Thursday 29 September 2016

Irish feminist Emer O’Toole on why she hasn’t shaved in years - ‘I’m fed up with pressure on women to modify their bodies’

Published 13/06/2015 | 13:35

Emer O'Toole, when she was 18 months into her pact to not shave her body hair
Emer O'Toole, when she was 18 months into her pact to not shave her body hair

Several years ago, Emer O’Toole made the decision to stop shaving her underarms, legs, and other areas of her body.

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The Irish journalist has intentionally not removed any of her body hair in almost five years.

“The pressure to conform to an arbitrary idea of beauty is tiring,” she told Newstalk FM.

She added that the constant pressure to attain a universally promoted idea of “perfection” did not make her feel good about herself and left her feeling psychologically depleted.

“Our bodies should be there for us to enjoy - express ourselves. Instead, there’s a capitalist pressure on us where we are being coerced into buying a service or products, and told if you don’t then you are unhygienic or outdated.”

“So many girls are worried about their appearance as their primary concern,” she lamented on air. “Body hair became a symbol of it for me - it’s just one way in which men aren't expected to modify their bodies,” she reasoned.

To illustrate her point, she pointed to the statistics that women make up 80 percent of consumers within the beauty industry and 9 in 10 sufferers of eating disorders are female.

“We need to acknowledge that this physical pressure is a problem that affects women more,” she said.

In protest, she made the decision to stop shaving when she was 26, and hasn’t looked back since.

She spoke about times when other women (and men) have stopped and stared in public.

“Other women see a woman’s hairy arm pit and automatically think, ‘You freak get away from me, why is it such a double standard?’” she questioned.

“The worst is on public transport. I was in London and people would point, laugh, take pictures of me thinking I couldn’t see,” she recalled.

“The time that broke my heart most was when a group of girls from Connemara were over in London and I overheard them speaking Irish. I was about to approach them but I realised they were having an aul bitch about the hair on my legs! I thought, ‘You’re using the anonymity of Gaelic to engage in body shaming of other women,’” she revealed.

Emer also connected with those who had similar beliefs, and together they formed a Facebook group ‘WANG’ an acronym for Women Against Non-Grooming, which has since amassed 4,500 people.

WANG aims to make women empowered to make choices free from societal pressure, as Emer understands how difficult it can be to stop conforming.

Emer added that her romantic partners have had no issue with her decision.

“I’m very lucky that I have wonderful taste in partners,” she said. “Of course it’ll be challenging for some people if they’re not used to it but why would I be interested in being with someone who wouldn't be willing to rethink their thoughts,” she stated.

Author and columnist Emer previously appeared on ITV's This Morning to discuss the issue.

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