Why does female armpit hair provoke such outrage and disgust?

Hairy armpits are in fashion – but a Nike ad with a model’s hair visible attracted criticism

Was this a subversive feminist bird-flip against female beauty standards? Photograph: Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images

Was this a subversive feminist bird-flip against female beauty standards? Photograph: Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images

 

Julia Roberts: America’s sweetheart, Hollywood royalty – and an early pioneer of armpit-hair acceptance. Her look at the 1999 premiere of Notting Hill, beaming in a red sequined Vivienne Tam dress, arm raised to reveal a dark tuft, was immediately celebrated as a subversive feminist bird-flip against female beauty standards. Except it wasn’t: 20 years later, she confessed that the look hadn’t been a statement at all, rather that she had forgotten to shave and miscalculated the sleeve length of the dress.

Armpit hair remains a bizarre sticking point for anti-feminists. A few days ago, Nike uploaded a picture on Instagram showing the model and musician Annahstasia Enuke with a small amount of underarm hair visible; in response, thousands of commenters expressed outrage and disgust. Just a day later, the deodorant brand Nuud responded to a backlash against its own online advert that had featured underarm hair.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Big mood @annahstasia.

A post shared by NikeWomen (@nikewomen) on

The cynic in me has no doubt that the engagement all the hate-clicks and outrage drum up on social media is the main driver for brands’ recent love affair with body hair (two years ago Adidas featured a model with hairy legs to much ire and press reaction). But it is also an important reminder of just how upset people become when women are not scraping and cutting off bits of themselves in order to be pleasing to the public’s eye. Amanda Palmer, a musician and best-selling author, recently attended the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, and was photographed with her arm raised, showing her armpit hair. In response to negative Twitter comments she said that she has: “been letting it fly for 20 years shame-free.”

The amount of vitriol, anger and hate that can be garnered by something that does not affect anyone apart from the individual woman is incredible, even more so when you compare it with the nonreaction to men doing the exact same thing. Despite dissenters, hairy armpits are undeniably en vogue. Alongside adverts, social media has reignited a trend for unicorn armpit hair – a look popularised by bloggers who have dyed their pits in rainbow colours. And unlike Roberts, hairy pits are a very much intentional fashion statement: Amandla Stenberg ensured fans knew the armpit stubble the actor sported at a film premiere was no faux pas, captioning an image: #drama #armpit. Glamour magazine reported that the actor had pulled off “pairing underarm hair with Valentino”. Gigi Hadid’s furry underarms made a memorable appearance in a video for Love magazine and Jemima Kirke, Willow Smith, Madonna, Bella Thorne and Miley Cyrus are among others who have rocked what appears to be the glitterati’s hottest accessory.

But even the so-called beautiful people have not been able to make body hair universally acceptable. To legitimise their bile, commentators turn to the same tactics deployed when opining on other things about women’s bodies that do not concern them, such as fat: thinly veiled attempts to shroud disgust in concern. “Hygiene” was a recurring cause of perturbation, which of course raises the question: why is hair only a health hazard on female armpits? – Guardian

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