“Shave your legs. Wax your armpits. Is that a mustache? Unibrows are a no-go. Arm hair? Hell, no!” Sound familiar? This is the conversation most Latinas have had with themselves every single day in front of the mirror since we were ten. We’d go to extremes to conceal our body hair as if the public shame of our nature would be unbearable.

And, sometimes, it is.

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Women have been subjugated to a ridiculous and contradictory beauty standard for centuries. We use every device available to modify our bodies in order to please the male gaze. In turn, we introject those expectations and become our worst judge.

For Latinas, this is even worse. It’s as if the label of “the most beautiful woman in the world” and the over-sexualization of our culture forced us to lose control of our own bodies.

How did we get here?

“Growing up, I always wore sweaters or long sleeves to cover my arm hair,” Anna Martinez told FIERCE. The first-gen Latina and content creator told us she felt “ashamed and embarrassed” to “usually have more arm hair than boys in my class.”

For Valeria Duque, the experience was not that different. “Since elementary school, I was bullied being called ‘monkey,’ ‘little boy,’ and ‘hairy Valeria,'” she shared. “I would wear long sleeves and pants even on hot summer days so no one would see my arm or leg hair. My mom made it very clear I was not allowed to shave because I was too young, and there was nothing wrong with having [body] hair, but I didn’t see it that way at that age. I even convinced her to dye my hair blonde, so they weren’t as noticeable.”


I am a Hairy Latina and im proud????????????❤️ #fyp #foryoupage #FYP #foryou #fypage

♬ original sound – ValeriaDuque

Millions of women have the same experience, and it may be a good place to start understanding our relationship with body hair. 

For centuries, hair removal has been a way to determine gender roles and social status. While hair removal was a way to keep the body clean and avoid diseases at the beginning of civilization, in Ancient Egypt and Rome, having smooth skin was associated with purity and superiority. 

The Catholic church backtracked and expected women to let their hair grow long as a display of femininity. Body hair was not an issue until Queen Elizabeth I made eyebrow and face hair removal fashionable. Yet, most European and American women still considered removing their body hair a non-necessity.

It wasn’t until Charles Darwin published his book “The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex” in 1871 that body hair became a problem. 

Darwin’s theory of natural selection associated body hair with “primitive ancestry and an atavistic return to earlier less developed forms.” In other words, the hairier you were, the more “beast-like” you were considered.

And everything went downhill from there

During the 19th century, doctors and scientists began to link body hair to “sexual inversion, disease pathology, lunacy, and criminal violence.” However, those diagnoses were almost always attributed to women. 

Unsurprisingly, by the early 20th century, white Americans saw smooth skin as a marker of femininity. Body hair was seen as repulsive from there on, and hair removal was a way to “separate oneself from cruder people, lower class, and immigrants.”

Furthermore, the male-dominated manufacturing industry realized that where there is more demand, there is more supply. 

Gillette launched the first safety razor explicitly marketed for women. The “Milady Décolleté Gillette” came out shortly after Harper’s Bazaar’s 1915 campaign devoted to the removal of underarm hair. The idea was to solve “an embarrassing personal problem” while a few lined their pockets.

Since then, the hair removal industry has grown exponentially, valued today at around $1.14 billion.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

But how has been the experience for Latinas and women of color?

As White society controlled the media and the world in general, women of color felt stranded by the standards the beauty industry was putting in place. “I was about eight or nine when I realized I could not identify with anyone on TV that looked like me,” Martinez said. 

“The media shows you how to be this high-maintenance type of woman and so many inventions to get you there like waxing, shaving, laser, and so much more. Once we see that, we think that’s the norm,” Duque agreed.

While this is the Western standard — the unibrow, for example, is considered a sign of beauty in women in Oman — the social pressure has only increased in the last decades. The pornography aesthetic and the media (and now, social media) have capitalized on the hair removal obsession.

“I will say that it has affected me financially,” said Jennifer Leon, owner of The Fifth Analysis Public Relations. “The cost of everything has gone up, including the price of arm waxing and eyebrow threading. There was even a point where I found myself canceling Netflix and HBO Max memberships and just cutting back on whatever I could so that I could afford to pay for my wax appointments.”

As someone who grew up in the 2000s, Leon knew immediately that if she wanted to fit in, she had to get rid of her body hair. “I felt extremely uncomfortable at how dark my arm hair was and how bushy my eyebrows were, and I truly remember feeling like I would feel happier and prettier without body hair.”

Image used with permission from Jennifer Leon.

For Vergi Rodriguez, an entertainment industry expert, the situation was similar.

“Since I used to be a professional choreographer and dancer, I always had to be very conscious of my body hair,” she told FIERCE. “I had to always be clean-shaven since most of my work was either on tour or music videos. Since I sometimes didn’t know what we would be wearing until the last minute, I had to make sure I was ready. So, my body hair, even though it wasn’t thick, I did still have areas that I had to be aware of because being either on stage or on camera, I had to make sure my body hair was taken care of.”

Being a woman of color, for Rodriguez, the consequences were two-fold. She shared how she has tried “everything from laser hair removal to waxing and shaving.” Most options left her frustrated and unhappy because the results would be “either messy or irritated my skin.”

Image used with permission from Vergi Rodriguez.

“I soon learned that because of the melanin in my skin, laser at one point even burned my skin. Partly, I think that was also because the nurse who was using that machine wasn’t too familiar with the strength of the laser with someone with a darker skin tone,” she said. “Lasers have come a long way since then, and eventually, finding a laser hair removal facility that knows what they were doing gave me the best results. I have moved on to sugaring, which seems to be not painful and is instantly exfoliating. It leaves my skin with almost no irritation and super smooth.”

However, most Latinas have learned to make peace with their body hair and have a better relationship with their body in general

With the new wave of feminism and women’s empowerment, body hair has become a liberation banner. Many women now decide to let their hair grow naturally and are often proud of what that symbolizes.

In the same way, other women are more relaxed and less obsessed with hair removal. “I realized it’s normal, and no one is looking,” Duque shared. “I was so caught up on what people thought of me that I didn’t enjoy many things. Now, my husband loves my hairy arms and makes me feel so comfortable.”

For Martinez, everything changed after a trip to Mexico to visit her family. “My whole perception changed,” she said. “Being in Mexico and seeing how many people looked like me made me fit in. Learning more about my culture and where my family comes from made me realize how unique I am.”

Finally, for Leon, growth and embracing her body have been life-changing.

“Over the years, I’ve learned to accept myself. It sounds cliché, but it is true,” Leon said. “I still wax my eyebrows but if there’s a week when I can’t do it, I am not too hard on myself. Having self-love has given me the mental strength to not be so hyper-focused on the opinions of others. Not only that, but I’ve also learned to accept my differences!”