The specter of excess: Race, class, and gender in women's body hair narratives

Breanne Fahs, Denise A. Delgado

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

24 Scopus citations


Women face these accusations when they choose not to shave, because traditional gender roles have made the body a source of political contention. One recent study states, "Far from being the inevitable outcome of a biological imperative, femininity is produced through a range of practices, including normative body-altering work such as routine hair removal. The very normativity of such practices obscures their constructive role" (Toerien and Wilkinson 2003, 334). Thus, body hair removal is one way women obey social norms dictated by patriarchal expectations. Though over 99 percent of women in the United States reported removing body hair at some point in their lives, few studies have addressed this phenomenon in detail, particularly in light of social identity categories such as race, class, and gender. The few studies conducted on body hair have found that women overwhelmingly construct body hair removal as a normative and taken-for-granted practice that produces an "acceptable" femininity (Toerien, Wilkinson, and Choi 2005). Shaving and plucking-labor women invest in their bodies-constitute practices adopted by most women in the United States, with women typically removing hair from underarms, legs, pubic area, eyebrows, and face. Departure from these norms often elicits negative affect and appraisal for those who rebel; women who do not shave or remove hair report feeling judged and negatively evaluated as "dirty," "gross," and "repulsive" (Toerien and Wilkinson 2004). Further, women rate other women who do not shave as less attractive, intelligent, sociable, happy, and positive compared with hairless women (Basow and Braman 1998).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEmbodied Resistance
Subtitle of host publicationChallenging the Norms, Breaking the Rules
PublisherVanderbilt University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)9780826517869
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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