Graduation Year

2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Psychology

Major Professor

J K. Thompson

Keywords

appearance, attractiveness, Body Hair, Body Image, depilation, hair removal

Abstract

Body depilation, or the reduction or removal of body hair, is a relatively new area of research inquiry. Although women in many industrialized cultures have engaged in depilation for several decades, this behavior has been documented only recently among men. Though originally thought to be widely practiced by women and only a small proportion of men, including athletes or bodybuilders, recent studies suggest that more men engage in body depilation than previously hypothesized. In fact, one recent study estimated the prevalence of men's body depilation at 83.7% which suggests that men are depilating at rates similar to women. Nevertheless sparse literature exists on the topic of depilation and its relationship to the overall body image of women and men, factors that predict depilation, and how the appearance of body hair may be related to body satisfaction, body image disturbance, and symptoms consistent with the clinical disorder known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).

Clinical issues thought to be associated with body depilation include physical injuries that put men and women at risk for infection as well as psychological risks including BDD. The goals of this research project were to: (a) further explore the depilation practices of both genders, (b) develop and evaluate three scales directly related to body depilation research, (c) identify predictors of depilation among both genders; (d) examine the correlates of depilation, (e) apply and further test theoretical models to explain depilation among both genders, and (e) examine demographic differences in body image disturbance and BDD while controlling for natural body hair growth.

In support of the hypotheses, results indicated that men have greater levels of body hair growth at 12 discretely measured body sites compared to women, and that overall, body depilation prevalence is high (90.8%) among the individuals sampled. Depilation prevalence for women was 98.5% while 80.9% for men. Men were more likely to report depilation in the past, having ceased the behavior to allow natural hair growth to resume. Men were also significantly more likely to engage in hair reduction behaviors, e.g., trimming, rather than removing hair all together compared to women. Women reported a significantly greater frequency of injuries as a result of depilation, while men reported greater dissatisfaction with higher levels of chest or back hair growth.

Instruments were developed and evaluated to measure depilation appearance comparison, depilation social norms, and body hair growth. In terms of predictors of depilation, appearance comparison was a predictor for both genders, while the drive for muscularity was a unique predictor for men. Theoretical paradigms associated with depilation included Social Comparison Theory, and in part, a belief that depilation is socially normative. Results also provided partial support for hypotheses related to gender, racial/ethnic, and sexual orientation differences in body image disturbance and BDD symptomatology. Overall, the results of this study provide support for the notion that body depilation is a key appearance and body image concern for both genders, though more so for men, but also suggest that more research is needed in order to better understand the role of the appearance of hair on the human body.

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