Underarm Hair: Feminist, Fashionable, or Just a Bit Gross?
November is one of the most beautiful months of the year. It’s almost time to bust our Mariah Carey’s Christmas CD (ha, jokes, it’s already permanently synched to my phone) and it’s the season where even the grinchiest of Starbucks haters become hypnotized by the scent of Pumpkin Spice Lattes. It’s also Movember, which, as a firm believer in male facial hair, is a glorious thing. Movember just makes perfect sense. Chilly weather, men with mustaches and charitable stimuli are pretty much a holy trifecta.
August, on the other hand, is gross. I believe it’s grossest in New York, but it occasionally gets sticky in the UK too. And this is where a bunch of ladies started Armpits4August, which is being dubbed a girls’ answer to Movember. Armpits4August aims to raise awareness and money for PCOS, a condition which causes obesity, acne and hirsutism, by encouraging women to grow out their armpit hair during the hottest month of the year.
Clearly it’s not just the weather, though, that makes us Armpits4August slightly more controversial. Whereas mustaches on men are not just acceptable but sexy, the reactions inspired by female pit hair are considered something to balk at. The charity’s founder Gina Fuller, 23, says:
“We believe the shame a lot of people feel about their body hair is a consequence of living in a society that regulates, controls and dictates that female-assigned bodies must conform to incredibly narrow beauty standards, and which upholds a rigid gender binary that deems body hair a ‘masculine’ trait.”
Pit hair probably is the last remaining female body hair taboo. I know plenty of women who don’t flinch (or check for male gazes) before displaying a fuzzy calf and almost proudly claiming they’ve been too lazy to shave in weeks. The second of the ‘big three’ is considered a matter of personal choice, and though about 90% of women opt for Brazilians or at least regular tidy-ups, those who don’t aren’t dubbed crazy freegan-lesbo anarcha-feminists.
In the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts and Helmut Newton all photographed pubic hairs aplenty, and after a relatives hairless noughties, Abbey Lee Kershaw and Crystal Renn have both been lensed in their almost natural, nude states. No underarm hair though, because ew.
If Julia Roberts had committed her infamous pit faux pas last night it would have surely inspired memes in the thousands already, though Sophia Loren made the look almost stupidly sexy half a decade before.
No doubt stereotyping plays a huge role. One of the reasons a razor is as integral to my morning routine as a cup of coffee is for the supposedly shallow and societally dictated reason that I want to feel pretty rather than hairy-scary. Isn’t that a legit reason to shave? One PCOS-suffering commenter’s thoughts, via the Daily Mail:
“As a woman with pcos, I’m a little offended that this is what they’ve come up with. Shave, have a wash and do something genuinely effective and then I’ll sign up.”
“They say they are doing it for awareness…but one has a “hairy feminist” sign and another has a sign discussing the time spent waxing/shaving to look perfect. That isn’t for PCOS; that is ranting against shaving/waxing and using the charity as a cover.”
Or perhaps equally damaging is labeling underarm hair a feminist statement when it clearly isn’t. We all remember Charlotte Free appearing on Terry Richardson’s blog with underarms about as bushy as a Sphynx cat’s inner ear, touting the tufts as feminist body hair activism. A few months later she slammed the unwitting teenagers Richardson had sexualized in a since-deleted Tumblr post, which hardly seemed very feminist-y.
Free’s bum fluffish pit hair also just drives home that models are more conventionally perfect than us in every which way. Like pregnancy, underarm hair is one of those things that looks cool and sexy and natural on screens and magazines, but probably feels weird and a bit gross in real life. The armpits website says:
“It isn’t unusual that each armpit will have a different amount or growth pattern. Bodies aren’t totally symmetrical, so your armpits and their hair aren’t either.”
I won’t lie – if I decided to part with my trusty razor I would be disappointed to learn my natural armpit state was wild and freaky rather than Sophia Loren-esque DGAF fuzz. Though the blithely glam Loren does make me wish I had the balls to take my chances.
Props to the ladies of Armpits4August for getting the word out about PCOS. Even the trolliest commenters are at least talking, and though I’m not yet ready to part ways with Schick, I’ll at least try to channel a movie star next time I’m feeling particularly lax about my beauty routine.
Is this something you would be brave enough to do, either for charity or just in general?
Check out some gorgeous ladies who have let their underarms grow wild and free, for better or worse, in the gallery below.