When did you last remove the hair from your legs, your armpits, your face…or any other part of your body?
It may have been longer than usual during the Covid-19 lockdown. Or maybe you’ve been de-fuzzing as ritualistically as ever. Either way, have you wondered why?
Until 1915, most women were going about their business paying little attention to their body hair. That was until a man called Gillette announced that the objectionable fur under our arms had to go – by using his new women’s razor, of course.
However, it wasn’t until the 1950s, when hemlines and sleeves shrank, that shaving our legs and underarms became commonplace.
Since then women have been in an endless battle with their hairy parts. Shamed into spending vast sums of money and immeasurable amounts of time shaving, plucking, waxing, zapping, bleaching… you name it, we’ve tried it. We’re conditioned to hate it and encouraged to hide any hairy trace.
But body hair on women, even facial hair, is extremely common, in fact it’s…normal.
I’ve been using lockdown as a chance to see what my body looks like completely natural. It’s been an interesting journey; it’s thrown-up some surprises (I get loads of hair here and none at all there), it’s been liberating, and it’s saved me loads of time to watch box sets and do Joe Wicks workouts.
Gemma Smith*, a London-based artist, stopped shaving her legs and underarms four years ago.
“One day I realised I was spending time doing something for no reason other than I always had done. Since I stopped I’ve only had a couple of negative responses and it hasn’t affected dating at all,” she explains.
‘RETHINKING’ FEMALE HAIR: Daniela posing for the 2014 Natural Beauty project (image courtesy of Ben Hopper)
Laura Jackson took things one step further, starting Januhairy in late 2018, after experiencing growing out her body hair for a theatre performance.
“I started to build such an unexpected relationship with my body hair and in doing that, a relationship with the rest of my body.
“I started to really appreciate it and I started to like the way it looked,” she says.
Jackson’s intention with Januhairy was to start a discussion and a community, while also promoting the beauty of body hair and a woman’s right to choose.
“It is about choice and owning that choice. You have to make that decision for yourself. Sometimes I shave if I feel like it.”
‘SEXY AND ATTRACTIVE’
Januhairy challenges people to grow their body hair throughout January. It sounds simple, but it can have a big emotional impact on its followers.
“I think it changes everybody just by having an experience of letting your body do what it does naturally, it’s so absurd when you think about it. Sometimes we have to sit back and listen to our bodies and just let them be,” Jackson says.
This International Women’s Day, reflect on the women in your life that inspire you. Let’s celebrate the achievements of the women in and out of our lives, as well as your individual achievements as a woman, no matter how big or small. What does being a woman mean to you? The inspiring women that modelled for the Januhairy photoshoot: @chr0nicallycute @indsrose @sloppy_spice @emma.jpg__ @eyeamboowhoareyou @sarahd3an by @xtheodoreclarkex by @kathrynpridgeon #januhairy #InternationalWomensDay
Israel-born artist, Ben Hopper, created a huge stir in 2014 with his project Natural Beauty. The series of photographs shows intentionally fashion-esque models posing with their arms raised; thick, dark hair proudly flourishing.
“It was something that bothered me because I really love women with armpit hair,” he said when asked why he chose to photograph women with armpit hair.
“I think it’s beautiful. It’s sexy and attractive and I always felt bad that women removed it thinking they should.”
The striking images quickly went viral and online interaction with the project was significant. The response, which Hopper expected, was a mix of shock, disgust, respect and admiration.
“The whole intention of the project was to create a discussion, I wanted people to rethink female body hair. So, the response was good and bad, but it was great that it was good and bad,” he said.
SHOCK AND RESPECT: Ben Hopper’s project Natural Beauty, featuring Maya Felix (above), got all sorts of different reactions when it came to light last decade (image courtesy of Ben Hopper)
Because most women have shaved since youth, many don’t even know how they look with fully-bloomed body hair. Being in lockdown creates a unique opportunity for a hairy self-discovery.
However, as Jackson stresses, you don’t need to be hidden from society to be able to embrace your full-self.
“You’re locked away so why don’t you just let it go and see how you feel about it? Maybe use this time to embrace your body hair, but just know that this isn’t the only time you can.”
So, while my leg hairs sprout happily without the glare of society’s (lessening) critical eye, maybe others could give it a go too. After all, the more of us who do it, the less of an issue it becomes.
As Januhairy say: “We can take over the world. One hair at a time.”
* Gemma Smith’s name has been changed for the purpose of this article.
To find out more about the Natural Beauty project: www.therealbenhopper.com
To find out more about the Januhairy movement: @januhairy on Instagram
Main image courtesy of Theodore Clarke, with thanks.