend to discuss waxing our legs, for example, far more openly than using hair removal creams on our upper lips.
But the majority of women have some kind of hair on their face. Factors like ethnicity and age alter the quantity and quality and in some cases 'excessive' facial hair may be attributed to conditions such as polycystic-ovary syndrome. Currently, though, society dictates that women's bodies from the eyelash down should be hairless. There is a largely accepted convention that women remove this hair which is construed as unfeminine.
Yet whereas body hair need not always be removed - it can be buried underneath clothing - the concealment of facial hair requires constant self-surveillance. For many women, it has become normal to obsess over things that might draw attention to their faces, like lighting, clothing choices and the angle of others facing you
It is easy to say that women should instead embrace their natural bodies and step out head held high and hairy. But in many cases, the burden of having facial hair can have life-damaging consequences concerning relationships with others, life at work, low confidence and self-esteem, and can adversely affect mental well-being. The internet provides a handful of blogs and medical information but there is no open nationwide community and shame, stigma and distrust often stops women from coming forward to talk about their experiences.
It is easy to say women should embrace their natural bodies and step out head held high and hairy. But in many cases, the burden of having facial hair can have life-damaging consequences and can adversely affect mental well-being.
When we visualise excessive female facial hair or 'hirsutism', one of the most vivid historical images is that of the Bearded Lady at Victorian 'freak shows'. Up until the beginning of the twentieth century, these women were spectacles of entertainment, as well as medical specimens who were thought to provide the missing link in the evolutionary story of ape to man.
At the turn of the twentieth century the development of endocrinology altered how the medical establishment perceived hirsutism. A hairy female face became symptomatic of aninternal hormonal imbalance or a 'deficient' reproductive system. This was often crudely interpreted as a sign of infertility, and lead to the questioning of the patient's femininity and womanhood.
Some physicians also speculated that hair caused by hormonal imbalance may indicate further psychological disorders including neuroses. Consequently, women with facial hair not only became defeminised but dehumanised: they were presented as madwomen, childless spinsters, eccentric outcasts of society.
Many of these myths from the early twentieth century remain, despite the dispelling of the science which underpins them. They are also sustained by the on-going perception of hair as unhygienic and insanitary, hence the saying "clean shaven": the presence of facial hair signifies not only physical grubbiness but a lack of dignity and psychological disarray triggering the emotional reaction of disgust.
The range of hair removal products and professional services which are available on the high street ensure to a certain degree that hair removal is available to all women (at a price), but does this create anxiety rather than alleviate it? The choice for women currently is not whether or not to remove hair, but in the selection of what method they use to do it.
We need to open up conversations about our differences without allocating shame. In refusing to feel detachment or dislike for our bodies because they do not meet a certain standard, we could challenge social norms.
There is a great need for more visible role models of female body and facial hair to emerge, but likewise it's important we start talking to each other about our facial hair. This way we might start to re-humanise the bearded lady who has been outcast for so long.
If you would like to share your experiences - whether they concern living with excessive hair, experiences of growing older and hair or perspectives on removal methods - and contribute to research on the cultural history of body and facial hair, please get in touch with Laura Cofield (L.Cofield@sussex.ac.uk) for more information on her project at the University of Sussex.
By Laura Cofield
I have to pluck my chin now approaching 40yo. I have 2-3 regular visiting hairs.
I went to a cosmetic lazer hair surgeon once, because I was so revolted by my eyebrows.
The hairs grow right down to nearly on top of my eyelids! I have to pluck really close to my eyelid for a few hairs! The surgeon said there was nothing they could do because it's such a delicate area. I was well gutted.
Have just learned to live with it now. It's my Mediterranean heritage!
Not ashamed to talk about it at all. I joke about it. My mum was horrified when I talked about it though.
I also joke about my beard/sideburns/neck hair. Never done anything about it though. It's fine hair but I think it's getting thicker (in quantity) as I get older. Do I wish it wasn't there? Yes, but I rarely think about it to be honest. It doesn't change how I style my hair or anything (eg. I don't avoid up styles so it's hidden).
My DSis on the other hand shaves her arms (we also have pretty hairy arms). I'm not that vain about it all.
I've got a bit of a moustache, it's not really that bad. It kills to pluck. Mentioned to dp yesterday evening that I should get some cream. DD (9yo) overheard and was horrified 'no mum don't, it makes you special ' she doesn't fall for the bs
I have had chin hair since my early teens. Now in my early thirties I also get a few on my neck too. Is it annoying? Yes. Do I care about it enough to spend money on removal treatments and agonise over clothing choices? No. I just pluck it out with tweezers and job done. Life is too short.
I think the the thing is some people have facial hair, others don't.
Everybody has pubic hair and leg hair (although some more than others) so it will always be easier to discuss those areas, as you are not admitting to have something others don't have.
It almost always seems to be those who want to challenge social norms are the ones who haven't been picked on at school becuase they just don't have much facial hair. Those who have been made to feel miserable just shut up and quietly get on with finding the best hair removal method, and do the same for their daughters to ensure they don't have to endure the same pain inflicted by idiots in society who are never going to read MN guest posts, or similar.
I have a few hairs that decide to present themselves through my beauty spot.
I also have a tash that I dye. It is inherited from being from Eastern European heritage. It is laughed at regularly. That's how I/ my mum deal with it.
My mum plucks or waxes her tash, if I'm fed up with mine I get it threaded, and end up with a face like this...
I'm surprised the blog post doesn't mention Frida Kahlo, now there was a woman who digs facial hair.
I've got proper witch hairs on my chin now. I also own a black cat. Basically I would have been burnt at the stake a few hundred years ago. I also have a very low hairline on my neck (my hairdresser likes to comment on it, as if I should maybe have it plucked like the reverse of an Elizabethan high forehead).
I've had laser treatment on my upper lip, sideburns and little on my chin. Hair wasn't that bad but I feel so much more confident for having it done and for me it was defiantly worth it as I have black hair. Everyone has their own perception of beauty and what makes them comfortable so women shouldn't feel pressured into hair removal because of society if should be done for themselves.
The only part of my body is don't remove hair from is the palms of my hands and feet! Joys of pcos.
PCOS ensures that not only do I have to shave everyday, I also have male pattern baldness to a very high degree. I don't understand why I can't be given a lovely big dose of oestrogen to combat it. My baldness is much more upsetting than excessive facial hair because I can do something about that. I don't much care what others think to be honest, it makes me feel less feminine/attractive etc.
I've been having electrolysis on my chin for over 20 years, since uni.
I've hated it. Only now is it hardly/rarely needed. For years I was having it done weekly. Awful.
You can't possibly understand how awful it is unless it's happened to you.
I love plucking my chin. It's very satisfying.
I have a few dark chin hairs which I pluck. Hate old women with beards. Yeuch!!
However I am fair skinned & have Rosacea. So rather than dark hair on upper lip my problem is fair hair against red skin. Shaving or cream removed just irritates. Any suggestions?
I've had problems since I was 14, pale skin and lots of dark hair. I was tested for PCOS but it was negative.
I dread to think how much time and money I'd have If I wasn't so hairy. Endless electrolysis in my twenties never fully zapped my facial or stomach hair. Started chin plucking in my late 30's. It's such a time consuming painful task.
WeepatHate old women with beards. Yeuch!!
Seriously- this is exactly the type of attitude that this blog article is about. Can you not see that?
Why do you find 'old women with beards' so bloody offensive? Sorry their hormones and facial hair regime offend you.
Honestly, I could weep!
Since aged 12 I've bleached, waxed, sugared, had electrolysis, lasers.
Now I just epilate the bottom half of my face every few weeks.
It's an interesting article apart from being over-egged about hair being seen as dirty.
They are also sustained by the on-going perception of hair as unhygienic and insanitary, hence the saying "clean shaven": the presence of facial hair signifies not only physical grubbiness but a lack of dignity and psychological disarray triggering the emotional reaction of disgust
Really? I don't associate with being unhygienic or dirty. I don't like the look of body hair on men or women but it's got nothing to do with it being grubby or dirty.
Personally I'm glad there are so many hair removal methods around.
Having mine removed helps my wellbeing.
Each to their own.
If I left mine I'd end up with half a moustache (left hand side only!) and a beard that tufts out either side of my chin.
Tweezers are my friend
I've had huge huge success with laser on my legs and moustache. Expensive but so so happy with results.
. Hate old women with beards. Yeuch!!
You know those attitudes are so depressing because for those of us who have this trouble I know when I'm old my eye sight won't let me see the hairs and I'll no longer care probably that I don't pluck any more but I'll remember that people still feel this way
I sometimes gets comments made at me on public transport by tossers and have since I was a teen I normally wax/ thread the small lot, but it's expensive and time consuming. Glad to know some people look at me and think "yew"
I have problems with hair on my chin and sometimes get this fear that l will be in a coma and people who visit me will see it fully grown. Or that l will be in hospital and unable to remove it. I talk about anything but l have never spoken to a friend about this hair.. Only to a beautician. I have spent a fortune on laser electrolysis etc no creams as be too scared but it still pops up. Its not dreadful but l hate it. Often when people say if you had one wish what would you pick in my mind l pick that. And believe me I have far far more serious problems in my life.