Book Review: Bearded Lady by Mara Altman

Body hair is something I discussed recently in a post, and while I think I got my points across well enough it’s always going to be flawed having a discussion regarding female body hair from a male perspective. Before posting it I talked to female friends about it, but decided I needed a female perspective so tracked down this Kindle Single that I remembered having cropped up on the “Top Titles” list at Amazon.

bearded lady

I’m glad I did because it’s a wonderfully written book, interesting and entertaining. Mara Altman is a self confessed hairy woman and writes this book which examines attitudes towards female body hair, the beauty industry and her own feelings about her body hair.

It helps that Altman is a funny, personable guide on this journey, opening up about her own obsession with removing her own body hair and the lengths she’s gone to do so (including some painful sounding therapies). She intersperses this with research into the history of shaving and the theories behind why it’s become such a big deal for women.

These theories are conflicting but put forward interesting ideas- that shaving became fashionable in the early 20th century when women had less control so it was one area where they were in charge, while another suggests that it’s founded in misogyny and that as men are afraid of women and their power, they’re more attracted to shaved women because they seem younger and more innocent. The misogyny theory is all kinds of creepy, and tied in with robbing women of being proud of their bodies and insecure. I’m not sure whether I fully buy either theory based on this, but further reading might develop them.

The book is rather short, but I think this is a good thing and Altman’s wit and humour throughout makes it a breezy read. It makes you think about the damage beauty standards might be doing and how attitudes have changed, but it’s most interesting on a personal level, with Altman being both bothered by her hair and bothered by the fact it bothers her so much. As the child of a hairy hippy mother she admits to feeling like a traitor when she decided to shave as a teen, provoked by her hairy legs being drawn attention to and standing out compared to her classmates.

It’s this personal story, and Altman’s acceptance of her conflicting feelings that make it an interesting read and finding out that Altman has written other books on issues like motherhood, sex and marriage, which I will be adding to my Kindle wishlist.

It’s not the full story, or the universal female perspective on body hair (there probably isn’t one), but it’s a fun and interesting personal story and Altman is beautifully frank and open. What appealed to a soft git like me is that one of the continuing themes is that she’s kept her body hair hidden from her partner, and the final sequence where she tells him, and his reaction is a funny, charming conclusion for the book.

Verdict: A fantastic read, very easy and fun, with Altman showing warmth, openness and intelligence throughout. It’s an interesting personal view on the issue of body hair. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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