It's not something I thought about much at all after I started to shave my legs years ago. But I just recently read this post on Delightfully Tacky in which Elizabeth describes her experience deciding not to shave for 10 weeks. It had never really occurred to me, but it really is kind of unfair that men are considered handsome with all of their natural hair whereas it's considered ugly, disgusting, and unprofessional on women. When women do try to go against the standards that say a woman must make her body smooth and more conventionally attractive, she often feels shame when out in public, and struggles to find herself beautiful, but then often feels guilt that she feels that way.
Ron Perlman as Beast and as self
When I first started this blog, one topic I was very passionate about was the double standards of beauty and cultural expectations. Especially as seen through modern adaptations of fairy tales-male beasts are not only acceptable, but actually considered desirable. Whether they're a brooding vampire, a deformed genius living under the Paris Opera House, or a more animalistic creature actually covered with hair, women tend to have a soft spot for these misfits. It somehow seems more flattering to be singled out by someone supernatural. As Sue Bursztynski mentioned in the comments of my recent post on the Beast in Lion form, Ron Perlman has said he was never considered attractive to women until after he played the part of the Beast in the 80s TV show. My most viewed post of all time is my post on Beastly Females, but the majority of people who click on it aren't there to read about Animal Bride variants of tales-but because so many people are googling images of Gerard Butler in his Phantom makeup.
Here you go, world
Yet when it comes to portrayals of women, in fairy tales or just in general, ugly women-or really even average women-are much harder to come by. There are a few examples, such as Gail Carson Levine's "Fairest," the D'Aulnoy fairy tale "Green Snake," and the movie "Penelope." Even when women are animals in folklore, they tend to be beautiful, graceful animals such as cats or swans-sometimes even slimy frogs or seals, but hardly ever hairy beasts like wolves or bears, which males often find themselves as (I'm not familiar with any females in folklore that turn into hairy beasts, but I'm sure there must be some exceptions out there? EDIT: There are actually many examples of hairy animal disguises for females, check out this list of Animal Brides. Thanks, Sue!). But most of those examples are unknown or forgotten today, especially by males, although the message of loving females who look unconventional is important for both genders. But in general, whether it's a very traditional story or a more feminist action heroine, the one thing main female characters have in common is that they're conventionally beautiful. Sexy females sell products, are looked at longer on billboards or magazine pages, and are generally desired by viewers of both genders.
And one thing that's become ingrained in all of us is that part of that beauty formula means to have perfectly smooth, hairless skin-or to remove ourselves from what our natural form is. I'm a huge proponent of appreciating natural beauty, in yourself and others. Not that I think it's wrong to get tattoos or dye your hair, but when the message becomes "you have to change in order to be beautiful," that should be a big warning bell. For most of human history, women never shaved, yet in the last 100 years, as women were able to shed layers of clothing, the standards for beauty and etiquette all decreed that the "objectionable hair" should be removed (see A Quick History of Women and Shaving).
Katerina Plotnikova Photography
Back when Enchanted Conversations came out with a Beauty and the Beast issue, there was a story I really liked that has stuck with me. The link doesn't work any more so I can't credit the author or title (let me know in the comments if you can!), but it was a story about the daughter of Beauty and the Beast. Her parents were separating and the Beast had reverted to his beastly form because the spell was no longer valid. The daughter was worried that maybe the spell would have been passed on to her.
"Daughter" by Kiki Smith
Smith's combining aspects of LRRH with the wolf causes an emotional reaction
Then one day, she started noticing hair growing. Day after day, all over her body, getting longer and thicker. She was pulling a Parent Trap at the time to get her parents to get back together, to save her father and herself from the spell. The Parent Trapping worked and her parents renewed their love, and her father became human, but-she, the daughter, was still hairy! Dismayed, she finally let her mother in on her secret. And her mother assured her that that was the natural body hair of puberty.
I thought it was a sweet way to look back at adolescence, and that terror when your body starts changing and doing things you don't necessarily want it to. But really the story also helps to illustrate very pointedly: on a woman, any body hair is considered Beastly. In a way, we all have that spell on us and we're all (or mostly) trying very hard to fight it! We spend money on razors and shaving creams and lots of time removing that hair that keeps stubbornly coming back. And it's so arbitrary when you think about it-long hair on women's heads is coveted, arm hair is acceptable, and yet on legs and armpits, hair causes people to recoil and feel strong emotions of disgust.