For the last couple of decades, the prevailing fashion for women in the US and UK has been for them to be as clean-shaven as possible, with no leg or armpit hair. In fact, many women go so far as to practice threading to remove even slight fluff from their upper lips. Women who look child-like and hair-free, including around the bikini line, are considered to be appealing by the mainstream media, in spite of the fact that this means they are essentially removing certain characteristics which show physical maturity.
Over the last few years, however, this has changed and there is a growing movement towards women going unshaven. While many women still like to have smooth legs, armpit hair is becoming increasingly normal. This is perhaps most apparent from things like the appearance of contestants on America’s Next Top Model who auditioned with armpit hair – although they were encouraged to shave it off.
Common in Europe
In some parts of Europe, armpit hair is something that is considered the norm, rather than unusual, but in the US and UK it has always been considered good hygiene to remove armpit hair. Until recently, only “hippies” would choose to keep their natural look, but today there are more and more women who are choosing to keep the natural look. In fact, there are some who are going a step further, and making armpit hair a fashion statement.
Styling the Hair
Styling and coloring armpit hair is becoming a fashion statement for some women, who are using it both as a feminist statement and a chance to show off their personal tastes and preferences. Those women are embracing the look of unshaved armpits and feel that it is convenient and that it is better for them.
This movement is perhaps most prominent in China, where the feminist Xiao Meili has started to micro-blog about unshaved armpits in her blog on the Weibo service, and has so far received support from a huge number of Chinese women.
Your Body, Your Right
Xiao feels that women should feel free to decide what they do with their bodies, not just when it comes to major decisions, but also things like armpit hair. She is not against the idea of shaving if women want to do so because they personally prefer how it looks or feels, but she does believe that there should not be pressure put on women to conform to a specific stereotype.
Long Hair Don’t Care
The movement towards armpit hair has some prominent supporters. Madonna made a post to her Instagram profile in March of 2014 that was captioned with the slogan “Long hair don’t care” as well as the rebel heart hashtag, and the art for freedom hashtag. Jemima Kirke is anther person who supports long armpit hair, and when critics spoke out about the look she responded saying she was bored with that kind of talk.
She noted that it was her own personal preference, and asked that the media just stop talking about armpits. Her co-star, Lena Dunham, decided to add growing some armpit hair to her summer to-do list.
She is in good company, too. Julia Roberts chose to rock the long armpit hair look in the late 1990s. Given that the look comes in and out of fashion so often, why does it always attract so much attention?
There are some women for whom shaving is important. Athletes may choose to do it so that they can reduce body odor, for example, but for others it seems like a waste of time and financial resources. The media encourages women to spend money on wax, shaving creams and carefully designed razor blades, fighting against nature – for what reason other than profit for those companies?
If armpit hair becomes fashionable, it does not seem unreasonable to imagine that the fashion industry would respond by selling armpit hair dye, beads or other accessories and grooming products.
Right now, the movement towards growing armpit hair is one part fashion and one part feminism. It is a way for women to say that they don’t care about modern beauty standards and that they are free in themselves.
That kind of rebellion is interesting and important, but it is unlikely to be impactful unless it addresses the root cause of the problem – the fact that women are held to beauty standards at all and that there is so much pressure from society to conform. We judge women based on how they look as much as we do on what they know or the work they do, and this is perhaps the biggest problem with gender in society today. It is something that will take a long time to really change.