Why is hair considered dirt on a woman’s body? An investigation into female body hair and female sexuality


Empirical data from medical and social sciences demonstrate that a large number of women remove their body hair or have done so at some point in their lives. Hair on the female body has fast become a taboo since female hair removal became popularized since the start of the twentieth century. Even advertisements for razors will not show hair on the female skin to the extent that advertisements often picture a woman shaving a hairless leg. This dissertation will undertake an investigation in to why hair on the female body is considered to be dirt. It will first situate the research question within previously published literature on hair and sexuality. The main body of the discussion is divided in to three chapters. The first chapter identifies hair as a boundary marker between the two sexes. This chapter argues that hair is dirt on the woman’s body because it threatens to collapse the sex and gender binary. The second and third chapters demonstrate a second response to the question. This response is that hair is considered to be dirt on a woman’s body because it symbolizes homosexuality and this homosexuality contradicts the idea that a woman’s sexuality must complement a man’s sexuality.

Author: Georgina Louise Lord, August 2018

Dissertation BA (Hons) Sociology and Anthropology with Gender Studies


1 Introduction

2 Literature Review

3 Discussion

3.1 Chapter One: hair as a boundary marker between the sexes

3.2 Chapter Two: hair as a boundary marker between adult and child

3.3 Chapter Three: hair and its association with female homosexuality

4 Conclusion



Hanisch’s (1969) essay, “The Personal is Political”, refers to the idea that women’s choices and issues are often political issues. This is where I have taken inspiration for my topic of female body hair. Although removing body hair as a woman may seem on the surface as a beauty routine and simply a personal choice, it is actually a significant feature of the social construction of femininity. When a woman does not remove her body hair, interactional sanctions which police deviation from the hairlessness ideal make it clear that it is not simply a matter of personal choice (Toerien & Wilkinson, 2004) but a choice that has political and social consequences. Therefore, this dissertation will undertake an investigation as to why hair on the female body is considered to be dirt and the social significance hair has when on the female body. It will focus exclusively on hair which is located anywhere on the female body besides the head. In chapter one I shall discuss why head hair is an anomaly to hair being considered dirt on the woman’s body. Fundamentally, I will attempt to show that hair is considered to be dirt on a woman’s body as a means of controlling her sexuality and ensuring heterosexuality. This is because unshaven body hair on a woman does not comply with our idea of femininity which includes being heterosexual. I shall begin by situating my research question within previous academic literature and research and identify the space for my own research. I will review the literature associated with hair as a taboo; hair and its associations with sexuality; and the main theoretical discourses which I will use in my discussion. My first chapter will be a discussion of body hair as a boundary marker between the two sexes. I will demonstrate that hair can understood to be dirt through Douglas’ (2002) theory of pollution. However, I will argue that this theory falls short when trying to understand why hair on a woman’s body is viewed differently to hair on a man’s body. I will then show that hair polices the boundary between the male and female sex and when on a woman’s body this boundary becomes threatened. Furthermore, this chapter will demonstrate that hair can be considered dirt on a woman’s body because when not removed it threatens to collapse the gender/sex binary. My second chapter will investigate further hair as a boundary marker. It will demonstrate that hair is a secondary sex characteristic for both sexes but that this symbol of sexual maturity is denied to a woman. This chapter will argue that female body hair removal is a disciplinary practice, in a Foucauldian sense, which functions to control the female body and her sexuality due to its relative position to nature. Therefore, hair is considered to be dirt on a woman’s body because it symbolizes female adult sexuality which must be controlled. My third chapter continues on from the discussion of the female body and its sexuality being closely related to nature rather than culture (Ortner, 1972). It will argue that hair on a woman’s body is considered to be dirt because it elicits assumptions of homosexuality, and that compulsory heterosexuality (Rich, 1980), functions to ensure that the woman’s body is moved away from the realm of nature and towards culture.

2: Literature Review

The literature studied in response to my research question explores the social norms and attitudes towards hair, as well as the symbolic value of hair, both on the head and the body. To begin, I will look at dirt defined by Douglas and how it applies to the subject of hair.  This review will then take a thematic approach to discussing the literature. The first theme will involve literature which establishes hair as a taboo as well as what it means for women’s experiences. The second theme of my review will be based on literature which discusses and shows hair as a representation of sexuality, as well as other theoretical literature on the symbolism of hair and its interpretations. These two themes have consistently recurred throughout my reading.

Establishing hair as a taboo

The definition of the term ‘dirt’ in my research question ‘why is hair considered dirt on a woman’s body?’ is taken from Douglas’ (2002) influential work Purity and Danger. Douglas (2002) said that dirt was not necessarily linked to grime or something that was unhygienic. She argued that our concept of dirt conveyed symbolic systems and described dirt as chaos and something that offends the social order (Douglas, 2002). Dirt is defined as “matter out of place” if we disassociate pathogenicity and hygiene from our concept of what we think dirt is (Douglas, 2002:44). The definition of dirt as “matter out of place” requires two conditions, which are a set of rules and then a contravention of these rules. Douglas (2002) uses several examples to illustrate. One in particular being that the idea that food is not classed as dirty by its very nature but it would be considered dirty to leave cooking utensils in a bedroom. The cooking utensils are offending the social order by not being in the kitchen; they are matter out of place, but only when they are not in a kitchen. A structural and classification system is a prerequisite to the definition of dirt. Hair on a woman’s body fits Douglas’ (2002) definition of dirt because it offends against the social order of hairiness being associated with masculinity and hairlessness being associated with femininity. It disturbs society’s strict classification of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man which is apparent from the literature discussed below.

Toerien & Wilkinson (2003) explored literature from several disciplines which surrounded gender and hair, including; biological, medical, and historical. They conclude that female hair removal should be understood as a powerful component in the social construction of femininity, not as part of a beauty routine (Toerien & Wilkinson 2003). The association of hairiness with masculinity is also implicit throughout the biological and medical literature reviewed. Toerien & Wilkinson (2003) conclude that if masculinity and femininity were not constructed as binary terms then hair being associated with masculinity might not mean that hairiness is excluded from the definition of femininity. As a result of hairiness being a symbol of masculinity, women who do have hair on their bodies are seen as traversing the boundary between the feminine and masculine and consequently threaten the gendered order (Toerien & Wilkinson, 2003). They argue that for a woman to be hairy, there needs to be some form of explanation. From the different literature which Toerien & Wilkinson (2003) reviewed many explanations were given for the hairy woman. These included; women as witches, insane, dirty, oversexed, lazy, never being married, lesbian, suffering from a medical problem and lazy. All of which are incompatible with conventional understandings of femininity, hence, to have hair on the body is to not be appropriately feminine (Toerien & Wilkinson, 2003). For my research, I will be focusing on the explanation of hair on a woman’s body as being dirty. I will be questioning why hair on a woman’s body is considered dirt, and as matter out of place. Toerien & Wilkinson’s (2003) main conclusions are simply that hairlessness is an assumed norm which goes without question in Western contemporary society as well as dividing the feminine and masculine. My research will take this further and question why hairlessness is considered to be the norm for a woman’s body in the first place and why hair is seen as so unfeminine and as dirt.

Various studies have been carried out by researchers to investigate why hair removal is such a widely accepted norm, as well as investigating the incidence and frequency at which women remove body hair. The next piece of literature which I will discuss is by the same authors as the previous piece but it develops further the conclusions that they made in their earlier article. Toerien & Wilkinson (2004) carried out a qualitative study of women’s body hair removal. They note that women’s hair removal is a widely accepted norm in Western contemporary culture but that very few studies have investigated why this is the case. They used questionnaires in order to gain empirical insight in to women’s own experiences of their body hair, with the aim of understanding the maintenance and production of the depilation norm. The main conclusions from their research can be summarized as showing that depilation is not something a woman chooses to do but rather a social norm that she conforms to (Toerien & Wilkinson, 2004:85). They conclude that as a result of the binary terms in which hairlessness and hairiness are constructed (hairlessness being defined as attractive, clean, and feminine and hairiness defined as unattractive, dirty and masculine), women are forced to conform to the depilation norm for fear of criticism, teasing, and staring, amongst others. (Toerien & Wilkinson, 2004:85). As well as these constructed dichotomous terms having effects on women in real life, they also enable the depilation norm to continually maintain and produce the power it has on women in society (Toerien & Wilkinson, 2004). This article provides a substantive background for my own research as it shows the construction of women’s body hair as “unattractive, stubbly, unclean and untidy, and masculine” (Toerien & Wilkinson, 2004:85). This will be a central focus of my research, as I will be asking why is women’s body hair constructed and viewed in such a negative way. This is where Toerien & Wilkinson (2004)’s research falls short; after establishing that women’s body hair is constructed in such a negative manner that women must conform to the depilation norm, they do not go on to further question why this is the case. My dissertation will build upon Toerien & Wilkinson (2004)’s research by questioning why it is that women’s body hair is constructed in such a way and as a result must be removed for fear of interactional sanctions. Furthermore, Toerien & Wilkinson (2004:89) sum up their research by stating “this study provides new substance to the feminist critique of (hetero)patriarchal control of women’s bodies.” Whilst I agree with Toerien & Wilkinson (2004)’s overall critique and argument, I feel their research has not gone far enough to understand why the (hetero)patriarchy controls women’s bodies through this depilation norm. I will be extending on this and trying to understand why (hetero)patriarchy controls women’s bodies. One final aspect of Toerien & Wilkinson (2004)’s research to discuss is their choice of questionnaire as a qualitative method. They explained that although often excluded from qualitative research, the questionnaire would allow a wide sample to complete open-ended questions. Therefore, meaning women would be able to write in their own words about their experiences of body hair (Toerien & Wilkinson, 2004). I feel this is important to acknowledge from this piece of research, as it is crucial as a feminist researcher to keep women’s own experiences central to the study.

Other literature which support the conclusions of Toerien & Wilkinson (2004) include Tiggemann & Kenyon (1998); Tiggemann & Lewis (2004); and Tiggemann & Hodgson (2008). Tiggemann & Kenyon (2004) studied hair removal in woman and found that body hair removal on women is a normative practice indicating that a woman’s body is not acceptable in its natural form with hair. Tiggemann & Hodgson (2008)’s research was an extension on Tiggemann & Kenyon (1998). They further studied the reasons for and locations of hair removal practices in women and concluded that women conformed to hair removal practices because of a desire for femininity and sexual attractiveness (Tiggemann & Hodgson, 2008). They also concluded that reasons for removal of pubic hair were more based on an inclination for self enhancement as opposed to femininity (Tiggemann & Hodgson, 2008). This is an important finding which I will explore further with another piece of literature later on in this review. Tiggemann & Lewis (2004) investigated further the reaction to women’s body hair. They conclude that body hair on women evokes a reaction and feeling of disgust. The research conducted by Tiggemann & Kenyon (1998); Tiggemann & Lewis (2004); and Tiggemann & Hodgson (2008) corroborates with the findings of Toerien & Wilkinson (2004) and establish a solid background for me to explore why it is that body hair on a woman is considered to be dirt.

Smelik (2015) probes further than previous authors which I have discussed in to why hair on the female body is a taboo. Smelik (2015) stated that as hairlessness has become the new norm and beauty ideal, hairiness has since become a taboo. She uses empirical data to establish that hair on the female body is removed in the hope of attaining femininity, smoothness and sexual attractiveness (Toerien, Wilkinson & Choi, 2005; Herzig, 2015; Basow & Braman, 1998). She then moves on to discuss hair as abject and as a boundary marker. Not only is it a physical marker of the boundary between inside and outside the body but also a boundary marker between three socially perpetuated categories. Body hair threatens to situate the human body too close to animal and the female body too close to the male as well as being the boundary marker between adulthood and childhood (Smelik, 2015). Smelik (2015) suggests that through humans using “technologies of the self” (Foucault, 1988) to enable them to control and alter their bodies they are pushing the body further towards culture and away from nature. Hence, by removal of body hair they are establishing a strong boundary between human and animal. Secondly, Smelik (2015) suggests that removal of female body hair establishes the boundary between the male and female body. She concludes that the removal of body hair, in particular pubic hair which is a recently new occurrence, is related to the “hygienization” of the body (Smelik, 2015). This is evident from the previous literature which I have discussed where it was found that removal of body hair was done in the hope of attaining cleanliness as opposed to being disgusting or being met with disgust from others (Toerien & Wilkinson, 2004; Tiggemann & Kenyon 1998). Smelik (2015) goes on to discuss the contradictory nature of removing female body hair in relation to adulthood and childhood. Body hair is a secondary sex characteristic which begins to grow during puberty and signifies the sexually mature female adult. Removing it is “effectively rendering the female body as prepubescent” but also contradicting as more of the female genitals are on display (Smelik, 2015: 245). Other scholars such as MacDonald support Smelik (2015)’s writing. MacDonald (2006:70) describes the hairless female body as an “erotic mix of sensual display and sexual control.” Smelik (2015)’s conclusion that removal of female body hair reduces the adult female body to pre-pubescent is very relevant to my research where I am asking why body hair on a female is considered as dirt. It has given me an insight in to why body hair is such a taboo on women and this is one which I will be able to explore more deeply in relation to sexuality in order to answer my research question. Therefore, I plan to build on Smelik’s paper by exploring more widely her conclusions and her brief discussion of their relation to Douglas’ theory of risk. I will focus largely on two out of three of the boundary markers established by hair which Smelik (2015) discusses. However, I do feel that Smelik (2015) did not question thoroughly enough the relation between the control of female sexuality and body hair removal. This is something which I plan to specifically address throughout my dissertation.

A concluding piece of literature which I will discuss for this theme of ‘establishing hair as a taboo’ concerns the cultural constructions of the “medical” condition idiopathic hirsutism. In this article Ferrante (1988) uses a variety of ethnographic material as well as clinical accounts to suggest that women who have been “diagnosed” with idiopathic hirsutism have traversed a gender and sex boundary instead of being “diagnosed” with a medical condition. Idiopathic hirsutism is a condition in which there is “excessive” hair growth on the face, chest, and back; places which are typically referred to as “male patterned hair growth” (Ferrante, 1988). There has been no medical cause found for this hair growth in women. Instead the diagnosis criteria which doctors use is usually based on the psychological impact which the hair growth is having on the woman. Therefore, it is defined by social terms rather than medical or physiological ones (Shah, 1957; Ferrante, 1988). Ferrante (1988) uses this information to suggest that idiopathic hirsutism, i.e. “masculine hair” on a female’s body and face, is in fact physiologically arbitrary, but diverges from the socially and psychologically unyielding boundary between male and female. Furthermore, Ferrante (1988) also discusses the different symbolic representations which are given to male hair versus female hair. I will be discussing these representations in more detail further on in this literature review, however, an important point which Ferrante (1988) makes is that symbolic meanings attributed to facial and body hair on a woman are very restrictive. The meanings attached to female facial and body hair are one-dimensional and do not change, whereas she shows that male facial and body hair are ascribed a variety of meanings (positive and negative) (Ferrante, 1988). This indisputable negative association and reaction to female facial and body hair is something which I will be questioning throughout the next few chapters of my dissertation. I aim to provide an explanation as to why hair on a woman’s body is seen so negatively. Ferrante’s (1988) work has on the cultural constructions of idiopathic hirsutism have given me more insight in to negatively viewed hair on the face and not just the body. Having said all this, it is important for me to acknowledge that I am in no way dismissing the very real emotional and psychological distress which women with hirsutism face. I am simply questioning the root of this medical condition that is diagnosed based on social and psychological factors.

Hair and its relation to sexuality

Leach’s (1958) article questions Berg’s (1951) use of anthropological theory and evidence to substantiate his thesis surrounding hair. Evidence from his clinical experience, led Berg (1951) to conclude that head hair is “universally a symbol of the genital organs” and that human hair is a symbol of the phallus which has “genital, anal and aggressive components” (Leach, 1958:160). Berg (1951) maintained that anthropological evidence of public ritual reported by ethnographers supports his thesis. Leach (1958) discusses the ethnographic evidence which Berg (1951) employs to support his contention and agrees that rituals of hair are evident across ethnography. He states that whilst anthropologists commonly acknowledge that hair does have a universal symbolic value, it does not necessarily mean that it is a symbol of genital displacement (Leach, 1958). He agrees that the public ritual of hair must be somehow rooted in private ritual. Leach (1958) is essentially questioning the link between the two types of ritual, Berg’s psychoanalytical private ritual of hair and the anthropological evidence of public ritual of hair. He does not dispute that anthropological evidence is consistent with Berg’s (1951) thesis but simply says that it cannot support the idea that private hair symbolism is universal. Leach (1951) also suggests that Berg’s (1951) thesis could potentially be anthropologically significant but that each analysis (psychoanalytical and anthropological) is separate and correct when considered within its own context. He also concludes that hair is a ‘thing in itself’ and is separable from the body. It is not just a symbol of aggression but a material piece of aggression as well (Leach, 1958). Although Leach (1958) explains that ethnographic evidence doesn’t fully substantiate Berg’s (1951) claims, he also says that it does not contradict it. The argument that anthropological evidence supports Berg’s (1951) thesis that hair symbolically represents genital organs is unreliable according to Leach (1958), however, I have included this article within my literature review as it is a key piece of anthropological writing concerning the symbolism of hair. I understand that Leach (1958) concludes that the psycho-analyst arguments are anthropologically inadequate and vices versa, however he does acknowledge that the anthropologist has no grounds for rejecting the psycho-analyst’s view as both analyses are consistent with each other. Therefore Berg’s (1951) thesis will provide a level of support for my argument concerning hair removal and the control of a woman’s sexuality. This is because, for Berg (1951) hair cutting and shaving symbolically represents castration, and therefore the removal of sexual capacity and maturity. Leach (1958) explains that there is anthropological evidence which is consistent with this idea, despite the psychoanalyst’s analysis of hair and anthropological analysis of hair being two separate entities.

Hallpike (1969) reanalyzes Leach’s (1958) article, Berg’s (1951) thesis as well a selection of ethnographic material, and proposes that long hair symbolically represents being outside of society. He describes long hair as “being in some way outside of society, of having less to do with it, or of being less amenable to social control than the average citizen” (Hallpike, 1969:261). Hallpike (1969) uses biblical evidence to illustrate his proposal. The Bible associates hairiness with wild beasts. Growing long hair is associated with being separated from society and God, and shaving hair is identified with rejoining society (Hallpike, 1969). He states that there is no evidence or reference to head hair being associated with sexuality like Leach suggests. I feel that a combination of Hallpike’s (1969) theory that cutting hair equals social control, and Leach’s (1958) theory that cutting hair equals restraining sexuality may be more beneficial than just one or the other. Rather than simply rejecting Hallpike’s (1969) theory in favor of Leach’s (1958) theory, when it comes to hair I consider both theories to be useful for looking at the symbolic value of hair. The association of hair with sexuality and the association of hair with social control, I believe, are linked, rather than being dichotomous theories. My research will look at how ensuring women conform to the standard of removing body is a form of social control which also is associated with a woman’s sexuality. Furthermore, Hallpike was forced to retract in 1987 and accepted that “no single theory can account for all the symbolic uses of hair” (Evans & Withey, 2018). Hallpike’s retraction further adds to my thoughts that rather than rejecting either Leach’s (1958) or Hallpike’s (1969) theory it is more useful to take a wide-ranging approach which looks at the symbolic meanings of hair in light of different theories which could potentially be linked.

Several years after Leach’s (1958) and Hallpike’s (1969) work, Synott (1987) posed a new theory on hair symbolism. He described this as “the theory of opposites” which would “modify and complement those put forward by Leach (1958) and Hallpike (1969)” (Synott, 1987:382). Synott (1987) explains that hair symbolism is intensely complex for the two following reasons. Firstly, head hair, facial hair and body hair (specifically chest, arm-pit, leg, arm, back and pubic hair) are the only areas of hair which are meaningful in body symbolism. Secondly, the hair in the three areas of significance can be modified in four ways, through its length, its color, its style, and its quantity (by using artificial hair) (Synott, 1987). It is the “multi-zonal and multi-modal” elements to hair which lead to it being such an intense public and private symbol of the self (Synott, 1987:383). The propositions of Synott’s (1987) theory are as follows: “opposite sexes have opposite hair; head hair and body hair are opposite; opposite ideologies have opposite hair.” (Synott 1987:382). Within all three significant regions of hair and the four ways in which they can be altered, all are opposite for men and women (Synott, 1987). Synott’s (1987) discussion goes in to great depth on all three propositions of his theory, all of which could be said to be somewhat relevant to my discussion. However, it is his discussion on head hair and body hair being opposites which is most pertinent to my discussion. He describes how men and women only have minor physiological differences in the patterns of their hair growth. These are emphasized through the opposite practices of men and women removing or not removing their hair. Minor differences have become sizeable distinctions between men and women in society and those differences are symbolically maximized (Synott, 1987). Friedman (2013) also described how grooming practices establish differences between men and women which were never naturally there. Like Synott (1987) she demonstrated that subtle differences between men and women and significantly exaggerated through their opposite approaches to their hair (Friedman, 2013). Women remove hair on their bodies, most significantly, leg, underarm and pubic hair, whilst at the same time maximizing their head hair. Whereas, men do not remove body hair but keep their head hair short and minimized (Synott, 1987). Synott’s (1987) view is consistent with that of Friedman’s (2013), that the opposite hair and body practices between men and women symbolically identify men and women in society, but also make sure they are symbolically opposed. Any deviation from this oppositional norm has a powerful effect (Synott, 1987), and receives sanctions from others in society like Toerien & Wilkinson (2003) found. My work will question why when women deviate from this idea of opposite hair, i.e. when they do not remove body hair, are they sanctioned so harshly and their hair is viewed as dirt on their bodies. Synott (1987) concluded that hair is a powerful individual and group symbol with which an individual or group can communicate and express themselves. This is similar to Smelik’s (2015) and Synott’s (1987) thought that hair indicates major divisions in our society.

Hershman’s (1974) uses Leach’s (1958) ‘Magical Hair’ as a starting point for his ethnographic work on the value of hair in Punjabi society which focusses on Hindus and Sikhs. The first part of Hershman’s (1974) article provides ethnographic evidence of hair symbolism and grooming in Punjabi society. This ethnographic evidence maintains Berg’s position that hair is associated with sexual organs (Hershman, 1974). Hershman (1974) describes how Punjabi women and Sikh men do not cut their hair – it becomes so long that they require another person to assist them in washing and grooming their hair. When a boy is born it is the mother’s role to take care of their hair until he is married and then it becomes the role of the man’s wife. Washing and grooming the husband’s hair is seen as a matter of great intimacy (Hershman, 1974). Furthermore, Hershman (1974) describes how if a Sikh’s sister or brother was to groom their hair then this would be deemed as an illegitimate sexual relationship. It is a commonly held view by Punjabi people, men and women, that a person becomes more sexually attractive when all their body hair is removed. Body hair is perceived as shameful because it is seen as a symbol of pubic hair in the individual person’s subconscious (Hershman, 1974). However, Punjabi women feel sexually enhanced the longer their head hair becomes whilst men feel less sexually attractive as a result of balding (Hershman, 1974). This could potentially be understood through Synott’s (1987) theory of opposites because he argues that body hair and head hair must be of opposite lengths. This aligns with Hershman’s (1974) findings that Punjabi women and men feel more attractive when their head hair is long but all their body hair is removed. It is clear from Hershman’s (1974) writing that hair is viewed as a taboo in cultures other than the Western society. Although there are some contradictions, for example men feeling shame surrounding their hair and also removing all body hair (Hershman, 1974), something which is not as common in our society – it is still apparent that hair is a taboo. Furthermore, there is similarity between the Punjabi society and Western society of feeling more sexually attractive once body hair has been removed. This has been evidenced in several other pieces of literature which I have discussed, for example Toerien & Wilkinson (2004) who’s study found that women in Western society (United Kingdom) felt their hair was unattractive, and that removing it would provide them with femininity and sexual attractiveness. Although, it is important to acknowledge that, in Punjabi society it is both men and women who feel disgusted by their body hair, whilst in Western society it tends to be just women. However, I still feel that Hershman’s (1974) ethnographic evidence will be useful to my argument of why hair is considered as dirt. It provides me with a groundwork in which I can look further into the deep-rooted meanings of hair and identify an answer as to why hair is considered dirt on female bodies.

Another piece of ethnographic work which presents the different rituals and meanings surrounding hair, similar to those of Punjabi society, is Delaney’s (1994) work in Turkish society. Her article asks the question “why women’s heads?” in relation to the covering of Muslim women’s hair. For the purposes of this review, I will be focusing on mainly on the ideas in this article which are relevant to my research question. Whilst women’s head coverings in Turkish society and the Muslim religion is relevant to the question I am asking, I feel within my word constraint that it is not viable to include them in this conversation. Therefore, I will be focusing mainly on Delaney’s (1994) ethnographic research from her time in a Turkish village and her discussion of Leach’s (1958), Hallpike’s (1969), and Hershman’s (1974) literature in relation to her fieldwork. She explores the meanings of body and head hair and discovers deeply sexual, religious, and political connotations of hair in Turkish society (Delaney, 1994). Delaney (1994:159) describes hair as “an object of intense elaboration and preoccupation in many societies; seemingly the most superficial part of the human body.” During Delaney’s (1994) ethnographic research she was a guest of a family whose daughter was preparing for marriage. It became apparent to Delaney that hair was a crucial part of the process of preparing to become wed. She became the helper for the daughter, whom she calls Ayşe in her article. She was to assist Ayşe in plucking her underarm hair. There is a customary practice of removing all body hair, both men and women, at all times and not just when preparing for marriage (Delaney, 1994). Similar to men and women from Punjabi society, it is a long-standing practice in Turkish society to remove all body throughout adult life. Delaney (1994) points out that women are required to adhere to this practice more rigorously. This further establishes the idea that hair has deep rooted meanings cross-culturally, and the norm is to remove body hair, with the emphasis being on women’s body hair being more of a taboo. One of the most significant aspects of Delaney’s (1994) ethnographic fieldwork is the ritual braiding of the bride’s hair. Twenty to thirty plaits are put into the hair with silver tinsel as well as being woven with black yarn to ensure the braids reach the bride’s feet. This braiding is a ritual act to symbolize the control of a woman’s “loose and rampant sexuality” which she is thought to have (Delaney, 1994:161). Delaney (1994) also describes a time before the wedding where ritually prescribed baths were taken. Ayşe instructed Delaney to bath first so that the other women would not see her “keçi gibi – like a goat” – this was a reference to Delaney’s pubic hair which had not been removed. The unremoved pubic hair was associated with animalistic qualities and wild sexuality that goats symbolized (Delaney, 1994). It is clear from Delaney’s ethnographic field work that not only is hair a taboo, but it is also a symbol of sexuality, particularly in the case of the woman. Delaney (1994) does not discuss rituals surrounding men’s hair and the control of his sexuality in preparation for marriage and so it is sensible to conclude that man’s sexuality is not viewed the same way as women’s in Turkish society. It is arguably only women whose sexuality needs to be controlled by men and not the other way around – therefore men’s hair plays less of a symbolic role in a man’s wedding, marriage, and life. Delaney’s (1994) ethnographic field work provides me with important insights in to the symbolic relationship between hair and sexuality in Turkish society. However, it is important for me to keep in mind whilst pursuing my research question, that this relationship is not universal. Like Delaney (1994) makes clear at the beginning of her article – meanings of hair can traverse cultural boundaries, but they are often individual to that culture.

One final piece of literature I will discuss in this theme is from Fahs (2011). Fahs (2011) carried out a study in which women enrolled in a women’s studies programme at a U.S. university did not shave for a period of ten weeks. The women were to log the reactions that themselves and other people had to their body hair, as well as others’ and their own behavior and any changes related. Fahs’ (2011) study aimed to focus on the association between body hair practices and sexual identity, because as Rich (1980) identifies, notions of compulsory heterosexuality are elicited by body hair. The results of Fahs’ (2011) study demonstrate how intertwined notions of heterosexuality and women’s body hair removal are. “Heterosexism-and specifically the ways that multiple forces control and patrol women’s bodies- permeated women’s narratives about body hair resistance.” (Fahs, 2011:466). It is clear that if women dare to step out of the social order by growing their body, then compulsory heterosexism means they will be subject to homophobic and other negative backlash from others. The women taking part in the study faced a variety of messages about what growing their body hair meant. They were told that not shaving was unfeminine and that, interestingly, that is was an assault on their (assumed) heterosexuality (Fahs, 2011) Furthermore, it was apparent through the study that women needed to make themselves attractive to men, and that this was not optional. Fahs (2011) understood this pressure on women, as not just apprehension over women forgoing their femininity, but as apprehension over something that symbolizes women’s departure from sexual contact with men. Hence, social networks and social norms insist that women conform to the correct standard of femininity by removing body hair (as well as other practices designated to be feminine), but not just femininity, heterosexual femininity. For example, women in the study were assumed to have become homosexual and family members of participants worried for their romantic prospects and ability to get a boyfriend in the future. Therefore, it is clear from Fahs’ (2011) article that there is a huge pressure on women to ensure they are attractive to men, and removing body hair is a vital aspect of this, in a society where heterosexuality is the ideal. It is indubitable that notions of heterosexism are profoundly linked with sexist ideals of women’s bodies, and as a result women’s bodies are highly regulated and controlled by society (Fahs, 2011). Fahs’ (2011) article and study presents a more contemporary insight into the associations between hair and sexuality than I have previously discussed and one which will be greatly useful to me throughout my discussion.

Finally, I will discuss two theorists who will be intrinsic to my discussion of female body hair and sexuality. These do not strictly adhere to the themes of this review however they will be central to my argument.

Ortner’s (1972) seminal piece titled “Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?” argues that a woman’s biological and physiological capabilities enable her to be positioned closer to the realm of nature than culture. Whereas, man is positioned closer to culture. Ortner (1972:12) argues that it is woman’s “natural procreative functions” characteristic of her body alone that mean she is closer to nature. Ortner (1972:73) separates this in to three points. The first being that “woman’s body and its functions, more involved more of the with “species life,” meaning that she spends more to reproducing than man. Therefore, man is able to spend more time with projects of culture. Secondly, she argues that a woman’s body and its related physiological capabilities place her in social roles that are perceived as less than man’s cultural processes (Ortner, 1972). Finally, Ortner (1972) argues that the traditional roles assigned to a woman as a result of her bodily functions and processes give her a different “psychic structure” than man, which is considered to be closer to nature. All three of these factors align woman closer to nature than culture (Ortner, 1972). It is through being closer to nature that woman is easily subjugated and controlled by man who is closer to nature since it is always the desire of culture to exceed nature. Ortner’s (1972) argument of woman being closer to nature links closely to Smelik’s (2015) argument of hair policing the boundary between human and animal. Smelik (2015) argues that hair marks the boundary between human and animal and if woman is closer to nature she could be argued to be closer to animal. Therefore, if a woman has hair on her body she is seen as traversing the boundary between human and animal and there is an attempt by culture to control this. Ortner’s (1972) discussion will be intrinsic to my argument once I get in to my discussion and have first established hair as boundary between the child and the adult.

The second theorist who I will discuss is Michel Foucault. Many of Foucault’s works and concepts can be applied in some way or another to my discussion. However, due to the restraints of this piece of work I will focus mainly on his concept of the docile body from his work Discipline and Punish. The docile body is a body which “may be subjected, used, transformed and improved” (Foucault, 1977:136). The docile body is created through disciplinary practices which require no physical force to transform or change the body. The body which is regulated takes on the term “healthy” which is understood as representing the way people are naturally supposed to be (Corbett, 2010). The practices which have created this body are deemed as nature. The power is applied in several ways by the subject themselves. Originally deemed “normalization” in Discipline and Punish, years later Foucault called this “biopower”. Consequently, this power becomes productive rather than coercive. The subjects “internalize and reproduce” knowledge surrounding what is correct and proper through said disciplinary practices (Corbett, 2010:2). This internalization of what is thought to be “proper” links to Douglas’ (2002) idea of community-wide complicity being successful in upholding a taboo. If subjects are internalizing what is supposed to be “correct” then they will uphold notions of what is not correct and allow things to continue functioning as a taboo. Secondly, this internalization and the concept of the docile body relates to the practices of body hair removal and also notions of femininity as I will discuss in the main body of this dissertation.

I have explored a comprehensive amount of literature relating to hair and the female body. This has been from several disciplines but primarily sociology, anthropology and gender studies. After considering the extensive research and evidence surrounding the perceptions of hair on the female body, as well as its symbolic value, I feel there is space for my research in to why hair is considered dirt on a woman’s body. Much of the empirical research and associated literature on the perceptions of body hair on women demonstrate that women receive a negative reaction to their unshaven body hair. Moreover, they establish that this negative and disgust reaction is because the unshaven body hair on a woman’s body deemed as unfeminine, unattractive and manly (Tiggemann & Hodgson, 2008; Tiggemann & Lewis, 2004; etc). I will be asking why hair is deemed as unfeminine and unattractive and seen as dirt on the woman’s body. I will bring this into conversation with the literature which I have discussed surrounding hair and sexuality, in order to identify the associations between dirt, hair, the female body and sexuality. The following discussion will analyze why hair is considered dirt on a woman’s body, in relation to a woman’s sexuality and its need to be controlled in society.

3: Discussion

3.1: Hair as boundary marker between the two sexes

For the first chapter of this dissertation, I will be discussing hair as a boundary marker between the male and female body. I will begin by demonstrating how Douglas’ (2002:44) theory of pollution can substantially explain why unsexed hair and hair not on the body can be considered ‘dirt’ and “matter out of place” but that it cannot explain why hair is viewed so negatively on the female body. I will then look at how the medical condition, idiopathic hirsutism, ensures that any natural variation in hair growth is deemed as abnormal and something needing to be fixed.

Douglas’ (2002) work Purity and Danger where she analyses how societies view and react to dirt and the process by which dirt becomes a taboo, is an appropriate starting point in which we can investigate why it is that hair on a woman’s body is considered dirt. However, before beginning it is important to acknowledge an anomaly to my argument. Hair on woman’s body is only considered to be dirt if located anywhere on a woman’s body aside from her head. This anomaly can be understood through Synott’s (1987) work where he describes a “theory of opposites”. Part of his theory argues that head hair and body are expected to be of opposite lengths. Thus, explaining why head hair on a woman is not considered to be dirt but hair anywhere else is because a woman is expected to have head hair which is long. Throughout this dissertation when referring to body hair on a woman being dirt I am explicitly referring to hair not on her head. She describes dirt as not related to our understanding of hygiene or pathogenicity but as something which is “matter out of place” (2002:44). In order for something to be considered to be dirt, as defined as “matter out of place” there must be a set of rules, and subsequently a contravention of these rules. Douglas (2002) describes all margins as being considered threatening due to them having the ability to reshape “fundamental experience” if pulled either way, bodily margins being no exception. Matter which is issued forth from the body including blood, saliva, tears, urine, feces, and hair is regarded as being structurally anomalous having traversed the boundary of the body (Douglas, 2002). As a result of traversing the boundary hair is subsequently considered dirt. Whilst it is clear from Douglas (2002) that hair, regardless of the sex of the body which it is on, is viewed as dirt because it is structurally anomalous and therefore “matter out of place”, it is apparent that hair on the female body is viewed in stark contrast to hair on the male body. Literature previously discussed such as Toerien & Wilkinson (2004) and Tiggemann & Lewis (2004), amongst others, have identified that hair on a woman’s body is met with a feeling of disgust by both men and women. If our Western society simply viewed hair as “matter out of place” in relation to Douglas’ (2002:44) theory, then it would be considered equally inappropriate on both male and female bodies. It is clear from studies which have investigated how female body hair is viewed, that hair in itself is not just “matter out of place” it is hair on the female body which is dirt and “matter out of place”. Research carried out by Toerien & Wilkinson (2003) found that a woman who does not remove her body hair is regarded as unacceptable in society and that body hair on a woman is conceived as unattractive, masculine and dirty (Toerien & Wilkinson, 2003). My point is that whilst hair does police the boundary of bodily margins, and hence is considered a structural anomaly (Douglas, 2002), it must be more complex than this, because hair is not also “matter out of place” or undesirable on the male body. Tiggemann & Lewis (2004) found that both males and females reacted with abhorrence to hair on the female body so much so that the reaction to female underarm hair has become comparable to “flyswatters and maggots in meat” (Tiggemann & Lewis, 2004:386). They go on to describe how this reaction of disgust is a defensive emotion which safeguards the body and soul from contamination (Tiggemann & Lewis, 2004). It is clear that this disgust is not just about hair, despite it traversing the boundary of the body (Douglas, 2002.) Similar to Douglas (2002), Kristeva (1982) describes the abject as the concept of something which is ejected from the social order, it is something that represents an unstable boundary between the inside and outside the body. Therefore, hair becomes the abject, it is both simultaneously inside and outside the body at the same time, the hair follicle being under the skin and the actual strand of hair being outside of the body (Smelik, 2015). Furthermore, once is has fallen out, it is easy to cast aside as waste. Smelik (2015) describes the disgust that many of us feel when we encounter hair which has fallen out and is in the sink or on the floor. I feel that this is an important point because Smelik (2015) describes how we feel disgust at hair which is not on the body, but there is no way in knowing at first sight which body or which part of the body that hair has come from. Whereas, if we saw the same hair on the male body then we would not feel disgust in the same way we would if the body was female. It is evident that what makes hair “matter out of place” and dirt, is the location and origin of that hair and if there is no way of knowing where the hair has come from, e.g. if we come across it in the sink, then it is automatically viewed as disgusting. However, here it is important to acknowledge a second anomaly in my argument. It is clear that any hair which is not on the body and in places such as the sink is considered as dirt. This is regardless of whether it has come from the head or other parts of the body, or from a male or a female. I would argue that even though hair is considered not to be dirt on a female head or on a male body it is considered dirt when it has come off the body because it has traversed the boundary of the physical body and so it “matter out of place” under Douglas’ (2002:44) view and is ‘abjected’ (Kristeva, 1982). Any hair regardless of where it has come from when not on the body is dirt but when hair is on a body, it is only considered dirt if it is on a female and in places other than her head. My argument will look specifically at hair which is considered to be dirt when it is still on the female body in any place other than the head.

Kristeva’s (1982) argument that hair is ‘abjected’ because it is easily removed, and because it polices the boundary of the body is useful when analyzing Western society’s reaction to hair, but it is clear that there are stipulations on how and why hair is ‘abjected’. I feel I have made the point that hair, in itself, can be considered to be “matter out of place” (Douglas, 2002) and also as the abject but that also there is more meaning to it than this. Hair gains its meaning from the body which it is on and the location of it on that body. In order to understand why hair is considered dirt on a female body we must look at its significance as a boundary marker between the sexes and not just as a boundary marker traversing the boundary of the body. Whilst it is clear that hair polices the boundary between the bodily margins, because it is not treated the same on both sexes, it is also apparent that hair polices the boundary between the sexes.

Synott (1987) described hair as a symbol of the major divisions in our society. It is from this starting point that I will discuss body hair a boundary marker between the two sexes in our society, and will focus mainly on the ‘medical’ condition, hirsutism. Our Western society often concludes that males have more hair growth than females which comes as a result of male sex hormones being associated with being hairy (Cooper, 1971). However, Toerien & Wilkinson (2003), point out that this is a simplistic view which fails to acknowledge the female body’s capability for hair growth in all areas, including the moustache and beard area. Women have this potential for hair growth because they produce the so-called ‘male’ hormones, testosterone. Male and female hair growth has been presented to us as unequivocally different as a result of hormonal differences.  However, Ferrante (1988) and Cooper (1971) describe how the difference in hair growth is dependent on an intricate balance of hormones, as well as several other factors. This means that there is the natural potential for ‘excessive’ hair growth in women. ‘Excessive’ body hair in women is seen as having an underlying medical cause, however, statistically speaking, a large proportion of women are diagnosed with idiopathic hirsutism (Toerien & Wilkinson, 2003). This means that there is no physiological cause for the ‘disorder’ or that the cause cannot be found. Ninety-nine per cent of the time when a woman (in the United States) visits a physician with excessive hair, no underlying pathological cause is found (Messina et al, 1981; Coulam, 1974 in Ferrante, 1988). In this case, when no pathological cause is found, medical professionals will diagnose a woman with hirsutism based solely on the psychological distress which the hair causes the woman (Shah, 1957 in Ferrante, 1988). The fact that women are diagnosed with a ‘medical’ condition based solely on the distress that the ‘excess’ hair causes them, explicitly shows that if a woman happens to be naturally hairier than average, then they are somehow ‘wrong’ and a ‘medical’ explanation is needed. This ties in with Toerien & Wilkinson’s (2003) findings that to be hairy and a woman there must be an explanation. Regardless of whether it is ‘excess’ hair or hair that the woman does not want to remove, many explanations are given. The explanations include being oversexed (Cooper, 1971); masculine (Ferrante, 1988); lesbian (Basow & Braman, 1998); and dirty (Hope, 1982) (Toerien & Wilkinson, 2003). All of these explanations are contradictory to the typical notions of proper femininity (Toerien & Wilkinson, 2003). Spence & Buckner (1995:106) acknowledge that notions of masculine and femininity are concepts of “considerable consequence”. When a woman is seen as lacking femininity she is often devalued by society in the same way that men who are seen to be not masculine are criticized. However, despite being well established in society and language, masculinity and femininity are oppositional terms which are difficult to define but masculine is something which a male should ‘be’ and feminine is something a female should ‘be’ (Spence & Buckner, 1995). They include a plethora of attributes including sex-role attitudes, personality traits, behaviours and physical features. Femininity includes characteristics such as docility, gentleness, sensitivity (Vetterling-Braggin, 1982) as well as bodily features such as being slender and shaving bodily hair (Bordo, 1993). Therefore, if a woman does not remove her body hair then she is considered unfeminine and devalued by society and since femininity and masculinity are dichotomous terms, females with body hair are considered masculine. Masculine on the other hand, includes attributes opposite to femininity such as strength and assertiveness (Vetterling-Braggin, 1982). Thus, showing that hair is a significant boundary marker between the two biological sexes as well as their closely related concepts of masculinity and femininity. One must have the correct amount of hair, and it be in the appropriate places, in order to be placed in to either the male or female category, if they do not then they are considered abnormal and in need of an explanation as well as hair removal. It is clear that there is natural capability for hair to be anywhere on a woman’s body, and I would argue in line with Ferrante (1988) that the ‘medical’ condition idiopathic hirsutism is culturally constructed in order to maintain a strict boundary between male and female. We can draw a comparison between the culturally constructed idea of hirsutism as a medical condition with Fausto-Sterling’s (2000) discussion surrounding the treatment of intersex individuals. Fausto-Sterling (2000) argues that a body that does not fit neatly in to the socially constructed categories of male and female is regarded as anomalous. Intersex bodies, which are born with ambiguous genitalia and/or reproductive organs, are seen as traversing the boundary between male and female. They must be correctly “sexed” into either male or female, and surgery to do so takes place at birth (Fausto-Sterling, 2000). Despite it being clear that biological sex is a spectrum, society still requires bodies to fit in to clear cut categories of male and female (Fausto-Sterling, 2000). I feel comparisons can be drawn between Fausto-Sterling’s (2000) argument and my discussion surrounding hair as a boundary marker between the sexes. Firstly, Fausto-Sterling (2000) focusses primarily on the genitalia, reproductive systems, and chromosomes of bodies to illustrate that if those bodies deviate from the biological standard of what it means to be male and what it means to be female then they are regarded as anomalous and as an issue that needs to be fixed. Despite the bodies just having natural variations in biology, they are seen as unacceptable and in need of an explanation and correcting (Fausto-Sterling, 2000), this is similar to the culturally constructed ideas of hirsutism. It is clear that women who are ‘diagnosed’ with idiopathic hirsutism, just have a natural variation in biology and are hairier than others, but are seen as unacceptable and needing to be fixed (Ferrante, 1988). Arguably, the ‘medical’ condition, hirsutism is just enabling the socially constructed ideas of what male and female are supposed to be, to be continually reproduced. In the same way that a person who is born intersex must be correctly “sexed” in to the binary categories of male and female, a female with ‘excess’ hair, something which is deemed to be a male like feature (Toerien & Wilkinson, 2003) is also a body that does not fit wholly in to the category of male and female. I would therefore argue that the ‘medical’ condition idiopathic hirsutism is something which does not have a pathological basis but functions in society in order to ensure that bodies do not blur or cross the boundaries between what is said to appropriate hair for a male body and for a female body. Furthermore, the idea that ‘excess’ hair on the female body, despite having no underlying physiological cause, is described as a medical condition can be linked to Foucault’s work surrounding the medical discourse and the medical gaze. Foucault (1967) argued that medicalization of our society functions as a way to regulate and maintain a social order. In the case of idiopathic hirsutism, the culturally constructed condition allows our society to know what is ‘too much’ hair for the female body. It allows for our idea of male and female as separate and distinct categories, whose hair must be in opposites (Synott, 1987), to be continually reproduced. Moreover, as the two sexes are continually reproduced in dichotomous terms, any female body which has too much hair is punished for being deviant or treated for a medical condition. Burgess (2005:234) argues that “hirsute women are not aberrations but merely the collapsing of the binary of natural/unnatural”. It is evident hair on a woman’s body, in typically designated male areas, is seen as unnatural, and the hirsute woman is a contradiction of this. As Foucault (1967) would argue, medicalization often maintains a social order and in this case, I feel it maintains, not only the dichotomous categories of male female, but also what it means to have a normal female body. Evidently, there is a division between male and female hair growth which is socially fixed but physiologically arbitrary (Ferrante, 1988).

Up until this point I have demonstrated that hair is considered dirt and can be explained through Douglas’ (2002) theory of risk but that there is much more to consider when this hair is on the female body. Whilst it does police the boundary between inside and outside the body and is therefore structurally anomalous and considered a taboo (Kristeva, 1982) it is clear it also polices the socially constructed boundary between the male and female sex. In the next chapter I will begin by looking at hair as a secondary sex characteristic and the boundary this forms between the female adult’s body and the female child’s body.

3.2: Hair as a boundary marker between adult and child

For this chapter, I will begin by establishing hair as a boundary between adult and child, its symbolisation of sexual maturity and how this is denied to the female body. I will then go on to look at female hair removal as a disciplinary practice which controls the female body due to its relative position to nature. I will then link this to Foucault’s (1977) concept of docile bodies and how hair removal attempts to achieve docility in female bodies. I will then go on to look at Bartky’s (1997) and Bordo’s (1993) criticisms of androcentrism in Foucault’s frameworks. At the end of this chapter I will briefly discuss black women’s experiences of body hair and the difference which race makes to hair removal as a disciplinary practice.

As well as discussing body hair as a boundary marker between male and female bodies, Smelik (2015) also talks about the boundary which hair establishes between the adult body and the child body. During puberty, the male and the female body develop secondary sexual characteristics, body hair being one of them. Dark hair begins to grow on the legs, underarms, and pubic area for both male and females, with the addition of chest, face and back hair for males. Ofek (1973) argues that because the growth of pubic hair on the female body accompanies the beginning of menstruation – hair, fertility and feminine sexuality, all of which symbolise female sexual maturity, become associated. It is clear that the presence of pubic hair or any other body hair, after being associated with menstruation and fertility (Ofek, 1973), on a woman symbolises her sexual maturity. This is because as a child she is hairless, thus the boundary between adulthood and childhood is established. It is important to acknowledge that obviously hair growth during puberty on the male body also symbolises male sexual maturity. My argument stems from the fact that there is no presence of a cultural norm for males to remove this hair, despite some men choosing to do so as made clear by Boroughs et al (2005) and Martins et al (2008). Smelik (2015) describes how removal of this hair makes the body look younger and more infantile because it reverts the body back to its child-like state. The fact that on both the male and female body, body hair symbolizes sexual maturity but that there is only cultural pressure for women to remove body hair exhibits my argument that said pressure functions so as to keep the female body in a childlike and infantile state. A link can be made here to Berg’s (1951) thesis that argued that hair removal is a symbol of removing sexuality and maturity. As hair is a secondary sex characteristic under Berg’s (1951) view then removal of female body hair would symbolise removing her sexuality. Hope (1982) describes how hair removal might be seen as a way in which society encourages women to withhold their full adulthood. I would argue in line with Hope (1982) and suggest that society sells women an idea that removing her body hair will help her achieve ‘femininity’, but that all this does is ensure that she is kept in an infantile state. Hope (1982) also suggests that the term feminine when applied to the removal of body hair, can never mean womanly, it can only mean ‘childlike’, despite the fact that the term ‘masculine’ is equated with ‘adult like’. In the first chapter I demonstrated that hair removal strongly detaches the female body from the male body, and that the reason hair is seen as dirt is that on a female body it collapses the sex binary. For this chapter, my argument is that hair is a symbol of sexual maturity but that this sexual maturity is denied to the female in attempt to achieve the feminine infantile bodily state, and subsequently functions as a way of controlling her sexuality. Smelik (2015) describes the female hairless body as an ambiguous state between adult and child and that this ambiguity casts light on the unease caused by female adult sexuality. Up until this point I have established that there is an apprehension surrounding female adult sexuality, going forward I am going to argue that this apprehension originates from the position of women in relation to nature. Padgug (1979:19) identifies that sexuality is associated with “the realm of ‘nature’, of the individual, and of biology” as well as it tending to be more closely identified with the female and the homosexual.  It is in chapter three that I will discuss in more depth the notion of homosexuality and its relation to hair. My argument for now is that sexuality is closely associated to nature and that this relates to Ortner’s (1972) seminal work that argues the female is to male as nature is to culture. Ortner (1972:12) argues that the female is positioned closer to nature than the male due to her “natural procreative functions” which are characteristic of the woman’s body alone. She separates this in to three points. The first being the functions of the woman’s body are concerned closer to the “species of life” than the male meaning that he is unimpeded to be able to focus on projects of culture. The second being the idea that the female body places her in a position in society which is considered to be lower in the social hierarchy, whereas culture is viewed higher. Finally, Ortner’s (1972) third point is that the social duties of the woman enforced on her because of her bodily functions gives her “a different psychic structure” which similar to her physiological nature are conceived as being closer to nature. Ortner (1972) argues that women being closer to nature allows for them to be easily controlled and subjugated because it is always the desire of culture to exceed nature. Therefore, culture would find it normal to control women. I would argue society’s norm and standard for women to remove their body hair and deny their female adult sexuality is a way in which “culture maintains control over (its pragmatic and symbolic) mechanisms for the conversion of nature into culture” (Ortner, 1972:28). Since sexuality is closer to nature as well as the female (Padgug, 1979), I would argue that it is through removal of body hair in which women are controlled. It is hair removal that allows culture to maintain control over women in order for their conversion from nature towards culture. Hair is a disciplinary practice in which a woman’s sexuality is controlled due to its position being closer to nature and the fact that it is closer to nature makes it easier to subjugate, in turn this discipline creates Foucault’s (1977) idea of the docile body. Body hair removal can be understood using Foucault’s framework as a disciplinary practice which allows for the achievement of the docile body. The docile body is a body which “may be subjected, used, transformed and improved” (136) and as a woman’s body is closer to nature it is easier for it become docile and be controlled by the male culture. The docility is achieved without any physical or direct force placed upon the body but instead Foucault (1977) argues that this operation of power and disciplinary in society is understood through Bentham’s Panopticon (1843). The Panopticon is a prison design in which inmates are unable to be seen by each other but are visible continuously by prison guards. This instils in the inmate a permanent state of consciousness and visibility and establishes automatic functioning of power. The inmate functions at all times as if they are being watched (Hildebrandt, 2003). This mechanism of power develops self-surveillance within the inmates. Women’s self-surveillance to ensure they achieve proper femininity encourages the disciplinary practice of the constant removal of their body hair and thus allows for power to operate and control the female body because of its close position to nature. Hildebrandt (2003) suggests that this self-surveillance translates into contemporary society through the representation of the body in mass media. Furthermore, the self-surveillance which ensures constant body hair removal in women allows for hair removal to continue to function as a taboo on a societal level. It establishes community-wide complicity which Douglas (2002) argues is vital for a taboo to be upheld.

Whilst it is clear that Foucault’s concepts of discipline and the docile body applies to the female body and removal of body hair and can help us understand why female body hair is considered dirt, both Bartky (1997) and Bordo (1993) rightfully criticise Foucault (1977) for overlooking the gendered specificity of disciplinary practices. Foucault’s idea of the docile body is ungendered and unsexed despite it being clear that docility affects the woman’s body more than the man’s body. Furthermore, not all disciplinary practices apply to both men and women. Body hair removal is a disciplinary practice which applies only to the female body due to its position and relation to nature. It is disciplinary practice which enables the production of femininity to be inscribed upon the female body. It is a way in which power is exercised on the female body to ensure it achieves femininity, and with that femininity comes the denial of female adult sexuality. Not only does hair removal function as a disciplinary practice to deny female sexuality but also as a demarcation between the two sexes which I discussed in the first chapter. Foucault ignores disciplinary practices which create the sexed and gendered body and hair removal is one of them.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge that women are not a homogenous group whose hair and sexuality are viewed in the same way. Most of the literature and research available discusses how white or Caucasian hair is seen and treated in society however, Black women’s experiences of body hair are just as important and arguably more heavily controlled. Black women’s experiences of body hair are a means in which we can understand the discipline and regulation of black bodies in our society. Lester (2000) describes how notions of “good” and “bad” are applied to hair where “good hair” is associated closely to white people’s hair long and straight. Whereas “bad hair” is associated closely with black people’s hair, this is hair which is “short, matted, kinky, nappy, coarse, brittle, and woolly” (Lester, 2000:204). The identification of black people’s hair as “bad” significantly impact black women’s experiences of hair removal. It is even more of an imperative and necessity for black women compared to white women to remove their body hair due to these associations. Much of the literature which I have looked at treat all women’s experiences of hair as uniform. However, they ignore the impact that race can have on a woman’s experience of hair. Furthermore, black women’s experiences of hair can be argued to be related to their sexuality. Gilman (1985) concluded that black women’s sexuality is seen as uncontrolled, deviant and is rendered ‘other’. I feel there are implications surrounding societies view of black women’s sexuality as uncontrolled with her hair as “bad” which as a consequence means body hair removal is an even more powerful disciplinary practice to control the black body compared to the control of the white female body. Just as Foucault (1977) ignored the engendered disciplinary practices in which the body is controlled, it is quite right that he should be criticised for ignoring racialized disciplinary practices too. Admittedly this has only been a very brief discussion of black women’s experiences of body hair due to the constraints of this piece of work, however I feel this is an important focus for future research.

At the beginning of this chapter I established that hair marked the boundary between the adult body and the child body in both men and women. I demonstrated that hair was a symbol of sexual maturity but that this sexual maturity is denied to the female adult through the cultural norm of female hair removal. Thus, denying the female body full adulthood and evidencing society’s anxiety concerning female adult sexuality. I then went on to argue that this denial of female adult sexuality is a result of the female body being situated closer to nature than to culture (Ortner, 1972) as well as sexuality being strongly related to the realm of nature and the female. I argued that hair is a disciplinary practice which allows control to be maintained over the female body and sexuality and that continuous self-surveillance and community-wide complicity functions to uphold the taboo of female body hair. Along with Bartky (1997) and Bordo (1993) I argued that Foucault (1977) ignored gendered disciplinary practices which ultimately create the childlike and feminine body. Finally, I briefly discussed black women’s experiences of body hair and how literature often ignores the racialized difference of hair. My argument thus far can be summarised as hair is considered dirt on the female body because it symbolises sexual maturity, and this must be controlled because a woman’s body is closer to the realm of nature rather than culture. This argument will be investigated further in my third chapter where I will look at the associations between female body hair and homosexuality.

For my third and final chapter, I will argue that hair on a woman’s body must be removed as it elicits notions of homosexuality in a society where female attractiveness to men is a mandate, not an option. I will argue that because a woman’s body and her sexuality is placed closer to nature and as a result controlled by the man who is closer to culture, her sexuality must be controlled to ensure it complements man’s sexuality. This is an attempt to bring her closer to culture than nature.  I will argue that hair is considered dirt because when on a woman’s body it symbolizes homosexuality or at the very least, rejection of heterosexual sex.

Fahs’ (2011) study found that hair on a woman’s body elicited homophobic and heterosexist reactions from both strangers and people who they knew. She describes how the women in her study who were asked to stop shaving overwhelmingly received affirmations that growing their body hair was “unfeminine and an assault on their (assumed) heterosexuality or a mark of deviance” (Fahs, 2011:467). This clearly demonstrates the social requirements of women to be feminine and that a part of that femininity is to be heterosexual. This relates to Butler’s (1990) conception that membership in one category leads to the assumption that there is membership in a set of categories. For example, it is assumed that a person of the female sex would then be feminine and therefore heterosexual; she goes on to challenge the correlation between these categories (McLaren, 2002). Butler’s (1990) discussion of membership in one social category leading to assumed membership in another, for example, a woman is assumed to be feminine, is rooted in binary constructions (McLaren, 2002). This contributes to the idea that a person must fit in to one category or the other, for example, a female who is masculine would be considered ‘wrong’. This can be understood through Douglas’ (2002) framework. A female who is considered masculine or even if they just possess some masculine characteristics would be seen as violating society’s classification system and therefore deemed as anomalous and “matter out of place” (44). Furthermore, Butler (1990) argues that the assumed concordance between these categories is underpinned by the institution of compulsory heterosexuality (McLaren, 2002). Fahs (2011) describes how heterosexist responses to the body hair on the participants exposes the powerful norms surrounding femininity but that they also signify examples of compulsory heterosexuality (Rich, 1980). I would argue that these are not two separate revelations but instead are intrinsically connected because to be feminine is to be assumed to be heterosexual. Therefore, it is clear that hair on the woman’s body is equated and likened to homosexuality and that this is reprehended. Here we can draw links with Hallpike’s (1969) work where he suggests that having long hair is symbolic of being outside of society or being less docile to social control. Contrastingly, Hallpike (1969) suggests that shaving hair symbolically represents reentering society. We can draw comparisons with Hallpike’s (1969) work and the idea that having body hair is associated with homosexuality can be seen as being outside of society as Rich (1980) shows that compulsory heterosexuality underpins this society. Furthermore, Hallpike’s (1969) idea of longer and unshaven hair representing being outside of society are important when looking at Butler’s (1990) ideas of membership in one social category, e.g. woman, implying membership in another, e.g. feminine. This is because to have unshaven body hair as a woman is to not be feminine and therefore, outside of the binary constructions of what it is to be a woman, thus being symbolically outside of society and resisting social control. Admittedly, Hallpike (1969) does not pay particular attention to what it means for women to have long, unshaven hair and the differences between what it means for men to have long, unshaven hair. However, based on my discussion so far, I would argue that it is indubitable that women’s hair if long or unshaven would be subject to stronger regulations regarding its symbolic representation of being outside of society compared to men’s. Just like Bordo (1993) and Bartky (1997) argue that Foucault’s (1997) concept of the docile body affects female bodies more than male bodies, I would similarly argue that Hallpike’s (1969) notion of unshaven hair representing being outside of society affects women more than men. This is because, as we have seen from previous literature, there are more cultural standards and norms for women to adhere to in regard to their hair than men (Toerien & Wilkinson, 2003; Ferrante, 1988; Tiggemann & Kenyon, 2004).

Up until this point in this chapter I have demonstrated that female body hair elicits ideas about compulsory heterosexuality, because female body hair is seen as unfeminine and as a violation of a woman’s (assumed) heterosexuality (Fahs, 2011). Thus showing, that to be feminine is to be heterosexual. Going forwards, my argument is that hair is considered to be dirt on a woman’s body because it is equated with homosexuality, and if a woman is homosexual then she does not complement male sexuality. Moreover, a woman being homosexual places her more towards the domain of nature rather than culture. Thus, compulsory heterosexuality functions as a disciplinary practice to allow culture (i.e. man) to “maintain control over its (pragmatic and symbolic) mechanisms for the conversion of nature into culture” (Ortner, 1972: 28).

Jackson (1984) describes how sex research has attempted to and that models of sexuality are constructed as essentially male. She identifies that the male dominated society has taken a particular form of male sexuality (heterosexual male sexuality) and has tried to universalize to the extent that it is assumed to be the model of sexuality in general (1984). As a result of this, female sexuality can only ever be constructed in relation to male sexuality. Jackson (1984) describes the paradoxical manner in which female sexuality is defined. Female sexuality is conceived as both similar and different to male sexuality. In some ways, it is conceived as more emotional and less easily aroused and on the contrary, it is perceived as arising from the same biological drive as male sexuality (Jackson, 1984). The construction of female sexuality in this manner allows not only for the legitimization of the form of male (hetero)sexuality but it also shows how it complements male sexuality. Thus, if female sexuality is constructed in such a way that it demonstrates how it complements male sexuality then it will automatically legitimize compulsory heterosexuality. A female that deviates from this construction would be seen as going against the social order and what is deemed as ‘natural’. Therefore, I argue that compulsory heterosexuality is a disciplinary practice in a Foucauldian sense, which enables the woman to be brought further towards the realm of culture and away from nature. This is because when conceived as homosexual (as a result of unshaven body hair) the woman is placed further towards the male sex but also further towards nature. These are two ideas which I will discuss separately.

Firstly, when perceived as homosexual the woman’s body and associated behaviours are deemed to be too near to the male. As I have discussed at length in the first chapter, a woman must be categorically different to the males. If a woman’s body is too close to the realm of the man’s then she is traversing the sex/gender binary and deemed as “matter out of place” (Douglas, 2002:44). Therefore, when perceived as having too much body hair and as a result homosexual the woman takes on the form of male sexuality. She is attracted to women and so no longer complements male sexuality. Thus, compulsory heterosexuality acts as a disciplinary practice to ensure women do not traverse the gender/sex binary. Haraway (1991:90) identifies heterosexuality functioning to ensure it “reproduced the antagonistic relation of the two coherent social groups, men and women.”

Secondly, when perceived as homosexual as a result of her unshaven body hair, the woman is placed further towards the realm of nature. This is because if the woman rejects heterosexual sex she is no longer complementing male sexuality. She departs from sexual contact with men and prioritizes herself (Fahs, 2011). Thus, interrupting heteronormativity and associated feminine standards. However, it is the aim of culture (i.e. male) to ensure that women are to achieve appropriate femininity and its associated heterosexuality in order to move towards the realm of culture and away from nature. Paradoxically, women must be far away from the notion of what is to be male so as not to traverse the boundary of the sex binary but she must also be controlled to be nearer to culture than nature and therefore nearer to man.

Throughout this final chapter, I have demonstrated that hair on a woman’s body elicits assumptions of homosexuality and that female homosexuality is antagonistic to our idea of appropriate femininity. I have then discussed Butler’s ideas of assumed membership in social categories and how the assumption that a woman is feminine and is therefore heterosexual, underpins our idea of compulsory heterosexuality. I then drew comparisons to Hallpike’s (1969) work that suggests long and unshaven hair symbolically represents being outside and society and resisting social control. Finally, I have constructed an argument that compulsory heterosexuality functions as a disciplinary practice to ensure that the woman is controlled and far enough away from nature but not too close to culture that she traverses the sex/gender binary. Fundamentally, my argument has shown that hair is considered to be dirt on a woman’s body because it is associated with homosexuality and this places the woman too close to nature. Therefore, compulsory heterosexuality functions to bring the woman further away from the realm of nature and towards culture.

4: Conclusion

Throughout the three chapters of this dissertation I have attempted to bring together my argument that hair on a woman’s body is considered to be dirt, firstly because it threatens to collapse the sex/gender binary. It is in the first chapter that I demonstrated that unsexed hair and hair not on the body can be understood through Douglas’ theory of pollution but that there is much more to consider that Douglas does not account for when trying to understand why hair on the female body is considered to be dirt. I have used Ferrante’s (1988) work surrounding the cultural construction of idiopathic hirsutism to argue that hair reinforces the sex/gender binary and any deviation from the hairless woman threatens to collapse this. It is therefore seen as dirt in order to ensure that the notion of there being two sexes/genders is reproduced. In my second chapter, my argument demonstrates that hair on a woman’s body is considered dirt because it symbolizes sexuality and must be controlled because a woman’s body is place closer to nature than culture. My third chapter continued this argument and demonstrated why a woman’s sexuality must be controlled. This is because a woman’s body hair is taken to be an assumption of homosexuality which contradicts not only feminine standards but also the sex/gender binary. I feel I have successfully responded to my question of “why hair is considered to be dirt on a woman’s body?”. My answer includes two responses which are intrinsically linked. The first response which was demonstrated in my first chapter is that hair is considered to be dirt on a woman’s body because it threatens to collapse the sex/gender binary and therefore must be removed. The second response which I demonstrated across my second and third chapters is that because a woman’s sexuality must complement a man’s and hair on woman’s body symbolizes homosexuality then it is considered to be dirt. This in turn allows for the woman to be brought further from the realm of nature towards culture (Ortner, 1972). There have been two anomalies to my argument which I established in my first chapter but I feel that these do not impede the validity of my argument since I have successfully explained the anomalies to be understood through Douglas’ (2002) theory and Synott’s (1987) theory. This piece of work is limited due to it being an undergraduate dissertation and I feel that future research in to the relation between my two responses to my question would provide further insight in to why hair on a woman’s body is considered to be dirt.

Finally, although this piece of research does argue that hair removal is ultimately a patriarchal control mechanism, I am not suggesting that women should stop removing their body hair. It is important to take in to account that women’s decisions regarding their bodies cannot be made outside of the patriarchy and therefore any decision they do make will impact the response they receive from members of society. Even if someone believed that hair removal is a patriarchal control mechanism, it does not mean that other members of society will. Since much of the literature which I have discussed shows that women not removing their body is met with negative reactions it would be ill-considered of me to suggest women should stop removing their body hair. Instead I would suggest that future research is undertaken in order to investigate further why female body hair is met with such reaction and work to establish how women can make choices regarding their bodies free of patriarchal control.

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