Each culture of human society developed social norms relating to the presence or absence of body hair, which has changed from one time to another. Different standards of human physical appearance and physical attractiveness can apply to females and males. People whose hair falls outside a culture’s aesthetic standards may experience real or perceived social acceptance problems, psychological distress and social difficulty. For example, for women in several societies, exposure in public of body hair other than head hair, eyelashes and eyebrows is generally considered to be unaesthetic, unattractive and embarrassing. In Middle Eastern societies, removal of the female pubic hair has been considered proper personal hygiene, necessitated by local customs, for many centuries.
With the increased popularity in many countries of women wearing fashion clothing, sportswear and swimsuits during the 20th century and the consequential exposure of parts of the body on which hair is commonly found, there has been an increase in the practice of women removing visible body hair and hirsutism, such as on legs, underarms and elsewhere. In the United States, for example, the vast majority of women regularly shave their legs and armpits, while roughly half also shave hair that may become exposed around their bikini pelvic area (often termed the “bikini line”).
Many men in Western cultures are accustomed to shave their facial hair, so only a minority of men reveal a beard, even though fast-growing facial hair must be shaved daily to achieve a clean-shaven or beardless appearance. Some men shave because they cannot genetically grow a “full” beard (generally defined as an even density from cheeks to neck), their beard color is genetically different from their scalp hair color, or because their facial hair grows in many directions, making a groomed or contoured appearance difficult to achieve. Some men shave because their beard growth is very excessive, unpleasant, or coarse, causing skin irritation. Some men grow a beard or moustache from time to time to change their appearance or visual style.
Some men tonsure or head shave, either as a religious practice, a fashion statement, or because they find a shaved head preferable to the appearance of male pattern baldness, or in order to attain enhanced cooling of the skull – particularly for people suffering from hyperhidrosis. A much smaller number of Western women also shave their heads, often as a fashion or political statement.
Some women also shave their heads for cultural or social reasons. In India, tradition required widows in some sections of the society to shave their heads as part of being ostracized (see Women in Hinduism § Widowhood and remarriage). The outlawed custom is still infrequently encountered mostly in rural areas. The society at large and the government are working to end the practice of ostracizing widows. In addition, it continues to be common practice for men to shave their heads prior to embarking on a pilgrimage.
People may also remove some or all of their pubic hair for aesthetic or sexual reasons, a practice that is referred to as “Waxing Hair Removal” or “Bikini Waxing“. This custom can be motivated by reasons of potentially increased personal cleanliness or hygiene, heightened sensitivity during sexual activity, or the desire to take on a more exposed appearance and visual appeal, or to boost self-confidence when affected by excessive hair. Moreover, unwanted or excessive hair is often removed in preparatory situations by both sexes, in order to avoid socially awkward situations. For example, unwanted or excessive hair may be removed in preparation for a sexual encounter, or before visiting a public beach.
Though traditionally in Western culture women remove body hair and men do not, some women choose not to remove hair from their bodies, either as a nonnecessity or as an act of rejection against what they regard a social stigma, while some men remove or trim their body hair, a practice that is referred to in modern society as being a part of “manscaping“.
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