All Your Beautiful (or not) Hair
She asks me why I'm just a hairy guy I'm hairy noon and night
Hair that's a fright I'm hairy high and low Don't ask me why Don't know It's not for lack of bread Like the Grateful Dead
Theme from the Broadway musical, “Hair”
In 1968 Broadway went gaga for the musical “Hair”, which was about the counterculture, the Vietnam war, the sexual revolution, and, well, hair. Oh, yeah, there was also the full frontal nudity, but that’s a different blog post!
In 2015 Suraiya, a feminist teen in Texas of Iranian, Pakistani, and Indian descent, just about exploded Twitter when she posted a picture of herself showing her belly with its natural line of hair from her belly button to her groin.
So it seems we’ve still got issues when it comes to body hair.
Hair grows everywhere on your body except the palms of your hands, soles of your feet, lips, and eyelids. You’ve got approximately 5,000,000 hair follicles spread across your body. It’s everywhere. It’s just part of your skin.
Hair is not useless! Our bodies need it for many reasons. To protect (as in your scalp). To respond to stimuli and send that sensory info to the brain (think of someone’s breath on your neck). To help you wick sweat away and cool off (everywhere!) To spread the scent of your sexy pheromones and maybe reduce chafing (armpits, groin). To provide a habitat for necessary microorganisms that live in hair follicles (which helps maintain skin health). To catch things (nose, ears, eyelashes, eyebrows).
Whether it’s on Broadway or Twitter, it’s clear that what is considered the “right amount” and “attractive placement” of hair is 100% cultural conditioning. American women didn’t start shaving their legs and armpits until the first half of the 20th century. Why did they start? Advertising. Yes, the hygiene habit that many American women wouldn’t dare forego for even one day was a direct result of the advertising industry.
We have Harper’s Bazaar to thank for starting to promote underarm shaving in 1915 – to help them sell the new sleeveless fashions – and Betty Grable for her hairless legs in silk stockings in the pin-ups of World War II. When the popularity of beards decreased the sales of razors to men, women became a new market as well.
Where we get hair and what it looks like naturally changes over the course of our lives. Pigment fades with age (often starting in the 30s) and you get gray or white hair. Hair starts out fine for babies and starts becoming finer again in our 40s. Less estrogen, often starting in the late 30s and 40s, means more facial hair. Testosterone causes hair starts to thin in the 40s.
Illness, medications, and chemicals change our hair. Men with greater sensitivity to the hormone DHT get male pattern baldness. Hypo- and hyperthyroidism can cause hair to fall out. Chemotherapy drugs kill all rapidly growing cells in your body, including those in your hair root. Radiation will kill hair in the specific area receiving radiation.
Dryness affects hair’s appearance as well. For some types of hair, bleaching and other harsh treatments may “fry” it and cause it to fall out. Dry winter air and humid tropical climates both change the texture of your hair.
So now that we have established hair’s biological value, social construction and ever-changing nature, what about your body hair under the hands of a massage therapist? That’s the worry we hear most from you and we have this to say about that: you have nothing to worry about. We got apologies for unshaven legs and pits, “too hairy” backs and even concerns that we have to look at the hair on a person’s toes (oh! the disgrace!)
First of all, we are a profession of people who have chosen to touch bodies for a living. We are used to all the things a body does and, in my experience, we are not fazed by much. So don’t worry if your legs are prickly or you have a 5 o’clock shadow. Relax if you’ve got armpit hair that "you only have in the winter because it’s never seen." It’s a moot point, we want to get to good stuff underneath the skin.
And this is why we lubricate. For most of your body hair the oils / lotions / gels we use reduce any friction you may be worried about. What friction the lotion doesn’t take care of, the weight of our hands overcome (yes, even for light work like lymph drainage or Swedish). We take into account the direction of hair growth too which cuts down on discomfort. If you ever feel your hair being pulled uncomfortably, tell the therapist and they will be happy to adjust.
If you have extra thick and curly hair, for example on your back, we’re used to that too. Our primary concern is not pulling your hair, which hurts you. We will use extra oil / gel / lotion to reduce the chance of pulling or hurting you. (And if this means you’re extra slippery, ask for a towel to wipe off after a session. We’ve got them and we’re happy to oblige.)
One place that oil and lotions rarely belong is in the hair on your head. So, if we’re working on your scalp and pulling your hair uncomfortably, it is completely appropriate to say so! We can always adjust the way we work to reduce any discomfort to you and we want to.
So you never need to apologize to us for hair. Anywhere. It’s all good (and completely normal) to us.
Body hair? What body hair?