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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Popular images give wrong impressions of body hair

Q: My daughter has only recently started shaving her legs and now thinks she should shave all of her body hair. I find this very upsetting! Is this normal? What should I do?

A: Esthetic ideals of the right amount of body hair for both males and females vary across cultures and from generation to generation. Some religions even set standards for how body hair should be worn or maintained.

Your daughter's assumptions about hair removal are normal. Current popular culture images give the impression that females don't have body hair at all. Magazine articles teach our daughters that a bikini wax is essential beauty maintenance and endorsements for particular methods of hair removal are offered up in the guise of dishy celebrity "secrets."

Barely there

A generation ago, only leg hair or hair that peeked outside a bathing suit was trimmed, waxed or shaved. Today, some women remove all traces of pubic hair or leave a small amount. There is no hygienic reason to do so; in fact there are health risks such as cuts, blisters, rashes, and infections if appropriate hygiene standards are not met. Some forms of hair removal are painful and intrusive and there is often uncomfortable itching with regrowth.

I suggest you share your feelings on the subject with your daughter and what factors you have considered in making your own choices.

Discuss all the options for when she is an older teenager: from living au naturel to various forms of hair removal with consideration for safety, cost, upkeep, privacy, and discomfort.

You could research together how to avoid health risks. In the meantime, a pair of board shorts or a "boy short" swimsuit may offer a solution for added privacy as her body changes through puberty. Honest information and genuine solutions to her appearance related worries will help boost her self-esteem.

Lisa Naylor has worked as a counsellor and health educator with girls and women for the past 15 years in both Winnipeg and Toronto. Lisa is a co-creator of the Dove Self-Esteem Fund girls-only activities.

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