Hair, There and Everywhere: The AOI Body Hair Survey

The poet Yehudi Amichai once began a depressed poem with these lines: “I have become very hairy all over my body. I’m afraid they’ll start hunting me because of my fur.” But the poet Gregory Corso wrote, “to lie in bed and be hairless is a blunder only God could allow.” It isn’t just the poets, of course. We’ve all got feelings about body hair: are we cool or not, hot or not, popular or not, modern or not? Surprisingly often, body hair plays a part in how we judge ourselves and others. Which is why we organised the Great Indian Body Hair survey online.

In our survey we asked you, when it comes to body hair, do you care? And it seems you do: 665 of you took the survey over a three-week period. Here is what we learned from your generous and thoughtful responses.

1 Body Break-up: What is your gender and age?

In all, 665 people took our survey.

Women formed the overwhelming majority in every age group of respondents. There may be many reasons why more women took the survey than men, but without a doubt, body hair is seen as a “ladies’ subject” unless otherwise specified (and we did specify this in our social media). The absence of body hair is seen as what makes women beautiful and womanly, and its presence has been linked to manliness, though that is changing, as our findings show.

The majority of respondents were in the 18-32 range, with very few above 50. One reason may be that younger people feel more engaged with this topic. A solid 67% of the male respondents were between 18-25 years old, denoting that young millennial and Gen Z males think more about body hair – pointing to a significant societal shift.

2 How often do you remove hair?

Given the hairless chests and gleaming armpits in the movies, on hoardings and on Instagram, it’s surprising that the most common answer was “As and when.” Surprising but comforting. While people worry about perceptions around body hair, everyday preoccupations and laziness do seem to outweigh these imperatives.

3 Why do you remove body hair?

People could pick more than one answer to this question, and many did. Attractiveness was the chief reason chosen by women, followed by hygiene, habit, and then having others see them as more attractive. Among men, hygiene was the top reason, followed by the need to feel more attractive and then for others to see them as attractive. Habit came last.

 

In the category “Other reasons”, respondents (mostly women) sometimes wrote detailed answers. Some cited physical aspects such as comfort, medical reasons or pleasure. Several women cited societal pressure. Others indicated a desire to appear neat. Some were elusive, such as “If getting bored” or “Just like that”.

Some answers showed that many struggled with the choice – they knew in theory that women shouldn’t be expected to remove body hair, but had trouble putting that into practice. Many in this category reflected this struggle with humour: “Every time I’m getting waxed or threaded, I wonder why I am and I get no answer. That’s the reason I let my body hair grow for months before I sit down for a waxing session. One day, I’ll be able to find the courage to bide my own advice – women don’t have a social obligation to be hairless – and I won’t get waxed. Simple, isn’t it?”

Here are a couple more.

Man, 18-25: “After speaking to a number of women, I’ve come to the understanding that body hair is fine, but not when there’s too much of it, and the lawn down south becomes a jungle if untamed.”

Woman, 18-25: “My mother persuades me to.”

Here are more terms we came across in people’s qualitative answers about body hair:

4 Hair and Lovely: What do you think about body hair on a woman?

An equal percentage of people (30%) said “Makes no difference” and “Depends on where it is”, which adds up to a significant number of people with a relatively relaxed attitude to body hair.

However, attitudes were discernibly different between the genders – while the answer with the most votes among women was “Makes no difference”, the most popular answer among men was “Ok, but nicer if it’s not there.” Two-thirds of the people who believed body hair was “Natural and beautiful” were women, but they account for only 9% of all women who took the survey. Men who shared this opinion account for 15% of all male respondents. Both indicate how uncommon it is that women’s body hair is viewed positively. As for the response “Yuck! Thoo”, even though only around 1% (7 people) felt that way, 6 of those 7 were men.

The group with the strongest feelings about body hair on women was aged 25-32. Most voting for “Ok, but nicer if not there” and “Depends on where it is” and the rest dominating the “Yuck!Thoo!” category.

 

 

 

 

5 Hair and Lovely: What do you think of body hair on a man?

You remember how when it came to women, only a third felt that body hair made no difference? Well, when it came to men a full 44% (the most popular answer across all age groups) said body hair on men made no difference. “Can’t stand it”, the least popular answer across age groups, was the response of 2% of people – 2 of them men, 7 of them women.

Also, remember how hairiness was once seen as an ideal of male beauty? Today not so much. Younger people have stronger preference for hairlessness on men than others do. In the 18-25 category 12% chose “The smoother the better” – nearly double the percentage of the 25-32 group with that answer, and a third more than those aged 32-50 who wanted men to be hairless.

The second most popular answer was in the moderately tolerant category “Depends where it is”. Of the respondents who had this answer, 74% were women, while 25% were men. A healthy minority flew the “Hair and lovely” flag and three-fourths of this crew were also women.

6 Modern ya Millennial: When did you start removing body hair?

A significant majority said they began removing hair between the ages of 12 and 20. Only a fifth of people said they had started as full-grown adults. The majority of men – 59% – said they had started removing hair between the ages of 12 and 20. We could assume they refer here only to shaving facial hair – but 42% of these were men aged 25-32, and around 35% of them were aged 18-25. Judging by their previous answers about body hair on men, we can also safely assume that they aren’t only referring to facial hair.

Nearly all the people who said they had started removing hair before 15 were under 50 and 75% of them were between 18 and 32. It seems fair to extrapolate that people have been conforming to these beauty standards at younger and younger ages in the last 20 years.

Mapping the ages of the people at the time of responding to the age at which they began to remove hair, we get other insights. The number of people who began to remove body hair increases significantly post globalisation, particularly from 2000 onwards, suggesting a significant change in our body image.

7  Tere Mere Hair ke Charche: What do you feel about the relationship between sex and body hair?

Most folks felt the two are not related, that sexual intimacy is beyond the mechanics of hairiness or hairlessness. Some said that body hair is connected to better sex. And how exactly? Nearly 60% feel hairlessness improves it. And according to 28% of them hairiness improves it.

In contrast, of those who said body hair detracted from sex, a huge majority specified hairiness as the cause. The majority of those who felt body hair and sex had nothing to do with each other were women. Of the men who responded, the largest percentage said being hairless improved sex, followed by men who said that being hairy detracted from sex.

8 Andar ki Baat: Do you remove pubic hair?

The Brazilian wax (removing all the pubic hair) and the bikini wax (removal of hair along the swimsuit line) have become routine offerings even at the smallest of beauty parlours. But when it comes to pubic hair, the most common answer was trimming not total obliteration. Three quarters of them were women, and a quarter were men. Again, contrary to what you’d imagine the least popular answer was “Yes, regularly”.

Mapping the ages of those who responded tells us that this is largely a late globalisation phenomenon. And it appears that while people in the 18-25 age group may believe in these beauty standards, they don’t remove their pubic hair as much – we’re guessing this is because they have less money than the others; the number of sexually active people with access to space and mobility for sex is likely to be higher in the 25+ age group.

9 Kitne Tareeke The? How do you remove body hair?

Master: The Padshahnama
Item: The Weighing of Shah-Jahan on his 42nd lunar birthday (23 October 1632)

Insta poet Naina Kataria had a viral poem with a long list of hair removal methods that ended:

So when a man calls me beautiful

I throw at him, a smile; a smile that remained

After everything the strip pulled away

And I dare him

To wait

Till my hair grows back.

No surprise to Kataria or anyone else that painful methods like waxing and threading have barely any takers among men – only 6 men said they waxed, and just one said he relied on threading. The most expensive option, laser, had the least takers among women and none at all among men or trans people. Only people under 50 chose it, but their number is not insignificant, given the very high cost. Of the 3 trans people who took the survey, all said they shaved, 2 said that they trimmed, and 1 each said they used waxing and threading. Only 3% of our 665 respondents said they didn’t remove body hair at all.

While around half used only a single method, a quarter of respondents used a combination of two methods. The most popular combo was waxing and threading, followed by shaving and trimming. However 22% of people used three methods, with nearly half of them using shaving-waxing-threading as the most popular option, while 9% of people used four options, shaving-trimming-waxing-threading being the most popular combo used by 75% of them. And 18 people used all 5 methods.

10 Have you stopped removing your body hair after years of doing so? What does that feel like?

We wondered if the body hair treadmill is hard to get off. The largest age group among those who said they had stopped removing hair was 25-32 and a little over 86% were women. Women had the most varied answers to this question, offering a glimpse of just how big a role body hair plays in their lives. The answers of close to half of those who said they had stopped indicated that they were comfortable with their decision. Around 18% seemed liberated and relieved, and 13% were conflicted. While around 14% of those who hadn’t stopped removing body hair had answers that indicated they were comfortable with their decision, 9% of them said said they would like to stop. Four percent each were conflicted and defensive. Two women said they felt liberated and relieved by not stopping.

That brings us to the end of our follicular journey. And to our most favourite of poems dedicated to hair. Elizabeth Bishop’s poem The Shampoo has a clean yet romantic note we can all live with.

The shooting stars in your black hair

in bright formation

are flocking where,

so straight, so soon?

– Come, let me wash it in this big tin basin,

battered and shiny like the moon.

Data collated and analysed by: Partho Sengupta, Paromita Vohra, Sonal Giani
Written by: Nisha Susan and Deepika S
Graphics: Debasmita Das

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