Hey, You Can Put Away Your Razors Next Month

Hair! Whether it’s on your head, your legs or your crotchular region, you’re going to have to deal with it eventually. Shave it? Braid it? Wax it? Dye it? Outright ignore it? All suitable solutions to your Chia-pet type talents! But while winter months give the luxury of fourteen layers of grandpa sweaters to protect your pit primping preferences from prying peepers, as soon as the temperature starts climbing upwards, those protective hemlines are soon to follow.

It’s no surprise that hair is something that’s on our minds in addition to our bodies. We’re constantly bombarded with unattainable caricatures of female beauty that have no hairs out of place — let alone body hairs in place — telling us what we should look like, where we should go and more importantly, what we should buy. But while heavy-handed Photoshoppers have been taken to task for inflating these impossible wrinkle and blemish-free beauty standards, no one’s mentioning what’s going on beneath their models’ shirt sleeves. Because underarm hair’s supposed to be a moot point in that conversation. Because even when body-positive campaigns try to show there’s beauty at every turn, there’s still only one look to aspire to when it comes to pretty pits: bare.

In a world where hair-free is the default, the simple act of running out of razor blades, missing your aesthetician appointment or trying to deal with sweat in your own way becomes newsworthy. While men are afforded the right to get stubbly just because, it’s still unthinkable for anyone else to do it. If a women in the spotlight dares to skip Shave Day, fashion commentators will string her up by her pit hairs for all to ridicule, even years down the road. Revealing anything more than bald will label you an Angry Hairy Feminist, whether you deserve (or want) that pet name or not. For that very reason, Armpits 4 August are asking women to raise their arms and let their fur and feminism fly free.

A4A invites women to challenge societal norms by looking at their pits in another way. Instead of being yet another source of shame and embarassment, they should just be a part of who you are. A possibly hairy part of who you are.

We believe the shame a lot of people feel about their body hair is a consequence of living in a society that regulates, controls and dictates that female-assigned bodies must conform to incredibly narrow beauty standards, and which upholds a rigid gender binary that deems body hair a ‘masculine’ trait. This creates a physically, socially, and mentally damaging image of what is ‘natural’ – an image that turns out to be no more than an idea. There is no standard, universal, typical – let alone ‘normal’ – pattern of body hair for women, men, or anyone else.

Following in the traditions of Movember and Julyna, they’re asking for women to stop shaving. On one side of things they’d like to liberate women from annoying grooming regimes, but on the other side they want to leave more of a social impression than a simple dip in razor sales. Because while underarm grooming may be considered an annoyance for some and a political move for others, dealing with it on a regular basis is a daily (and sometimes twice daily) unfair reality for women affected by PCOS.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is hormonal imbalance affecting one in five women according to the Jean Hailes Clinical Research Unit at Monash University. This hormonal imbalance can often lead to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease, but it often goes unchecked due to the lack of definitive diagnostic testing. The associated menstrual irregularity, painful ovarian cysts and subfertility might be missed or misdiagnosed, but the (possible) increase in body hair is in plain view. Why should people already worrying about their health and fertility have to deal with societal scorn over something they can’t control?

The UK-based group of Armpits 4 August wants to inspire women to embrace themselves and their sisters afflicted with PCOS. Amy de Luca spoke to the Guardian about her PCOS. “I would love to no longer feel the need for constant de-fuzzing, but I am terrified of what others will think of me so I shave anyway.”  Many of the founders have PCOS and want to change the world so they can skip the bathroom routine, walk outside and not have other people’s reactions remind them that they’re different. Mustaches gave men an excuse to talk about their own taboo afflictions, so it’s about time women could do the same without having to sexualize it. When it comes to diagnosing and treating PCOS or any other Hirsutism-inducing syndromes, peer judgement should be the least of their problems.

If you want to follow these ladies and choose to give underarm hair a go, A4A offers tips on banning the blade. Gather a group of friends to sponsor your hairy escapades and know that all funds will go towards Verity, a PCOS support group. Send photos of your pit progress and spread the word that body hair Is a Thing. You can simply defriend your Venus or you could take the armpit hair you’re already sporting and dye it all the colours of the rainbow.

If you happen to be stationed in the UK, you can let the fur fly starting with a Pitmob on Saturday and their Pit Pride Party at the end of the campaign. But if your body says it’d rather not be hairy, A4A still wants you to show your support even if you can’t grow it.

We acknowledge that not everyone has the same opportunity to take part in Armpits4August and that in a racist, sexist, classist, disableist, trans*phobic and lesbophobic society, some women, trans* and non-binary people may simply not have the option to grow their body hair as a political act without it having personal consequences, such as increased harassment, having treatment withheld whilst transitioning, being questioned about their ability to self-care, etc. We hope that, if this and similar campaigns are successful in changing social attitudes about body hair and femininity, it will become easier in the future for more and more people to participate.

We also recognise that attitudes towards body hair vary from culture to culture and are often influenced by religion or local custom; we do not wish to replace the oppressive beauty standard of hairlessness – which is particularly resonant within the West – with a similarly all-encompassing demand for everyone everywhere to stop depilating forever. However, we do think that having a go at letting it grow can be a fun and empowering decision for many people, and so we strongly encourage anyone who is interested to take part in Armpits4August 2013!

Take the pledge yourself or donate directly to the cause this August! Because even if you decide that body hair is or isn’t for you, it should be your decision. You groom you.

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Hailing from Vancouver, Kristen's still trying to figure out how to survive Montreal's Real Legitimate Canadian Winter. So far she's discovered that warm socks, giant toques and Tabby kittens all play a role in her survival. Her ultimate goal is to rank higher than KStew in the "Kristen + Autostraddle" Google Search competition.

Kristen has written 140 articles for us.

35 Comments

  1. Thumb up 12

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    I think this is a great campaign and if i had the funds to donate I totally would. However, I think sometimes people forget that some women choose to shave for physical comfort. I’ve gone months at a time just letting it grow but I always go back to shaving. Based on the way I sweat, I feel more comfortable throughout the day if I’m shaven or have a little stubble. Reminding women that it’s about choice and learning to challenge beauty and body image standards is important. But not every women opting out is doing so for the above listed reasons, and that makes them no less a feminist or women’s health activist*.

    *Not that a I think autostraddle is implying so!

    • Thumb up 10

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      You groom you! Everybody’s body is different and people are definitely entitled to their own preferences. I really liked this campaign because they acknowledge that some people like body hair, some people don’t. Some people have body hair, some people don’t. I was looking at their about me page and each contributor talks about their own relationship with body hair, which means some people aren’t going to participate! So imho, having body hair doesn’t make you a feminist, but giving yourself the space to have the conversation does.

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        I agree with both of you! I personally like shaving. I enjoy doing it as well as the results of it.

        To me, an important part of feminism is the right to choose how to express yourself – so kudos to those who will break away from social norms to do what they actually want!

  2. Thumb up 13

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    So here’s my beef with shaving or not shaving. How do I know, when I shave my legs, that I’m doing it because I want to? (I do want to. I like how my legs look when they’re hairless.) But how can I know for sure that I inherently want that? Isn’t my appreciation of hairless legs due to a socialization that has convinced me that hairless legs on women are desirable? Then I think, I don’t like to have hairy legs because one of my biggest gross-out factors re: men is, they’re SO HAIRY. And THEN I think, but ALL people are hairy, you’ve just tied your ideas about masculinity and femininity to sociocultural norms that define attractiveness by hairiness. And then I realize that maybe I don’t have ANY opinions that are my own because I didn’t grow up in a bubble and ahhhh.

    Probably gonna keep shaving my legs, and worrying if my motives for doing it make me a bad feminist, is the long and short of all this. (is this an appropriate time to use: “tl; dr”?

    • Thumb up 8

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      It’s impossible to know actually if you’re shaving because of internalized social pressure or because you genuinely prefer it. But personally, I’m fine with that. We’re all full of contradictions and I think, as long as we acknowledge that all of this doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it’s cool.
      If I’m being perfectly honest with myself, I have to recognize that I shave considerably less during winter/when I don’t have a girlfriend. So yeah, I’m probably shaving mostly because of what people might think of my unshaved legs/armpits. Is it bad? Does it make me less of a feminist? I don’t think so.

    • Thumb up 9

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      I had some of the same questions when deciding to stop shaving. I decided to grow out my hair until it became normal for me and I could accept my body as it grows. No shaving until I accepted myself. I went as far as to force myself to wear shorts even when I thought my legs looked hideous.

      Making that rule totally worked for me, and now I rock my extra hairy PCOS pits, legs, stache, and happy trail and I love them and still constantly run my fingers through my body hair to ensure I am used to my body this way. It feels great, like the way my body is supposed to be.

      But to be honest, you have to be very comfortable with your image and be able to defend yourself, at least in your own heart, because otherwise you will fall very susceptible to those glances and comments. It takes a certain level of not-giving-a-fuck that not everyone may have.

  3. Thumb up 1

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    I agree and support this completely, Its my body so i’m ok with having as much or as little hair as i want on it, I have two reasons behind this, one because I dont care about hair on my pits ( or on my knuckle, I have a single one under my chin that makes my feel like valdermot ( i’m bad ass don’t mess with me), and some strands on my toes, hey I’m doing me!) and two because i’m too lazy to shave every damn day. But when I do shave after a while its because hair traps odor, I like smelling like french water (aqua) and i like women smelling me and finding it a pleasant experience.

  4. Thumb up 6

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    The idea that someone isn’t self-caring in the ‘right way’ because they don’t shave is fucked up. My self-care regime involves conditioning my leg hair. That shit is well lush and soft. You Groom You!

  5. Thumb up 3

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    Cool! I really wish body hair was not such a taboo thing. I always find it frustrating when women won’t wear shorts or dresses because they haven’t shaved. Just frustrated that society tells us female body hair is so bad it shouldn’t be seen.

  6. Thumb up 10

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    I’ve got a healthy 5 months of PCOS-level hair growth all over my body and it feels great. My legs and pits are hairier than most of my male bodied friends and I’ve got a killer happy trail and moustache along with them.

    I went to A-Camp in May, then visited with a cabin mate (sup Danielle) later and discovered that just by seeing my hair at camp (we didn’t even talk about it) I inspired her to stop shaving as well. Things like that motivate me to be very out and proud with my body hair because sometimes seeing one person is all it takes. This project has my full support!

    • Thumb up 2

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      Actually I take that back, I do take issue with part of the campaign: the fact that it is only for a month and that the women are expected to resume shaving once September hits. It becomes more of a spectacle for awareness/money and less “because I love my body.”

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          Yeah but beards are more accepted by society than a woman with hairy pits and legs. I think it’s an unnecessary scapegoat to say it’s only for a month, and instead it should be a movement toward full time body hair acceptance.

        • Thumb up 5

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          @genevieve but full time body hair acceptance actually is their goal. If someone has never been anything but bare, it’d be hard to make a life long commitment. This is kind of like a one month trial period for people to see whether they like living with more body hair. Some people will love it, some people won’t, but at least they then know for themselves? If you read through their profiles or their manifesto there are tons of long hair for lifers on their team

    • Thumb up 3

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      I think that the false beauty standard (as shown from that ridiculous Dove ad above) definitely hurts everyone. I agree Genevieve: full-time body hair acceptance is a goal for everyone to work towards. It’s a shame that society makes people feel uncomfortable in their own skin.

      I’m so happy that you’re comfortable and embracing of your appearance!

  7. Thumb up 7

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    I check Autostraddle daily, (because it’s 18 kinds of awesome), but I’ve never felt the need to comment on a post until now. Thank you for mentioning PCOS. It gets uncomfortable, a lot of the time, when the shame of having hair all over my body forces me to change while facing the darkest corner I can find, if I’m changing in front of others (locker/dorm room, etc.). I admire people like Genevieve who have the guts to be cool with who they are, but until I reach that level of self-confidence, I’m glad people are spreaing awareness about it. So thanks!

    • Thumb up 4

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      I’m really sorry that you feel shame around your body, but you have to realize I am not some special kind of human with extra no-fucks powers (okay maybe I am), and that feeling of shame is caused by YOU and your reactions, and are not anyone else’s doing. Good news is that because it’s on you, you’re the one that can make it go away too. I’ve sat through car rides with my aunt telling me in detail about the ways to tame my moustache, and I can choose to either feel bad about myself and internalize her judgement or I can be polite and change the subject and continue to let my body grow as it wishes. If you don’t want to be ashamed of it, don’t be. It seriously is that simple. Force yourself to change in the locker room and you will realize that nobody in there gives a shit about your happy trail, and if they do say something it will probably be they have one too or are jealous of yours. Just be honest and able to say “I do it because I like it this way,” and you can handle anything people will say to you about it.

      • Thumb up 4

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        I’ve sat through the same conversations with people who think they mean well but after a lifetime of these conversations the shame begins to define one’s identity. Whether I do anything with my stache is still an ongoing problem for me, and will probably continue for the rest of my life… as long as society reinforces the idea that being a lesbian & having hair (especially facial hair) is ugly and that women with hair are ugly.

        It’s very hard to overcome this shame. Doctors even partake in the policing of body hair – I don’t even have PCOS but my doctor recommended medication for me without me bringing up the issue at all. The shame is reinforced because women don’t directly talk about hair either! It’s talked about discreetly, behind closed doors with gestures and vague suggestions. All this secrecy keeps us from overcoming the stigma. Most cis women have hair in the same places, why do we pretend that we don’t?

        I’m glad this campaign was started. I decided to grow out my armpit hair just because and it made me feel really sexy! I’m undecided about keeping it that way but I had fun and it produced only positive feelings :) Women need more positive feelings & experiences around body hair.

  8. Thumb up 6

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    So many feelings about this: as a trans* woman, I’m used to thinking of my body- and especially my facial hair as some kind of bodily betrayal. As a queer identified woman and feminist, I’m aware of how much patriarchal dogma I’ve internalized.
    When I went for electrolysis, I had a bad reaction and it didn’t work. Since then, I’ve tried the “nono”, (another waste of money and time,) and I’m now trying the Tria.
    In the meanwhile, everyday that I face the public, I shave to the point of painful irritation and apply layers of concealer to hide any remnants of blue beard shadow. It feels as though I’m forcing myself to wear what amounts to a mask, just in order to feel like my genuine self, and it hurts. It hurts because I know it’s a stumbling block to complete self-realization. It hurts because I feel like I’m betraying myself and other trans* people and hirsute women by doing something that feels like an unwarranted, and unnecessary apology. It hurts because it’s another thing that constantly reminds me that I’m “other”, and it hurts because in my patriarchally informed idea of self, “other” means “less than”.
    Thank you so much for this piece. Somehow, simply seeing aspects of myself that I find hard to accept being not only accepted by, but embraced by others helps me to do the same. Self acceptance is a process, but I know that the first step towards being the strong, unapologetic feminist that I am, is to extend to myself the acceptance and love that I already feel towards other women who are beautifully, simply themselves.

  9. Thumb up 3

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    I am really partial to this post, considering I suffer from PCOS, infertility, and mega hair growth (supes annoying by the way) and I, too shave because I’m self conscious. I may think about participating. Thanks for the inspiring/great read!

  10. Thumb up 2

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    I love this. I’ve been leaving my armpits hairy for years now, but for some reason I get self conscious when I have hairy legs. I usually shave or wax when they get really furry, but I wish I didn’t feel the need to. Maybe I’ll try leaving my legs alone for the rest of summer. Thanks for writing this!

  11. Thumb up 2

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    You groom you,super-important!

    I attended a hippie-ish lieral arts school, stopped shaving my legs my second year, stopped shaving my armpits a few months after.

    I am weirdly really attached to my armpit hair, and my friend Loren and I agree that it is really sexy.

    This article is not complete without a link to Alix Olson’s “Armpit Hair.”

  12. Thumb up 2

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    A++++ for this article. Dealt with so much shit my whole life for PCOS-level hair growth to the point where forgetting a razor for any ~sleepover~ occasion fills me with dread. So good that there’s some increased awareness developing around this issue.

    Also fun fact for y’all! After happening upon a few other gay ladies with PCOS I did some research of my own and there’s a really high correlation between having PCOS and being gay! Scientifically proven and everything.

  13. Thumb up 2

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    I think I’m somewhat in between. I don’t mind walking around being slightly hairy, like, quite a bit more than a stubble. I think it’s mostly because my body hair grows freakishly fast and I simply cannot be bothered. But at some point I’d get this, “I have to shave” feeling, and then I do. Love this initiative though, because body hair on women is such a social stigma when it really shouldn’t be.

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