Armpit hair on women is no longer a taboo. In fact, it’s turning into somewhat of a trend…
This week, an unlikely contest has garnered a lot of media attention: China’s ‘Armpit Hair Competition.’
Women have been posting photographs of their unshaven pits to Chinese Twitter-equivalent, Weibo. Prizes for the best ‘pitties’ (that’s what we’ve decided to call them) include condoms, vibrators and ‘she-wees’ (Google it).
The competition was launched by prominent women’s rights activist Xiao Meili to encourage women to take charge of their own bodies.
‘Girls are often anxious about their armpit hair as if it’s a sign of being dirty or uncivilised,’ said Meili. ‘But we should have the freedom to choose whether to accept what grows naturally on our bodies.’
‘I’m not calling on everybody to grow underarm hair,’ Meili told The New York Times. ‘I’m just saying if some people don’t want to shave the rest of us should not think their underarm hair is disgusting, unhygienic, uncivil, or not feminine enough.’
The surprising thing about the competition is not that there are Chinese women posting pictures of their hairy armpits on social media but how popular it has been.
Of course, as is sadly the case with most of these things, the competition has seen its fair share of negative reactions but with over one million page views and wide media coverage, it has been seen (quite rightly) as a predominantly positive and fun thing to partake in.
It’s even seen entries from well-known feminist activists Wei Tingting, Li Tingting and Zheng Shuran, who were all detained in March after planning a protest against sexual harassment on public transport.
If you think about it, though, why should letting one’s natural hair grow-out even be a topic of discussion?
There’s undoubtedly still stigma surrounding it. Last year, Professor Breanne Fahs at Arizona State University published a paper entitled ‘Perilous Patches and Pitstaches: Imagined Versus Lived Experiences of Women’s Body hair Growth’ in which she asked her students to grow their leg and armpit hair and keep a diary about it. The results showed that most participants felt ‘gross’ and ‘disgusting’ and their boyfriends were unimpressed. Fahs concluded that the Western female desire to shave is in fact a result of patriarchal views of femininity that we have ‘internalised.’
So, basically, society has nurtured us into all secretly wanting to shave ourselves into Stepford Wives.
Today, we are conditioned to think that women’s armpits should be clean-shaven – that having hairy pits is ‘manly’ or ‘dirty’. Well, the former is sheer sexism and the latter is obviously ridiculous since most of us wash regularly and the majority of men let their underarm hair grow free, without stinking the place out (I said the majority).
But Meili has pointed-out that this was not the traditional Chinese view of perfect female beauty. In fact, the BBC have noted, Confucious said that body hair should not be harmed.
For a long-time, catching sight of a woman’s armpit hair used to be considered ‘mysterious and charming’, says Meili.
And in the West, shaving one’s armpits didn’t even become a thing until the early twentieth century.
It’s not just China that has been hitting back against the feminine armpit hair stigma, either. Celebs have been getting involved for a while now.
Last year, Madonna posted an Instagram pic of her natural armpits saying ‘Long hair…… Don’t Care!!!!!!
A week ago, Girls actor, Jemima Kirke faced ridicule online after appearing at the CDFA Awards with her armpit hair on full-view. She responded to the comments by tweeting a picture of Sophia Loren, with the caption: ‘It’s just my own personal preference. That being said please can we stop talking about pits? #bored #sophialoren’
Lena Dunham put ‘grow armpit hair’ on the top of her ‘Summer 2 Do List’…
…And Miley Cyrus even grew hers out and dyed it pink. And why the hell not!
We think this is a great trend and we know it’s not one for everyone but it’s started a conversation about how women present their own bodies, which is long-overdue.
As Meili said, women posting photographs of their unshaven armpits is a way to ‘celebrate their bodies, desire and love, whether their underarm hair is long or short and in spite of raised eyebrows from passers-by.’