Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

What French women do differently

When I was sixteen I was packed off for the summer to a kibbutz. Me and agricultural labour are not a match made in heaven, nor the spartan socialism of daily life. One hot morning, and every morning got hotter than the next, I was walking along a lane-type arrangement holding a small scythe to hack away the dead leaves in a banana plantation when I raised my arm for some reason. The kibbutz girl next to me screamed. Oh, she cried, you are bald.

I was supposed to have looked like this

apart from the red sequinned dress and the clutch, obviously.

Susannah Frankel, in the Indie, writes:

It is the stuff of legend that European women the chic, beach-loving French in particular are less likely to remove underarm hair than their British counterparts, who are, also famously, considered not to be as comfortable in their own skin. Given that France is a country where beauticians will wax eyebrows, top lip, chin, nostrils (yes, nostrils) in the blink of an eye, this is not just an oversight. Instead, while hair on legs and, indeed, pretty much anywhere apart from the head might be considered unsightly, armpits are left just as nature intended.


greying pixie said...

I think this is a topic where we really cannot generalise. There are French women who do and French women who don't. And I don't think of France as being a nation of overly zealous waxers either - Brazil is the place for that! Yes, French women do tend to visit beauticians for regular maintenance, but surely their complexions give away the treatment they have.

Why do we have to belong to one camp or the other anyway?

phyllis said...

I agree with Pixie.

Why do women engage in this petty nonsense? We’ll never rule the world unless we get over this. Men do not do this to each other.
A while back a similar controversy emerged on the sewing blogs. Some women were touting their satisfaction with their home made sanitary protection. When I posted my “enough is enough” comment, I was roundly attacked and accused of “not being comfortable with my body”. In reality I’m perfectly comfortable with my body, what I wasn’t comfortable with was someone else’s body being so narcissistically and tediously discussed in public.

Toby Wollin said...

Ah, when the personal becomes the political. My mother did not shave anywhere - and she did not have to. She was a very fair redhead and had very sparce hair on her legs and in her armpits. The leg and armpit hair genes for my sister and me came down from someplace else in the family, so we are pretty hairy folks. Given my size(short) and shape(thick), if I did not shave, I think I truly would look like my Ukranian grandmother(except I still have my teeth).

miss cavendish said...

I grew up with the rule that one shaved legs to the knee, not above. Just last night I saw a photo (via Jezebel, I believe) of Celine Dion that criticized her for not having her legs shaved onstage. Indeed, in the light you could see gentle fuzz on her arms and above her knees. But what's wrong with that? Her mother probably gave her the same rule that mine did.

Arabella said...

I'd pay to see Celine Dion shaved on stage. Singing is another matter. Boom! Boom!
Sorry, subject of armpits obviously makes me hysterical. Carry on.

Mae Travels said...

Said phyllis: "I was roundly attacked and accused of “not being comfortable with my body”. In reality I’m perfectly comfortable with my body, what I wasn’t comfortable with was someone else’s body being so narcissistically and tediously discussed in public."

I wish this statement would be posted on about 4 million blogs. It's so perfect in so many contexts, including this one.

Linda Grant said...

Home made sanitary protection?

Duchesse said...

Body hair is a differentiation of gender and (with cultural variations) women have undertaken by shaving, bleaching etc. to remove body hair where men have it in abundance.

I saw a female salesperson at a store recently who had undertaken treatment to grow heavy facial hair. I was startled; not used to seeing this, but with increasing numbers of people occupying indeterminate gender or refusing this classification, I expect to see more.

greying pixie said...

duchesse, I think the embarrassment of body hair is a very modern thing. The downy body hair that grows when a young woman reaches puberty is considered very beautiful in many cultures.

As they say in Italy 'donna baffuta, sempre piacuta!'.

Gi said...

i'm chinese, black armpit hair will look really, really grotesque. i also don't understand how women in HK can operate without deodorants.

Tiah said...

Linda Grant asked, "Home made sanitary protection?"

Yes, some women use reusable pads made from fibers such as organic cotton or bamboo that secure with snaps. Some do it because after having children they are more sensitive. Others do it for environmental or political reasons.

Not sure how "being comfortable with your body" plays into it. Think it is more what makes a person comfortable.

Anonymous said...

About armpit hair: I think it can look nice even on people with very dark, abundant, coarse hair. Its a matter of getting used to seeing this in public - things naturally look 'wrong' and out of place when they aren't much in evidence. I really wish people would stop equating body hair with a lack of personal hygiene - if you use deodorant in a sensible way then this is not a problem! I don't shave in the winter much because my armpits aren't on public view but I do in the summer mainly because I know the reaction it will cause if I didn't.

re the home made sanitary protection: I think I get why some women misinterpret the reasons behind not wanting to use these kinds of products, which is of course a personal decision. I think that in the minds of some very conventional people, using reusable sanitary protection products is a disgusting thought because its a lot less 'out of sight, out of mind' - by needing to reuse the products you are forced to confront the biological facts of menstruation in a different way. So some fans of reusable sanitary protection lump everyone who choses not to use reusable sanitary protection together, despite the fact that its perfectly possible to be comfortable with the process of menstruation but not find it practical, comfortable, etc, to use these products. And yes, I agree, womens' bodies are not an appropriate target for activism.

Anonymous said...

I dislike the inference that a woman is "less comfortable in her skin" having anything to do w/ the decision to shave or not. There are as many reasons to shave or not as there are women and I don't see how choosing to have underarm hair really proves anything.

Sometimes I shave and sometimes I don''s all about how I feel and has nothing to do w/ anyone else.

Anonymous said...

As for what French women do differently, the only thing I can really discern they don't seem to really care what others do. They just do their own thing. LOL...things tend to work out in the end whether you have hair or not, so why sweat is?

Badaude said...

Sorry - I've never actually seen a French woman with hairy armpits and I'm sitting writing this in Montmartre.
I think it's a myth that just isn't current any more.