We’re living in an age of heightened self-acceptance, self-love and self-appreciation. Your stretch marks are stunning. Your cellulite is cute. Your freckles are fantastic. These are not some weird affliction, they’re just natural. And because of that, they should be celebrated.
Amid all this fanfare though, body hair remains less socially acceptable, whether it’s hair on a woman’s legs or armpits or even pubic area, areas that some women tame and some don’t. Although many body-positive activists want to champion everything that’s naturally occurring on women today, body hair remains an incredibly divisive issue for many.
Would you, for example, bat an eye if your female boss wore skirts and didn’t shave? What would be your reaction if your female coworker wore a short-sleeved shirt and her armpit hair peeked through? For some of you, it is entirely OK. And that’s great. But to others, maybe because of society’s constant reminders that women are best when hairless, a stigma remains.
One of the most memorable times we saw this stigma in action was back in 1999, when Julia Roberts attended the premiere of Notting Hill in a dark red sequined gown, with her similarly auburn armpit hairs on full display.
A debate ensued, with people on both sides baffled as to why she would do such a thing. To many, it was simply unthinkable. “Hairy women will most likely remind us of, well, hairy men,” one man wrote in the Independent. To others, it had to be Roberts’ boyfriend, Benjamin Bratt’s, fault. “That’s the way my boyfriend likes them,” Roberts reportedly retorted on the red carpet. But that wasn’t OK either. A man, after all, shouldn’t have a say on a woman’s own grooming. “If however, he’s forcing her to go unwashed and unshaven when she wants to shave, that’s just as reprehensible as asking her to go blonde and dress up like Kim Novak,” another man wrote in the Independent.
All this fuss over a few hairs, with no real theories involving the idea that maybe Roberts, a movie star, was just fucking tired that week, didn’t mind the hair herself or just felt like showing it off, in all its glory.
Now, fast forward 20 years, when women not shaving are still making headlines. When women like Miley Cyrus and actress Jemima Kirke show off their armpits, a million headlines are born. Same goes for Bella Thorne sending out a picture of her unshaved legs. And for Emma Watson and Ashley Graham, who dared to even talk about not shaving their pubic hair.
It’s not just celebrities who generate interest when not shaving either. When blogger Morgan Mikenas opened up about not shaving her legs for a year, she was deemed a “hairy hottie” by the New York Post.
Although articles surrounding Mikenas were largely applauding her for her decision to not shave or wax, that sent a certain message. By drawing attention to women like this and framing these stories to note how “brave” — a term that’s often used to describe women who don’t tame their hair — these women are, that implies that being hairless is the norm. And in the end, body positivity is about normalizing bodies as they are naturally.
Because of all this “celebration” of natural bodies right now, it sure does still seem like we remain obsessive over this idea that women who don’t shave are a phenomenon. And the funniest thing about all this is that for many of the women who don’t really like to shave right now, it’s no big deal at all.
“There was a time where I felt so compelled to shave to prevent unwanted attention from my peers and other strangers around me,” Jacinda Pender, 19, said via email. “You know how high schoolers can be. I took an all-girl weight-training class and that compelled me even more to make sure my armpits and legs were shaven everyday because we would all change into our gym clothes in this one locker room. And I didn’t want to get judged or be labeled as this nasty unhygienic chick who didn’t care for shaving.”
But then her mindset changed — not because she wanted to make a political point or a point at all, but because shaving had simply become a burden.
“Many people believe that women who decide to not shave is some sort of trend to achieve unwanted attention, when that’s not the case at all,” Pender said. “I was just tired of spending so much time shaving in the shower, doing something for other people instead of doing it for me. I’m not going to sit here and lie and say I still don’t feel obligated to shave, because I do.”
At the end of the day, Pender says she does whatever makes her comfortable. “I have every right to shave whenever I’m in the mood, as well as not shave,” Pender said. “Why concern yourself with someone’s choice of doing something that makes them comfortable regarding the body hair on their body? As long as they’re happy, I really don’t see a problem with it.”
A similar thought evolution happened to body-positive activist Christine Cho. “I used to be really self conscious about it and shaved everything, even my arms, because of teasing I endured growing up,” she said in an Instagram message. “But I’ve since made peace with it! Now it has to be a really special occasion for me to want to shave.”
When Mic reached out to Strut followers on Instagram, we saw a variety of responses. For one woman, @OurLovelyBodies, she’s found confidence in not shaving. “I decided to stop shaving in December and it has been an amazing, life-changing experience!” she wrote. “I am so much more confident than I’ve ever been, and I’m no longer afraid to rock shorts, dresses and skirts.” For another, @NellieTallberg, she remains split on what her shaving practices really mean, writing, “I have a love/hate relationship with my body hair. The hair makes me feel empowered but shaving makes me feel smooth and keeps my skin looking glowy.”
It’s an entirely personal decision for women, who choose to shave or not shave on any given day for a number of different reasons. The reason why we’re seeing more of it now is largely because of the internet, which has become a perfect platform on which women can be vocal about what bodies look like.
“When I was a young teenager hitting puberty, I didn’t know I had a choice,” Ashley Armitage, who runs the Instagram account @ladyist and often shows women with body hair, said in a previous interview. “I thought that once you started growing hair, you got rid of it, and that’s just how it would always be. I think everyone — men, women, girls and boys — need to be shown more than just one type of body.”
If we’re really going to go all in on body positivity and continue to support women doing whatever they want with their bodies and showing whatever they want of their bodies (hair and all), then how about we all just chill out a little bit.
After all, it’s just hair, something that occurs naturally for most women, and it’s not hurting anyone at all. As Pender put it: “At the end of the day, women aren’t obligated to justify their personal decisions to nobody.”