Is armpit hair a thing now? From Julia Roberts to Madonna, are hairy armpits trending?
Until recently, I was obsessed with shaving my armpits. I couldn't stand the thought of showing any stubble. I suffered razor burn, rash, bumps, and breakouts. Darn nickel allergy -I am literally allergic to razor blades, but sucked it up for the sake of "clean" armpits. According to Thomas C. Weiss, ten to twelve percent of women are allergic to nickel, which means that many of us are allergic to our razors (Weiss: 2010). So why do we make ourselves suffer?
Lauren R. Harrison from the Chicago Tribune (yaaaah Chicago!) explains that Western women did not start shaving their armpits until around 1915, when sleeveless dresses first became fashion.
Many attribute the kickoff in 1915 to Gillette's Milady Decollete, the first razor designed and marketed specifically for women, and was billed in the extensive national advertising campaign as the 'safest and most sanitary method of acquiring a smooth underarm,'" (Harrison: 2010).
Eager to break into the female market, Gillette and other companies began marketing lady razor as a standard of beauty and cleanliness for women of status (aka women with disposable incomes). Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope describes:
U.S. women were browbeaten into shaving underarm hair by a sustained marketing assault that began in 1915...The aim of what Hope calls the Great Underarm Campaign was to inform American womanhood of a problem that till then it didn't know it had, namely unsightly underarm hair...Around 1915, however, sleeveless dresses became popular, opening up a whole new field of female vulnerability for marketers to exploit...The underarm campaign began in May, 1915, in Harper's Bazaar, a magazine aimed at the upper crust...A few ads mentioned hygiene as a motive for getting rid of hair, but most appealed strictly to the ancient yearning to be hip. 'The Woman of Fashion says the underarm must be as smooth as the face,' read a typical pitch" (Adams: 1991).
A fashion trend inspired by competitive industries and marketing strategies?? Who wouldda thunk?!? Are we only as beautiful as the women in those Venus commercials, so long as we're splashing around in ocean wearing size zero short shorts while our smooth underarms are displayed to the world?
After spending a month in India, all I can say is, fuck it. No one shaves their armpits here, and it's fucking great! Like pre-1915 Western society, many women in South Asia cover their arms in public. The ones who go sleeveless don't seem to care, either. I don't feel any less clean after a month of not shaving. In fact, there is an evolutionary purpose for hairy armpits: it is to push bacteria away from the body (Barel: 2001). I'm actually quite fond of my newly acquired armpit hair in a primal, return to nature kind of way.
So here's my Madonna-esque hairy armpit shot, except I'm not wearing makeup and I haven't been photo shopped. Perhaps this is troll food, but it's almost 2015. Advertisers have had their grasp on Western women's body hair insecurities for almost a century. It's time we ignore their profit driven messages and learn to feel comfortable in our own skin.
After all, where is our Movember? Maybe the world can give us some Januhairy?
-Kat Vallera, author of "Around the World in 80 J's"
Adams, Cecli. "Who Decided Women Should Shave Their Legs and Underarms?" The Straight Dope:. N.p., 16 Feb. 1991. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.
Barel, A. O., Marc Paye, and Howard I. Maibach. Handbook of Cosmetic Science and Technology. New York: Marcel Dekker, 2001. Print.
Harrison, Lauren R. "Shaving and Fashion: A Storied History." Chicago Tribune. N.p., 14 Sept. 2010. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.
Weiss, Thomas C. "Nickel Allergy Information." Disabled World. N.p., 13 Nov. 2010. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.