Hair under your arms

Emer O'Toole shows off her under arm hair on morning TV in the UK.

Emer O'Toole shows off her under arm hair on morning TV in the UK.

Recently, Irish writer Emer O'Toole issued something of a call to arms in London's Vagenda Magazine. She encouraged women to press pause on their hair removal regimes and contemplate the idea of letting hair do what it does best; grow. An article in the Guardian followed and then an appearance on breakfast television, upon which Emer raised her arms and proudly showed the effects of not taking a razor to her armpits for eighteen months. Effects which are, let's face it, quite natural. Because, let's face it once more, growing hair is quite natural, despite the overwhelming belief otherwise.

The result of Emer's tussocky arms being broadcast to a breakfasting England was an uproar of mixed sentiment. Many people applauded her, revealing their own struggle with the assumption women should be permanently bald, save for their sumptuous lashes and extended head hair but most, predictably, in one collective recoil, yelled 'GROSS.' Men and women alike shrieked, hair should not grow there! That is unnatural! It isn't feminine! There we were in 2012, appalled at female underarm hair and instead of taking a long, hard look at ourselves for being appalled by something quite ordinary and female, behaving as if the the very crux of femininity was under direct attack.

Emer's arms and the public's response demonstrated just how far removed we have come from the idea of women having body hair. So removed, that women who leave their hair – who let their bodies do what their bodies do – are 'brave' at best, 'offensive' at worst. Brave – as if sitting back and saying no to regular, painful procedures involving hot wax, electric pulses and blades is brave. Brave – because it is so terrifying to exist in a natural state in an age that so relentlessly promotes what is unnatural. When you think about it, it is all entirely, utterly bizarre.

Save for patches, history's female landscape is remarkably smooth. Thousands of years before Americans, Australians and the British began shaving their arms for the fashions of the early 1900s, wealthy ancient Greek, Roman and Middle Eastern women were pumicing and plucking, their smoothness symbolic of their class. In these third wave days, off the back of a century of shaving, waxing, Silky Mitting (remember them) and lasering ads - the hirsute 70s the only decade really flying the follicle flag - and the normalisation of porn star waxes that remove every pubic hair you could conceive of growing, we have a different take on body hair. The body hair conversation is no longer just predicated on the knowledge women have hair and the subsequent opinion they are more aesthetically pleasing if they remove or contain it to the line of a classic brief – it now seems to be predicated on the presumption to be female is to be utterly hairless the vast majority of the time and hair that does dare sprout from surfaces not scalp-related should not just be contained, but completely removed. Eviscerated by preferably permanent means.

The latest hair removal 'craze' to have everyone aflutter is the 'virgin waxes' for pre-pubescents, which operate on the basis that ripping out virgin hair will discourage its growth, leading to smoother pins with less maintenance. It is a horrible concept, that feminine hairlessness is being drummed into the malleable minds of pre-teens, but I think I was about twelve when I took a blade to my poor little legs and did a hatchet job of removing their golden hairs. I did it, despite my mother's gentle warnings against it, because I hated having hairy legs - girls weren't supposed to have hairy legs. And I absolutely shredded my shins. But that's by the by, my point is so-called virgin waxes aren't proposing a new, shocking idea; they are just reinforcing an old one via a more painful method. And if most of us are whipping out a pink five-blade-with-gel-pillows at twelve, what chance to we stand of ever fully understanding what a female body looks like when left alone? Not much. Which may go some way to explaining our reactions to the appearance of female body hair in the public arena.

Half the time, when someone breaks ranks and flashes some hair, I can't help but feel we're gasping the gasp of seeing some mythical creature for the first time. We have been smooth for so long, on TV, in film, in magazines – where our armpits resemble bizarre stretches of skin-toned smoothness, devoid of anything that might identify it as an armpit – that reactions to hair are ones of genuine surprise (mixed in with the general 'GROSS'). I know I studied Emer's armpits for a good while, whispering to myself, 'so that's what it looks like' and such a reaction dismays me. Why don't I know what a female arm pit in its most natural state looks like? I know what it looks like when I can't be bothered with a razor for a while, but not what it would look like if razors never became part of 'standard female maintenance.' Who else got a little shock when Kate Winslet hopped out of the bath in The Reader and revealed a hairy arm pit? Who didn't gasp at Julia whose pits in that photo threatened to overshadow an entire career.  As for Mo'Nique's legs at the Golden Globes a couple of years ago, they got more coverage than the fact she actually won a damn Globe. Who cares about the Globe! She had hairy legs! No self respecting woman trots hairy pins down the red carpet, it's ugly, it's unladylike, it's embarrassing. 

If you ask people, they'll tend to say 'it's a choice'. They'll point to the fact it is largely considered more aesthetically pleasing. That a smooth gam protruding from a short skirt is a more pleasant sight to behold than a hairy one. There's also the idea that the more smooth we are as women, the further removed we are from men, therefore setting up and reinforcing accessible, visible gender norms. But it isn't, really, a choice any more, is it? It's an expectation and that is far, far more unattractive than a hairy arm pit.

52 comments

  • As long as you do not sweat and smell - would not work for me I sweat so much.

    Commenter
    Margarita Girl
    Location
    Maroubra
    Date and time
    June 28, 2012, 9:19AM
    • Actually, underarm hair exists to wick sweat away from your body. Hair removal is the less hygienic option.

      Commenter
      Old bag
      Date and time
      June 28, 2012, 9:52AM
    • @ OLd Bag.

      I agree that underarm hair may have the purpose of wicking sweat away, but it certainly doesn't do a good job of it!

      I train/exercise consistently and have been experimenting with keeping my underams with hair or without, and i can honestly inform you that WITH hair it keeps the sweat and smell (even after extensively soaping and washing). WITHOUT hair I have less smell and the sweat simply runs down and isn't trapped.

      My girlfriend has confirmed this, and from time to time politely reminds me it's time for a shave under the arms.

      In regards to the 'choice' it simply is one. I choose to shave my underams, so does my girlfriend. If those around you are bothered by it, work on a compromise or change with whom you associate, again thats a 'choice'.

      Commenter
      Redeornot
      Date and time
      June 28, 2012, 12:14PM
    • Agree old bag, that's why we have underarm hair. You don't sweat more without hair, but it's your clothes that catch it not your hair.

      Commenter
      another old bag.
      Date and time
      June 28, 2012, 12:17PM
  • I'm sorry, but that photo made me feel a little ill...
    I know it's natural and rah rah rah but personally, I think it's yuck!

    I wax, I pluck, I laser, I shave! I do everything to get rid of any hair that I think isn't meant to be there... *shudder*

    BUT! My mother is the totally opposite!

    Commenter
    WOW
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    June 28, 2012, 9:28AM
    • If it's not meant to be there, then why does it grow there?

      Commenter
      Ailie
      Date and time
      June 28, 2012, 10:22AM
    • Who is to say grooming is any less natural than excusing yourself to break wind out of ear and nose shot?

      I think the animal kingdom has shown plenty examples of animals undergoing changes that have no relevance to their survival. Is this unnatural too?

      Oh why must Liar Birds have to impersonate other birds when they should just accept their natural sound.

      Commenter
      ??
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 28, 2012, 10:40AM
  • I totally agree with this article - we are so far removed that we have no idea what a natural arm pit looks like - I surely don't.

    I think it should be an individual choice as is with any other part of your body but I don't think I could be brave enough to go au natural. Saying that I don't wax (never have) as I am not hairy so maybe I don't have to brave it after all...

    Commenter
    Elle
    Date and time
    June 28, 2012, 9:28AM
    • Body hair is natural and beautiful. I had a French girlfriend for three years and loved her 'au naturel' approach. And I think a hairy female armpit is erotic. Doesn't work for everyone, I know - some guys prefer the Little Girl look to the Real Woman look.

      Commenter
      Lemmy
      Date and time
      June 28, 2012, 10:15AM
    • Lemmy - Are you implying that women who like men to shave their faces prefer little boys rather than real men?

      Commenter
      Greg
      Location
      Wollstonecraft
      Date and time
      June 28, 2012, 11:29AM

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