Sex Roles, Vol. 52, Nos. 5/6, March 2005 (
Body Hair Removal: The ‘Mundane’ Production
of Normative Femininity
and Precilla Y. L. Choi
Although women’s body hair removal is strongly normative across contemporary Western
cultures, only two studies of ‘mundane’ depilation have been published, and they were based
on data from the US (Basow, 1991) and Australia (Tiggemann & Kenyon, 1998), respectively.
The present survey, comprised of a sample of 678 women, extends this work. We investi-
gated UK practices, a wider array of body regions and removal methods, and the relationship
between depilation and age. Over 99% of participants reported removing some hair, most
commonly from the underarms, legs, pubic area, and eyebrows. Shaving and plucking were
the most common removal methods. Signiﬁcant relationships between age and leg, pubic,
and facial depilation were found. Results document the normativity of hair removal, and we
argue that hair removal is part of the taken-for-granted work of producing an ‘acceptable’
KEY WORDS: body hair; depilation; femininity.
Women’s body hair
removal is strongly nor-
mative across numerous cultural contexts today.
Survey research indicates that the practice is cur-
rently prevalent in North America (Basow, 1991)
and Australia (Tiggemann & Kenyon, 1998). How-
ever, accounts of women’s hair removal from such di-
verse regions as Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome;
the Tobriand Islands; Uganda; South America; and
Turkey (Cooper, 1971) show it to be neither a mod-
ern nor a purely Western invention. Taken together,
the long history and the current, documented preva-
lence of women’s body depilation suggest it to be
Social Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK.
MRC Health Services Research Collaboration, Department of
Social Medicine, University of Bristol, UK.
Centre for Ageing, Rehabilitation, Exercise and Sport, Victoria
University, Melbourne, Australia.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at MRC
Health Services Research Collaboration, Department of Social
Medicine, Canynge Hall, Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2PR,
United Kingdom; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the purposes of this study, body hair was deﬁned as any hair
visible–currently or in the past–on a participant’s body (including
the face), other than the head.
of social signiﬁcance. Moreover, there is strong evi-
dence of a widespread symbolic association between
body hair–or its absence–and ideal gender: to have
a hairy body is a sign of masculinity; to have a
hairless one, a sign of femininity
Basow & Braman, 1998; Cooper, 1971; Ferrante,
1988; Firth, 1973; Greer, 1970; Hope, 1982; Simpson,
1986; Synnott, 1993; Tiggemann & Kenyon, 1998;
Toerien & Wilkinson, 2003, 2004). Indeed, the depic-
tion of the female body as depilated, with “smooth
unwrinkled ... skin” (Tiggemann & Kenyon, 1998,
We would like to underscore that this dichotomous construc-
tion of gendered embodiment, whereby masculinity and femi-
ninity are seen as opposites (such that the association between
body hair and masculinity means that body hair cannot also be
associated with femininity), is not a necessary one. Researchers
have launched cogent critiques of such thinking. In particu-
lar, work on intersex (e.g., Fausto-Sterling, 2000), transgender
(e.g., Bornstein, 1994), and androgyny (e.g., Bem, 1978/1987) has
challenged the very notion that there exist just two (opposite)
sexes/genders. Nevertheless, Western thinking retains a perva-
sive understanding of femininity and masculinity as opposites
(Goodison, 1992). To be masculine is still, in commonsense, to
be unfeminine. Thus feminine hairiness becomes, at least sym-
bolically, an oxymoron (Hope, 1982).
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.