So ladies, it’s Armpits4August month! Well it is in the United Kingdom at least. Armpits4August is a charity event in which women forgo their appointments at the beauty salon, and cast aside their creams/razors/weird light-wand hair removal things they advertise in the wee hours to raise money for Verity, a charity for people with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
No doubt it’s a worthy cause. PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility. And there’s a connection with body hair. One of the symptoms of the condition is excess body hair on the women and trans-gendered men who suffer from it.
And, in a culture that regards public displays of body hair on women as nothing short of a full frontal assault on everything that’s great and good, this can, understandably, lead to shame and poor self-esteem.
In this regard, Armpits4August has been likened to Movember where men are encouraged to grow ‘mos’ each November to raise funds and awareness for prostate and testicular cancer and mental health. In Australia alone, Movember has raised over $25 million.
But other than having body hair and raising money for serious diseases in common, the two initiatives could not be more different.
For starters, the Armpits4August website is conspicuously devoid of corporate endorsement. Movember, by contrast, has backing from some of Australia’s largest finance companies, banks and food manufacturers.
That’s not to criticise Movember, mind. They raise money and awareness for good causes. The more money they raise, the better. And they have included women as ‘Mosista’s’ — women who actively support men participating in Movember.
Nevertheless, the support for Movember goes far beyond financial backing. Movember also has broad cultural approval. Men use Movember as a bonding and networking opportunity. Participation in Movember becomes a conversation starter or an opportunity for business people to ingratiate themselves or have a laugh with colleagues or clients.
On the flip side, no corporate would let a hairy woman anywhere near a client. I’m quite sure that if, in my management consulting days, I’d turned up for a client meeting with visible body hair, saying ‘I’m doing Armpits4August do you want to sponsor me?’ simply wouldn’t have cut it.
I’d have lost all credibility and authority in my field of expertise, and been banished to the management consultant version of Middle Earth faster than you can say ‘Epilady Dual Speed Epilator’.
The collective abhorrence at female body hair also provokes sanction. When women dare to show armpit hair in public it is scandalous and newsworthy. Irish writerEmer O'Toole made international headlines when she flashed her underarm hair on British TV last year and Julia Roberts’ hairy pits at a film premiere is still part of our collective memories.
Not only are women with excess — also known as ‘natural’ — levels of body hair considered uncool, they’re also suspected of having poor hygiene habits. Or they’re just written off as trouble-making-rabble-rousing-man-hating-lesbians-who-can’t-get-a-bloke-so-are-deliberately-making-themselves-ugly.
Body image campaigners fight tirelessly against the tyranny of women having to be thin, young and white to be worthy. We understand the Beauty Myth and, even though we often fall for it, on an intellectual level at least with know that these standards of beauty exist only so we’ll buy more sh*t.
Yet, female body hair is often absent from these discussions. The cultural hatred of women’s body hair runs so deep that we do not even question it. I’ve had more than one discussion with friends who say that while they’re fine with other women being hirsute, they prefer to be hairless. And when pushed, they insist that it’s their personal choice.
I’d believe them if there were roughly equal numbers of women who prefer hairlessness to hair. The fact that so few women prefer to go natural suggests that we’ve simply internalised a socially-dictated sanction against body hair to the point where we assume it’s our own will.
Armpits4August is a great initiative, every bit as worthy as Movember. I wish it every success, not only to raise money for people suffering from POCS, but also to change the culture that insists that any women who doesn’t look like a pre-pubescent girl is gross.
Kasey Edwards is a management consultant and the author of Thirty-Something and Over It: What Happens When You Wake Up And Don’t Want To Go To Work. Ever Again. www.kaseyedwards.com