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Last night I had dinner with a couple of friends. Christine, one of them, had just returned from New York and brought me back a book called “Body Outlaws – Rewriting the Rules of Beauty and Body Image,” a collection of frank, powerful, and sometimes humorous essays about self-image.


I started reading passages from it on the subway on my way home. Carolyn Mackler’s “Memoirs of a (sorta) Ex-Shaver” – about women’s travails with body hair – made a strong impression on me, because the ultimate message is very close to the thesis of The Illusionists.

Here’s my favorite passage:

Why had body hair become such a nemesis for women? It poses no health risks. It is not hygienic to remove; it is not cleansing to shave. Rather, the complications arise during the eradication: cuts, infections, rashes, ingrown hairs, dry skin, burning. Is this hairless ideal yet another variation on the tune of ‘let’s take the best (boobs, curves in some places, hair in very few places) and leave the rest (hips, curves in other places, hair in lots of other places)’? Or is it: ‘Let’s make women look like 8-year-olds so we can treat them as such’? Or is it: ‘If women can fill up their extra hours shaving and obsessing about their bodies, then they won’t have spare time to plot world takeover’? Or maybe it’s: ‘Women are so grossly overpaid and just don’t spend enough on pads, tampons, pantyliners, Ibuprofen, shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, that we should coax them to buy razors, waxes, creams and bleaches.’ A-ha, it’s probably: ‘How about setting another unattainable ideal for women so they will always fall short of the mark.’ I mean, what are women if they’re not feeling insecure about something or another?

Thank you for the wonderful book, Christine!

Link: Body Outlaws on

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Rachel Blum says:

    Or maybe, just maybe, some women *like* the feel of smooth skin…

    Yes, I agree, the U.S. has a completely confused world view on body hair – as far as I’m concerned, take it or leave it, I don’t care – but this is just the other side of the same extreme. “It all must be a plot to subdue women”?? Seriously?

    Especially since it’s a “plot” mostly perpetuated by women. (Whenever I don’t shave, the comments are from other females – the guys know well enough to leave alone 😉

    Here’s a thesis: If we as women stopped judging one another by how we look, guys wouldn’t have much of a choice. And we could decide each for ourselves how much of a beauty ritual we want to put ourselves through.

  • Stefano Eduardo de la Vrancea says:

    So this means you don’t shave?