Body Hair and China

Updated: Jan 28, 2019

Sarah O'Connell

If a woman feels sexier or cleaner or whatever, then fine, go ahead. But I hate the thought of this becoming an inflexible standard. Given that the study found that grooming is cultural, what that says to me is that we can change it—if we want,” says White-Field Madrano, Author and Feminist Beauty Expert. Growing up, my biggest insecurity and struggle was my dark, brown, and thick body hair. Constantly shaving to make it look like it never existed! Even if I missed the smallest peach fuzz on top of my lip, someone usually noticed. I was constantly late because I was too busy shaving to be on time, and don't get me started on when summer rolled around!

A majority of Western girls are pressured to be smooth and fair, and societal expectations of body hair all changed when I first moved to China, I moved to a quaint countryside town in Northern China, I had packed some razors and shaving cream but ran out within three months with the plan on staying there for a least nine more months. I went out on a hunt to find more and shortly fell into a disaster of not being able to find anything at all. With the only option of cheap ones from Miniso; leaving me with razor burn and cuts all over my body.

It took years to learn how to love my beautiful caterpillar like eyebrows. For a year, I did not venture into any salon to even try to work my way using my limited Chinese and absurd hand motions with the hopes of getting my eyebrows even done similar to how I got them done back home. I had always liked them arched but from what I observed, most women around me had them done straight, a style I wasn't used to. I carefully shaved them once a week and prayed my hand didn't slip.

After a while, all of these practices became too tiresome, or in the words of the Chinese; tai maifan. It had me thinking, how come there are so little choices for Chinese women, don't they have to shave too? This is when I realized that most didn't! The woman who prepared noodles at my favourite shop had some hairs on the top of her lip and a unibrow to match, one of the girls I tutored who always wore beautiful dresses and kept her appearance sharp would lift her arms and expose her armpit hair. There was even an 'Armpit Hair Competition' which trended on Weibo; created by Xiao Meili, who is an important women's right activist in China. During the summer, a few of my friends would wear shorts and have leg hair grown out.

Of course, their hair is not as thick and prominent as mine but it is still there! I noticed that no one ever batted an eye to their body hair and was just the norm for them. In today's time, the struggle of body hair is based on something none of us can control and over something completely natural. “Chinese tradition had no demands in this respect – armpit or leg hair was just part of your body and nothing to be ashamed about,” says Yuan Ren, who grew up in London and Beijing. After living in a culture where shaving was the standard and most girls appeared hairless, it has been a relief to finally live somewhere where body hair was normal and accepted.

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