This is an academic book on women and body hair, a subject which has, until now, been seen as too trivial, ridiculous or revolting to write about. Even feminist writers or researchers on the body have found remarkably little to say about body hair, usually not mentioning it at all. If women's body hair is noted, it is either simply to accept its removal as an inevitable aspect of female beautification, or to argue against hair removal as a return to a ‘natural’ and un-oppressed female body. The only texts to elaborate on body hair are guides on how to remove it, medical texts on ‘hirsutism’ or fetishistic pornography on ‘hairy’ women. This book asks how and why any particular issue can become defined as ‘self-evidently’ too silly or too mad to write about. Using a wide range of thinking from gender theory, queer theory, critical and literary theory, history, art history, anthropology and psychology, the contributors argue that, in fact, body hair plays a central role in constructing masculinity and femininity, as well as sexual and cultural identities. Arguing from the theoretical position that identity and the body are culturally and historically constructed, the chapters each analyse, through a specific focus, how body hair underpins ideas of the ‘cultural’ and ‘natural’ in Western culture.
The vast majority of women in Western culture, as well as in many other cultures, remove the hair on their bodies. Women's body hair is apparently seen as either too ridiculous and trivial – or too monstrous – to be discussed at all, and is, in this sense, truly configured as a taboo: something not to be seen or mentioned; prohibited and circumscribed by rules of avoidance; surrounded by shame, disgust and censure. It is also in this sense that this book refers to it as ‘the last taboo’. The book focuses on feminist analyses of body weight as a problem for women: as an oppressive patriarchal ideal that regulates and controls, or produces, the female body. It suggests that the problem of women and body weight has become as much a means for the patriarchy to define and control ‘femininity’, as a site of resistance to patriarchy, and also explores body-hair removal in relation to maleness. In these senses, it is perfectly logical that there are fetishes both for ‘hairy women’ and for ‘shaven’ women.