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Do Women Have to Be Hairless to Be Sexy?

I was shocked when I read Kim Kardashian's recent proclamation that "I am Armenian, so of course I am obsessed with laser hair removal!" It makes me sad that we live in a society where women punish themselves in such painful and bizarre ways.
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I am not a hairy person.

I'm no Michael Phelps, mind you, but I've certainly never felt my more hirsute friends' pain when it comes to waxing eyebrows and upper lips, lasering off armpit hair and feeling compelled to shave every day -- sometimes twice within 24 hours -- to help mute the dark follicular stippling that insists on creeping across their legs like a bad rash mere moments after being chastised with a Venus.

In fact, a medium brown Ulta eyebrow pencil is an integral part of my beauty routine, and I own two merkins -- a casual piece for day and a glitzier, rhinestone-encrusted number for evening. OK, so the pubic wig part isn't real, but still, my relatively non-furry physique is, thanks in part to a grandfather who was rocking a bald noggin by 25.

That said, I have had my share of hairy situations. In sixth grade, not yet in need of serious hair removal but bizarrely jealous of my friends who were, I experimented with Nair, which smelled so pungently vile I'm surprised it didn't burn holes in my bathroom countertop, where I sat perched, reading Sassy magazine, as the cream ate its way through my leg fuzz, sulfuric acid-style. In seventh grade, Erica F. popped my shaving cherry at sleepaway camp when she taught me how to use her contraband razor, one of those round pink jobbers that you gripped like a gearshift. In college, I got my first bikini wax, a humiliating experience which ended with the aesthetician asking me to pull my legs back "like a baby, and take a deep breath." And in my 20s, I underwent laser hair removal on my bikini line, an experience which was incredibly and unspeakably painful -- each laser pulse felt like a cigarette burn, not a "rubber band snap" as I was promised -- but, nonetheless, did the trick and silenced my hair follicles like those poor lambs on Clarice's childhood farm. For years, the area immediately outside of my bikini bottoms has been as smooth and follicle-free as Justin Bieber's face.

So I was shocked when I read Kim Kardashian's recent proclamation to Allure magazine that "I am Armenian, so of course I am obsessed with laser hair removal! Arms, bikini, legs, entire body is hairless." Hopefully technology has progressed significantly since my experience, as each of my four treatment sessions reduced me to a puddle of sweat, tears and singed stubble -- and that was just over a mere 3% of my body!

Besides eliciting frightening mental images of a Chinese Crested Hairless, Kardashian's hair quip made me kind of sad that we live in a society where women punish themselves in such painful and bizarre ways, all in an attempt to conform to some externally mandated definition of what is beautiful or sexy. Somewhere along the way, we decided it was better to look like a Chihuahua than a Sheep Dog, and permanent hair removal became a multibillion dollar industry. As a result, women who naturally have more body hair are made to feel unattractive, and girls as young as eight are seeking bikini waxes. Women book last-minute Brazilians before giving birth and ladies who opt not to shave are regarded with scorn and disgust (remember when Julia Roberts waved to her fans at a movie premier, revealing armpits that looked like mini Tom Selleck chest patches?)

A hairless body is viewed as the ultimate in sexiness. Call it the Pam Anderson effect. How many real world women had actually considered stripping off every last pube until her sex tape -- for which her bikini waxer received an Executive Producer credit -- went viral? Many have argued that the popularity of full-body hair removal was born from the pornography industry, its focus on naked ladybits having seeped into the public's consciousness. "Virtually all females in pornography are shaved and plucked within an inch of their life," writes Joanna Whitehead on The F Word, "and many people view this online and then request it or expect it from their real-life sexual partners.

One need look no further than the wildly popular (and very mainstream) movie The Break Up, in which Jennifer Aniston's character attempts to win back her ex-boyfriend by getting a 'Telly Savalas' beauty treatment -- ie waxing off of all of her body hair -- and wandering naked around their shared apartment.

That said, some women have been able to successfully buck the notion that women can't be hairy. Kat, 29, a self-proclaimed "very hair woman," began shaving with an electric razor in the fourth grade after kids began teasing her. By high school she was obsessed with "shaving everything" in an attempt to conform. But by college, she says, "I was really sick of it. I'd cut myself a lot and was really angry at the constant obsession. It was part of a larger rebellion in my life, trying to accept myself for who I was and not what everybody told me I should be. Part of that meant loving my body for what it was and what it made." Today, she shaves "when I want," and the decision is more logistical (will her unshaven armpits be uncomfortable during a workout) than societal.

Kat also pointed out the seeming unfairness of women having to wax, pluck, and shave every appendage while male sex symbols like Pierce Brosnan can sport full tufts of chest hair. True, but even men these days are feeling compelled to depilate in an effort to look more Taylor Lautner than Robin Williams.

What about you? Are you a shave-a-day kind of girl, carrying your Schick Quattro in your back pocket? Have you lasered your legs or plucked your pubes? Or have you been able successfully shun society's hair-free expectations and rock an armpit faux-hawk?

This blog originally appeared on iVillage's NeverSayDiet.

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