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A game theory analysis of women’s shaven legs

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/625/who-decided-women-should-shave-their-legs-and-underarms
The answer to the question posed in the link above describes why the majority of women around the world shave their legs and armpits. As a guy, although I love the way beautifully shaven girl-legs look, I can’t understand why they go through the gruel of it. When I asked a few girls about it, I was surprised to find out they all hate shaving. So then how did a marketing strategy get so many women to do something they all despise? The obvious answer would be to be more attractive to guys. Indeed, the girls I asked said they shave because otherwise it is less likely that boys would want to go out with them. Although this seems very superficial, it’s undeniable that guys would choose to date girls who shave over girls who don’t. But when asked whether they would prefer it if all girls were forced to stop shaving, all of them said they would, since it would save them from experiencing the discomfort time and again.
What this then turns out to be is an interesting prisoner’s dilemma situation. For one individual girl, the best situation would be if no other girls shaved but she did, since it would make her relatively much more attractive to the opposite sex. It would be second best for all girls if none of them shaved, since all girls would still be relatively equally attractive to boys as when they do shave, considering straight boys have no substitute for girls. The worst situation for all girls would be if all of them shaved, since they would gain nothing in relative attractiveness but would still face the horrors of the razor. However, it turns out that it is always a dominant strategy for any individual girl to shave; if other girls shave their legs she would lose relative attractiveness if she doesn’t shave, but if other girls don’t shave she can easily gain in relative attractiveness by shaving.
At first it may appear that this idea only applies to single girls, since it seems illogical that girls continue to shave even after they find steady boyfriends if they do so just to impress boys. However, this example of the prisoner’s dilemma applies to girls with boyfriends too, since if they decide to stop shaving while all single girls continue to do so, they would seem relatively less attractive to their boyfriends and may risk losing them. Another possible objection to this reasoning would be that girls don’t only shave their legs to attract boys, but also because it boosts their self-esteem if they look better. Even if this is true the prisoner’s dilemma would still apply, since “looking good” is a relative term; self-esteem is based on comparison to others, so the sum of all girls’ self-esteems is the same whether they all shave or they all don’t. The dominant strategy for every girl in this case is still to shave.
In essence, this analysis shows that the million dollar lady-shave industry is based on the prisoner’s dilemma! Personally, I would hate it if girls stopped shaving their legs. However, females around the world would benefit greatly if they could somehow unite in never touching a razor again.

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/625/who-decided-women-should-shave-their-legs-and-underarms

The answer to the question posed in the link above describes why the majority of women around the world shave their legs and armpits. As a guy, although I love the way beautifully shaven girl-legs look, I can’t understand why they go through the gruel of it. When I asked a few girls about it, I was surprised to find out they all hate shaving. So then how did a marketing strategy get so many women to do something they all despise? The obvious answer would be to be more attractive to guys. Indeed, the girls I asked said they shave because otherwise it is less likely that boys would want to go out with them. Although this seems very superficial, it’s undeniable that guys would choose to date girls who shave over girls who don’t. But when asked whether they would prefer it if all girls were forced to stop shaving, all of them said they would, since it would save them from experiencing the discomfort time and again.

What this then turns out to be is an interesting prisoner’s dilemma situation. For one individual girl, the best situation would be if no other girls shaved but she did, since it would make her relatively much more attractive to the opposite sex. It would be second best for all girls if none of them shaved, since all girls would still be relatively equally attractive to boys as when they do shave, considering straight boys have no substitute for girls. The worst situation for all girls would be if all of them shaved, since they would gain nothing in relative attractiveness but would still face the horrors of the razor. However, it turns out that it is always a dominant strategy for any individual girl to shave; if other girls shave their legs she would lose relative attractiveness if she doesn’t shave, but if other girls don’t shave she can easily gain in relative attractiveness by shaving.

At first it may appear that this idea only applies to single girls, since it seems illogical that girls continue to shave even after they find steady boyfriends if they do so just to impress boys. However, this example of the prisoner’s dilemma applies to girls with boyfriends too, since if they decide to stop shaving while all single girls continue to do so, they would seem relatively less attractive to their boyfriends and may risk losing them. Another possible objection to this reasoning would be that girls don’t only shave their legs to attract boys, but also because it boosts their self-esteem if they look better. Even if this is true the prisoner’s dilemma would still apply, since “looking good” is a relative term; self-esteem is based on comparison to others, so the sum of all girls’ self-esteems is the same whether they all shave or they all don’t. The dominant strategy for every girl in this case is still to shave.

In essence, this analysis shows that the million dollar lady-shave industry is based on the prisoner’s dilemma! Personally, I would hate it if girls stopped shaving their legs. However, females around the world would benefit greatly if they could somehow unite in never touching a razor again.

Comments

3 Responses to “ A game theory analysis of women’s shaven legs ”

  • Cooperation in Prisoner’s Dilemma Situations | Networks

    […] Notes on Axelrod’s Competition (2) More on Tit for Tat (3) Blog post about female shaving (4) Mutual Assured […]

  • Jimmy

    I think shaving of the legs and armpits by girls and women is here to stay. Personally, I prefer shaved legs and armpits on women. I think it’s sexier than unshaven and I suspect that the majority of U.S. men do too. I thought that’s why women did it. But your article shed a new light on why: maybe they shave to boost their self-esteem because they think they look better with shaven legs. Very interesting! Maybe I’ll take a poll.

  • kjb1

    I am a woman and I never shaved my leg because I thought it would attract boys. I just felt that having a shaved leg is better looking and made me more comfortable. It is important that men do not sexualize this and think that women shave their legs just for them. It’s a personal choice. But one word of caution, please get the best electric shaver for you

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