I’m a woman and I don’t shave my body hair – get over it

Here’s a New Year’s resolution for you: Katherine Soper has hairy armpits and the world hasn’t ended.

Fun Fact: hair removal as we know it only started in 1915. Although the custom is ancient (and was usually practiced in societies where lice were an issue), European and American women maintained their full body hair well into the twentieth century.

Gillette, having invented a razor for men, wanted to expand their market – and in 1915, capitalising on the fact that women’s sleeves were becoming shorter, they launched a fervent campaign denouncing the (previously inoffensive) female underarm hair as ‘unsightly’, ‘masculine’, and ‘unclean’. Adverts for razors to remove leg hair followed suit in the 1920s – but before Gillette, this market hadn’t even existed. Women had got along just fine, and displayed no innate desire for a smooth, silky leg.

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Razor-wareness..Katherine Soper has stopped shaving her underarm hair

Flash forward to 2013, and lots of my female friends tell me how shaving is just a personal preference, their choice, and surely that’s what women’s rights are all about, etc etc. They’re not wrong.

However, I don’t think it’s possible today to grow up with a completely objective view of our body hair that isn’t influenced by both the socialised desire for smoothness, and the negative connotations we attach to women who don’t shave. The first person I talked to when I considered growing my hair out said, ‘Can we please stop talking about this? It’s making me feel sick’. So, while it’s true that lots of men shave, the crucial difference is that they can also choose to sport hair without provoking this sort of visceral disgust.

There’s the illusion of choice for women, but with social conditioning and expectations rigging the scales (not to mention the fact that hairy often functions as vague shorthand for a man-hating straw-feminist) it’s a ‘choice’ akin to ‘Cake or Death?’.

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Formal occasions are particularly tricky

At 16, as a longtime shaver, I felt like my mindset had been so screwed over from such a young age that I could only cleanse my palate by growing my hair out properly: legs, underarms, and all. This wasn’t easy, since I had to work through my own self-disgust, whilst hearing my mum’s voice in my head, sighing that I’m “making everything into a statement”.

Trouble is, the only way hair will stop being a statement is once it’s normalised. If it’s ever going to be a genuine choice between equal options, women with hair need to be a familiar sight, not the punchline to hilarious Chewbacca quips. This would, importantly, help debunk the assumptions that hair is a sign of ignorance, laziness, uncleanliness (seriously – that myth really needs to die), or a lack of personal pride. Body hair is, in fact, the very mark of personal pride.

Waxing and shaving may take a lot of time and money, but rocking the hair takes an even larger amount of self-assurance and self-confidence. I don’t pretend to be perfect in this respect; taking the hair out in public is something I still have to work on occasionally, even after five years. Formal occasions are particularly difficult; the emphasis on unnatural hyper-grooming and on a conventional dress code means I’ve nixed the hair for past events.

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Katherine dyed her armpit hair red in January

But on the very encouraging flipside: in January I dyed my underarm hair bright red, and to my surprise, I had a grand total of one slightly perturbed comment. People’s reactions were more gleeful and delighted than anything else. This sort of experience suggests that the concept of a woman with hair is much more terrifying than the very normal, unthreatening reality. Similarly, although some girls worry that hair will make them feel ‘like a man’, it becomes clear once you live with it for a while that hair isn’t masculine. It’s simply human, and it’s animalistic, primal, and wonderful.

I’m not saying you can’t be a feminist if you shave – but going au naturel is a learning experience worth having, and one any woman should consider trying. It teaches you about the complex relationship we have with our own bodies, with other people’s views of our bodies, and with what we show in public. It makes you look at what really influences the choice to shave.

So I dare you to grow it out, at least for a while. See what it’s like. Acclimatise a bit – it probably won’t be love at first sight, due to habit and a lifetime of socialisation. But if you can come to acknowledge the hair – even rock it in public – without disgust or embarrassment, the rush is incredible. Do not fear the hair. The hair won’t hurt you. You may even grow (ha) to love it.

Katherine Soper is a recent graduate from Cambridge.

  • Sarah

    That’s very encouraging, love your article & your choice. I have been armpit long for a year now and soon coming up to a big event a friends wedding…sounds ridiculous but I am going to have to build myself up for it (& your article has helped) After a year I would really feel i’ve done an injustice to myself if I take it off. I am gong to try and rock it with your words, seriously I will print your article out!! I could fold it up for a booster if I start to bottle it!! I shaved my hair off once during this time and it looked weird and andriodish…women DO it! thats all I can say. All best Katherine

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  • Tanya

    next thing we do is stop cutting our nails and washing ourselves. Liberation all the fucking way.

  • Anon

    Shaving really isn’t that hard to do, seriously. I’m a man and I shave my chest and facial hair. I don’t care if I’m brainwashed by society, I find your hairy armpits disgusting.

  • Double standards

    If a guy shaved all his body hair you would think it was weird…

  • anon

    I can absolutely respect your choice not to shave, however you’ll have to respect my choice to find it totally unattractive

  • Tanya

    lol your reply is the best, mate. Am with you

  • Anon

    It’s Rule 34 you numpty

  • Tanya

    btw your spelling sucks, Ellie

  • CCM

    Rule 34 is There is Porn of It: No Excpetions.
    Rule 36 is There’s a Fetish for it: No Exceptions.
    Some guys are turned on by armpit hair, as seen by all the hentai there is of women with armpit hair. And there are guys who are turned on by fat people. And there are people who are turned on by the idea of being eaten (vore). People are weird.

  • CCM

    Good for you! If you don’t want to shave your hair, go for it!
    But guess what? Just like women are not required to shave, men are not required to be attracted to you!

  • CCM

    Yeah, I don’t think women should feel forced to shave their armpit hair. But guys do have preferences, and we also can’t force men to be into armpit hair.
    I’m into guys, and I personally prefer shaved guys. I shave my body hair myself. And for a guy, it’s a lot harder to shave. It’s especially hard to shave the chest without getting razor burn/bumps. Oh, and body hair on guys grows much thicker and quicker due to our hormones and all that. But I personally like feeling clean-shaven, and I get far more pressure to NOT shave than to shave.
    For men, the gender expectations are basically the reverse of that for women.
    Men are shamed for NOT being sexually promiscuous.
    Men are shamed for NOT being hairy.
    Men are shamed for NOT being aggressive and competitive.
    Men are shamed for NOT being into sports.
    etc.
    You can still say it’s a feminist issue (which I believe it is), but it’s still an issue. I do get flack from straight people (male and female) for being shaven, and of course, just about all male models shave their body hair. Still not as bad as it is for women, but it’s still there.