Let's Hear It For Hair

Razor burn. Razor bumps. Waxing. Lasers. Tweezers. Three-bladed razors. Razors with moisturizing strips. Four-bladed razors. Disposable razors. Threading. Electric razors. Enough yet? Hair removal. We’ve been doing it for centuries, but it seems that this social norm is getting a bit…hairier.

Women, most notably, are starting to question the obsession with being completely hairless. Currently, it’s a social norm to remove all body hair. Even the slightest fuzz on the upper lip compels women to spend thousands on laser hair removal to zap away the little fibers.

Self-consciousness usually begins in middle school, where angst runs rampant among pubescents. At this time in a person’s life,  hair is sprouting up everywhere, making middle school a popular time for girls to start removing hair from their legs and underarms. From then on, it becomes a daily task that they will repeat indefinitely.

However, the tedious act of shaving has come into question in recent years and women around the world are beginning to stray from the norm in hopes of living a more natural, less painful life.

Shaving originated as a survival tactic and for hygienic purposes, not for beauty. In the last ice age, early humans removed facial hair with shells to prevent frostbite. Hair collected moisture that gradually froze to the skin, so shaving became vital. In Egypt, hair removal was necessary for keeping cool and preventing lice, therefore being bald in Egypt was a sign of cleanliness and prosperity.

As time went on, shaving became a sign of wealth because it meant you could afford a barber. At this time, razors were evolving and resembling what we now know them to be.  In 1054, Western church clergy members were required to shave in order to distinguish themselves from Jews and Muslims. By the 18th century, shells and pumice stones were a thing of the past and French inventor Jean-Jacques Perret created the safety razor and encouraged its use as a man’s daily activity. By 1895, a traveling salesman named King C. Gillette (yes, that Gillette) created a razor with a removable head. Bada bing, bada boom: here we are today. As time went on, and women’s hems scandalously rose above the ankle, razors specifically marketed for women were advertised. And so it began.

In an article titled, “Kim Kardashian: 'My Entire Body is Hairless,’” Kim Kardashian told Allure magazine in 2010, “I am Armenian, so of course I am obsessed with laser hair removal! Arms, bikini, legs, underarms…my entire body is hairless.”

Naked mole rats and Kardashian are on one end of the body hair spectrum, while Miley Cyrus is on the other end. In July 2015, Cyrus shamelessly revealed her unshaven underarms on social media, but when does Cyrus do anything small-scale? She dyed the armpit hair, too: bright pink. Comments on Cyrus’s Instagram account contain a variety of beauty-shaming comments like, “ew,” “gross,” and “shave your pits.” Cyrus is not the only female in the limelight to put down the razor; Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, and Madonna have also been known to sport their natural pit hair.

Body hair advocates aren’t always trying to be trendy or edgy, though. It’s a personal preference—the way an individual chooses to present and care for their body.

“Honestly, I was just lazy and had no desire to shave. I didn't feel like it was necessary,” says Natalie Echeverria ‘16.

Beyond aesthetics, a woman’s decision to not shave expresses freedom and empowerment. It’s taking advantage of the ability to make decisions—decisions that can impact how the world classifies beauty.

Xiao Meili, a female rights activist, created the Armpit Hair Competition on Sina Weibo, a Chinese social blogging site. The competition was meant to raise awareness as well as to protest the social pressures for women to shave their underarms. This competition’s impact? 1.7 million hits. That’s 3.4 million armpits.

Regarding shaving, Echeverria says, “Whatever floats your boat. If you wanna shave, then do it, but if you don’t want to, then don’t feel pressured to do it.”

“I shave sporadically,” says Echeverria, “I shave my legs occasionally—like once or twice a month—whenever I start feeling too hairy, but everything else is all natural.” This conscious decision-making is what Seattle hairstylist Roxie Hunt and freelance writer Rain Sissel are trying to inspire through their empowerment blog, How-to Hair Girl.

Hunt and Sissel have another blog, too. These women are leaders of the Free Your Pits Movement, which encourages the suppressed to free themselves of unnecessary beauty standards. Hunt and Sissel share their no-shave stories and feature other people’s shaving experiences on their blog, Freeyourpits.com. “We aim to normalize the concept of body hair on women and help others embrace their own if they so choose,” they write on their blog.

The blog doesn’t encourage people not to shave. Instead, its aim is to motivate women to make their own conscious decisions regarding their body and life. In this case, a person’s freedom can start with hair. Spreading photos of women flaunting their underarms, no matter what condition—hairless or hairy, blue or pink—as a statement of freedom and choice.

“I never felt pressured by society—I was always indifferent, but I know other girls who felt oppressed and really pressured to shave and felt freed when they decided to stop shaving,” says Echeverria. “I think it’s great for those girls to have that different perspective because they, hopefully, won’t ever feel that pressure to shave or feel gross or ugly or weird about it.”

In different parts of the country, body hair standards vary. Samson Brody ‘18, a Marketing Communications major from Portland, Oregon, is not surprised by the no-shave movements. “It’s more prevalent where more people are more accepting of that,” says Brody. “I don’t know if Boston is, but Portland is— Portland is more accepting.”

In relation to other female empowerment campaigns, such as “”Free The Nipple” Brody says, “[Females today] are more just ‘do what I want to do,’ instead of conforming to what society expects. Back when our parents were growing up I think it was pretty much expected that girls were going to shave their armpits or leg hair, but I think that’s fading a little bit. I feel like in ten years it will be more normal.”

Hunt and Sissel wrote on Freeyourpits.com, “Today we ask you to join us in this effort by being true to yourself, whatever that might mean. Whether you shave or not, women should be allowed to make decisions about their bodies without judgement from others.”

“I think it means we are moving towards a society where we don’t hold women to their looks as much and less to beauty standards, at least in the United States anyway,” says Echeverria.

Male body hair is expected. It is something to cultivate and showcase. And in most areas of the body, like arms, armpits, and feet, the hair is acceptable in its natural, untouched state. Yet today’s women were born into a world that broadcasts silky smooth legs and airbrushed underarms, that advertises waxing and hair removal as “beauty needs,” that displays facial hair as “unwanted hair,” and that calls bikini lines “embarrassing.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with [female body hair],” says Brody. “I think probably some people see that and think that’s strange, but I’m like ‘why do you give a sh*t what she wants to do with her armpit hair? That’s her decision. If she feels like she doesn't need to shave then that’s her thing.”

The power to make decisions is something often hindered by societal pressures, but movements such as Free Your Pits reminds women, and the rest of society, to embrace their natural bodies and make conscious choices.

So, let’s hear it for hair. And let’s hope that over time a picture of a woman with hair under her arms won’t justify over 14 million hits on Google.