Body Hair — What’s the Big Deal?
Three women describe their relationship to shaving.
We've come a long way from the Julia Roberts armpit picture of 1999. (You know the one.) It's been 20 years since the Notting Hill premiere, when Roberts occupied front pages around the world. Not for her role in the now cult-favorite rom-com, but for having the audacity to appear in public with hair under her arms. Here she was, this Hollywood starlet, an icon, a big-screen beauty boasting an armpit full of fluff, forgoing one marker of femininity that simply was not done by A-list celebrities.
These days, it's not uncommon to see the likes of Rihanna, Cara Delevingne, Jessica Simpson, Paris Jackson, Madonna, Miley Cyrus, and Bella Thorne, to name a few, embracing their body hair. And maybe not just embracing it, but owning it, finding power in it. The June cover of Rolling Stone featured Halsey showing off armpit stubble that a few years ago would've been waxed off (right there, on set) or Photoshopped away before going to print. Even supermodel Emily Ratajkowski posed for the September issue of Harper's Bazaar in a black lace bra with her arms outstretched, revealing an unmissable patch of dark hair in her pits.
For a possibly more relatable expression of body hair, take a gander at the 74.8 thousand photos on Instagram tagged #bodyhair, or more specifically, the hundreds listed under #womenwithbodyhair. Social media is sprinkled with pictures of women proudly displaying hairy legs, overgrown bikini lines, and unshaven armpits, too. In fact, there are entire Instagram accounts dedicated to featuring women with body hair.
Before women took their personal platforms to share their #bodyhair journeys, in 2014, American Apparel displayed mannequins in the window of a New York store wearing transparent white lingerie that put a full faux bush, well, on display. A marketing tactic? Maybe. But the topic of body hair was back in the media. Even Nike got disapproving comments on their Instagram account when they featured a model showing off her sports bra and her armpit hair this April. It's amazing what a little hair does to spark controversy. But lately the controversy around hair has thankfully subsided.
Last year, razor brand Gillette Venus did the unthinkable and featured actual body hair in a razor commercial. Although we've been programmed to think hairless legs, smoothed armpits, and 'perfectly' Photoshopped bikini lines were the only way to sell razors, they hit us with stubble and fur. It was relatable, real, natural. Currently, their brand’s Instagram champions women with freckles, stretch marks, scars, cellulite, wrinkles, and tattoos in celebration of all skin types and body shapes. No controversy, just representation.
There remains some stigma surrounding women who choose not to shave. Whether it's a political statement or a personal preference, it seems some women have a pretty complicated relationship with their body hair. We asked three women — each with a different view and approach to body hair — to share where they stand.
"I started shaving everything when I worked as a stripper. Before this, I kept it neat, but not completely hairless. I was about to start working at a new club with a friend, and she warned me, 'you need to shave completely. There's one girl who works here that doesn't [shave completely], and we have a nickname for her.' I think I've been shaving everywhere ever since.
“Sometimes I'd let a little box grow back on my vagina, but my husband prefers hairless. Truthfully, a nice baby-bottom bald is my preference too. Sometimes you have to let your hair grow to a stubble before you shave to get it smooth, but that's the furthest I'd go. I'm pregnant right now, and I'm at the point where I can't see my vagina, so shaving is tough. I have to do it blindly or in a mirror. I risk getting razor burn, and that's a bummer, but I'd rather the risk than stubble."
Alyssa Morin was raised to think body hair was ugly, but now, she finds power in choosing for herself. She tells us:
"I feel like I've been hammered with the idea that having body hair equals ugliness. I was always told (from either family members, friends, and the media) to shave my body hair or else people would look at it with disgust. However, as I've gotten older and have seen more and more people embrace and celebrate their body hair, it has changed my mind. The way I see it now? If I want to have some body hair, then cool. If I don't in certain areas, that's also fine. At the end of the day, you get to decide what you do with your body.
“I shave my legs, vagina, 'stache and armpits. I guess it comes down to me feeling better about the way I look when I shave those areas. However, certain parts don't bother me as much when it comes to having body hair, like my legs and vagina.
“I skip shaving all the time, but since shaving is such a process and takes time to do, it almost feels like a bit of self-care for me. I feel empowered either way, because, again, it's my decision. I'm choosing what I want to do with my body. If that means having more body hair on my legs than what's deemed ‘normal,’ then I feel empowered because I'm choosing for it to be that way. Same with the basically hair-free area. I feel empowered because I made that choice for myself and no one else."
Michelle Yang wasn't allowed to shave for cultural reasons growing up, but now, she sees body hair as a non-issue. She tells us:
"I was in elementary school when a classmate told me I needed to shave my legs. This was in Arizona, where everyone wore shorts. I come from an immigrant background, and this was a shock to me. My parents had always warned me against shaving, saying the hair will grow back thicker. They imparted an impression that only disreputable women shaved. Still, I wanted to fit in, so I'd sneak my dad's spare razor and shave. It never seemed like it made a big difference visually, but it was an anxiety-filled rebellious act.
“At this point in my life, societal views on body hair have little influence on my own views. I'm a self-actualized, mature woman and I'll shave if I want to and won't if I don't. If people want to laugh at my hairy legs, they are welcome to. I have a lot more pressing things to worry about. It's empowering not to give a crap. Who cares if I shave or not? Hairless or hairy, I'm still me.
“The last time I shaved was a couple of years ago, I decided to experiment with shaving my bikini area. It resulted in a painful ingrown hair that required surgery at a doctor's office. I had to wear a huge bandage. It was hilarious, and I felt ridiculous. So not worth it. It's a lot of work for little reward. I have a small child to care for, and I work full-time as a writer. I prioritize other things in life. It's probably been over seven years since I've shaved even semi-regularly."
When a woman feels powerful, she can take on the world. A woman can feel powerful au natural, while she's removing every stitch of stubble, or somewhere in between. What these three women have in common is they're choosing for themselves.