23% Of Women Don’t Shave Their Pits, Thanks Feminism!?

Everything is a study these days, including what millennial women do with their armpit hair. For 23 percent of them, the answer is “not much!” according to a study from Mintel. That’s up from only 5 percent of young women who reported not shaving in 2013. And companies are feeling the hit too — sales of hair removal products dropped five percent from 2015-16.

A few things are behind the trend, posits Roshida Khanom, associate director in beauty and personal care at Mintel, as quoted in The Telegraph. One is a shift toward products perceived as natural and good for the skin and body, which don’t include Nair apparently. “There’s also some pushing back against societal expectations of what women should look like,” she said.

Nobody loves fucking up the patriarchy and gender expectations like queer women and folks, and yet because queer and trans women and non-binary folks are pretty much always underrepresented in scientific research it is a safe bet that this study primarily reflects cis straight women, or at least is interpreted that way. I read four articles about this study and none of them mention queer folks. As a genderqueer human who stopped shaving my armpits mostly because I literally could not be bothered and was deeply inspired by the generations of dykes that came before me, I feel pretty strongly about the importance of pit hair in the queer community.

This is what Riese had to say when she shared the link in Slack: “Honestly I feel like we started it! I say this as someone who would never stop shaving her armpits personally but I’ve definitely noticed that it’s become increasingly prevalent. I know it’s a stereotype but I used to be surprised when femme of center folks didn’t shave and now I’m definitely not. As it becomes more popular to not shave, I feel like it’s become detached from gender identity/presentation within the queer community.”

So I did my own research, aka I texted a bunch of my queer and trans friends to ask them about their body hair. I mostly talked to folks who do not shave, but I really want to hear from y’all in the comments! What do you do with your pit hair? How does that choice connect with your gender, your other identities, cultural or family expectations?


Gloria

Gloria, Organizer: For me the decision to grow out my armpit hair has less to do with my gender identity and more with the decolonization of my intersectional identities as a queer mestiza. Yes, my bodily hair absolutely makes me feel super feminine and super sexy, but I think that came after years of work to decolonize beauty and femme standards. It’s about rejecting the idea that capitalism and colonization will not define natural beauty for me or for my community.

Maddie, former Staff WriterI don’t shave my armpits because I have an amount of body hair that, when I did shave, was impossible to keep up with, and I felt self-conscious and itchy all the time and I felt like people would judge me for being bad at femininity or whatever. With my armpit hair growing wild and free, there’s no question that I’m making the choice to not shave and if people don’t like it, that’s 1000 percent their problem. Plus, my partner thinks it’s super sexy and that’s awesome.

Anna, Educator: I stopped shaving my armpits in college probably mostly out of laziness. I already never shaved my legs, though to be fair I didn’t have much visible hair there. My pits were another story — very thick, very visible, especially in the stubble stage. Even when I did shave I found myself keeping my arms down or specifically not wearing sleeveless clothes. I had the fortune of being in a community and social circle in college that was very queer and full of the ethos of self-love, so it was very easy to just leave behind this ritual that only brought me weird bumps and not very much more love for my body. If my pits were not really going to look pristine most of the time anyway, why bother? It’s been about five years since that time, and I truly have never looked back. I suppose I never meant the growing out of my (very dark and sometimes tangly) pits to be a statement, but I have had partners comment on how much they love it, femme friends telling me that it helped inspire acceptance of their own body hair, and a nice built-in filter on who’s down to hang with me, pits and all. I’m a queer East Asian Texan getting ready for sundress season, y’all.

Mey, Trans Editor: Trans women are treated way more harshly abt body hair than cis women. We often shave to help make sure people will see us as women rather than any other reason. So I think trans women are more likely to shave for that reason. It’s about survival not style or something the patriarchy said. I personally don’t have to shave them that often bc my hormones have made it so I barely grow any armpit hair at all.

Hilary

Hilary, Researcher and Organizer: I started shaving my armpits in middle school and stopped at the end of college — on the same timeline as first realizing I might be gay/fearing that my fellow middle schoolers would find out I was gay (must shave!! must do makeup!! must act straight!!) and finally coming publicly into my identity as an unapologetic non-binary trans person. Like wearing a bra, shaving was a compulsory gender practice that was really useful for a closeted queer/blossoming trans kid wanting to hide in plain site.

I stopped shaving my armpits somewhat on a whim, out of curiosity to see what my adult hair was like. It’s a bizarre and common experience among folks who were socialized female that we start shaving before our body hair has even fully grown in, so we don’t EVER see or touch or smell or live in our bodies with their hair unless we make the adult choice to grow it back out. The hair was scratchy and short at first — like it always is when it’s been shaved — but quickly became soft and comfortable. And then it became really, really important to me! I realized that my level of gender comfort skyrocketed up when I found the space to be gender noncomforming and femme at the same time.

Reclaiming my body hair by choosing to grow it ALL out was the first totally embodied choice I made around my trans-ness. As a non-binary femme person, completely uninterested in (/dysphoric within) masculinity, I felt really alienated by (mostly cis) narratives of transition and trans-ness because they assumed that my “destination” in transition was transmasculinity. Growing out my body hair as a reclamation of my body and my gender felt like a totally different kind of transition. It was a transition from unhappiness and alienation with my body to comfort and refuge (a much more expansive and hopefully accurate description of the billions of ways that trans folks transition in the world). And it allowed me to engage with my body in a new way — to ask my trans body what it wanted, how it wanted to function, how it wanted to move through the world, and to actually listen to the response.

Anyway, I fucking love my body hair — every last piece of it.

Wynn, Strategy Nerd: I quit shaving my armpits in late high school because I realized that I wasn’t trying to impress any men and shaving was a patriarchal construction. As it grew out and I began to question my gender, I found that having dark, longer hair gave me a masculine flair that I enjoyed and felt positive about.

Alaina, Staff Writer: For the most part I like [my hair] a lot! I think it’s cool watching my underarm hair grow. It’s been really cool realizing that the way I smell has a lot less to do with what deodorant I choose and more to do with how clean the hair is. I have always grown more body hair all over, and in the past it has made me feel self conscious and like I was in this body I didn’t ask for that was doing things I didn’t want it to do. But letting my underarm hair grow was a way to try out letting my hair go natural in a way that didn’t feel super public, and the confidence I gained from my hairy pits helped me be more confident with other hair and helped me stop trying to control what my body naturally does so often. Sometimes I might trim or tame it if it feels completely out of pocket, but for the most part, I love it. I love being wild and free and not connecting my aesthetic choices to how much body hair I’ve got.

Ok, community sound-off time! What do you do with your pits? Is that connected to your gender presentation, sexuality, or other identities? Let’s talk about it!

Writer’s note: My favorite thing about this roundtable is that Alaina and Maddie both used the phrase “wild and free,” so don’t hesitate to work that into your response.

Adrian is a writer, a Texan and a divinity student at Vanderbilt University. They write about bisexuality, gender, religion, politics, music and a whole lot of feelings at Autostraddle and wherever fine words are sold. They have a dog named after Alison Bechdel. Follow Adrian on Twitter @adrianwhitetx.

Adrian has written 149 articles for us.

124 Comments

  1. I shave my armpits, but because I have acanthosis nigricans it probably just makes them look worse (my armpit skin is very very dark). I’ve just been so used to doing it, and associating armpit hair with sweat smell (which I know isn’t true). This post and the comments are quite wonderful for me, as I now feel more confident that I really want to stop shaving. It’s good to be a part of a community where that’s a really valid decision to make, and there are others like me. Thank you Autostraddle <3.

  2. You know what’s weird? I identify as non-binary, relatively masculine-of-center, and I’m super crazy gay. Woman are great, people. But body hair FREAKS. ME. OUT, and I honestly think it’s because traditionally, body hair is viewed as a very masculine trait. When I see a guy raise his arm up or bare a particularly hairy chest, my first reaction is one of utter revulsion. I wish I could turn that off, because sadly I have that same reaction to women’s unshaved pits as well. Maybe I just like hairless people?

  3. For pits and legs, I shave every now and then, but not often these days. I used to be a pretty much every day shaver when I was younger, but now I can’t really be bothered. I do shave my armpits every now and then because when the hair gets too long it pinches when I move certain ways.

    I don’t generally wear shorts or sleeveless tops, so nobody really sees my hair but me. Maybe if I were dating, I’d shave more, but I’m not honestly sure about that. My armpit and leg hair is dark but not particularly thick, so it’s not super visible unless you’re up close or it’s gotten pretty long. When I do shave my legs these days, I pretty much only shave up to the knee because the hair above the knee isn’t really visible.

    I used to shave my pubic hair and liked the way it felt, but the last couple times I did it, it was so unbearably itchy afterward that I felt it wasn’t worth it.

    One area that I do have issues with, however, is my face. If I could afford to have that shit lasered, I would in a heartbeat. I tweeze my chin, neck and upper lip. Probably not the best, but I’ve tried shaving as well, and that can be irritating too. This area I feel is more closely related to gender feelings than the other parts of my body, where it’s more laziness and apathy. My last partner was kind of weird about facial hair too. He didn’t particularly care if I didn’t shave my legs very often, but he would shame me if my upper lip hair grew a little. And I tried as much as I could to hide the chin hair from him. So I’ve felt a lot of shame around my facial hair and keep it under control, but I haven’t dated in years because I don’t know how I would broach that subject with future partners.

  4. I experimented with not shaving anything last year since I’ve shaved since I was a teen because of the standard expectations. The result was that I love not shaving my armpits! Nothing about my armpit hair bothers me. I like it. I hated my unshaved legs though. The hair grew in a really strange sparse pattern, so I continue to lazy-shave them (when someone might touch them basically or they start to bug me) Having smooth legs makes me feel sexy.

  5. I stopped shaving my pits senior year of high school on the encouragement of my then-boyfriend, a hippie anarchist. 16 years later I still don’t shave, but have considered it recently after my newborn developed a habit of yanking my hair while nursing. Whenever friends complain about “pitting out” I suggest not shaving. The hair seems to be a nice little built in ventilation system.
    Also, pit hair at least used to be an excellent way to broadcast queerness.

  6. As a baby queer in college, I stopped shaving everything for a while. Then a few years later when I decided to wear shorts to work on a hot day, several coworkers paraded by pointing and laughing. So I started shaving my legs and underarms again for many years, feeling very self-conscious about my body hair. Despite being blonde, I have a lot of it and it’s darker than you might suspect.

    For the last several years, I let my legs get fuzzy in the winter but wax or epilate in the summer because I feel like the hair detracts from the shape of my legs (I bike a lot and I’m pretty proud of my leg muscles). Even then, I’m pretty lazy about it and it’s more a means of thinning out the hair. I have ADHD with a lot of sensitivity to certain sensations and the feeling of stubble is like nails on a chalkboard, so I really dislike shaving. I’m also very prone to ingrown hairs, and after getting an especially painful one in my armpit a couple years ago, I’d had enough and stopped shaving again. Now I just trim my pits and bush a bit. I’m actually a lot more comfortable in the hot weather because it seems to wick the sweat away from my skin for it to evaporate–no more sweat creating that horrible slippery hot feeling. Also, as a queer woman in a relationship with a man (who is also queer), it’s frustrating to be read as straight and I like that my pits could be a marker of queerness, even though I’m still a little shy about baring them. As femme-of-center but working through some internalized misogyny, I’m wearing skirts and dresses more than I used to, but having a bit of fuzz also makes me feel more like myself and less like I’m in girl drag.

  7. I have thick, dark, armpit hair that I haven’t shaved in four years. When I used to shave it, it would grow back immediately, and be itchy, red stubble, no matter what I tried. I started shaving my leg hair again, intermittently, a few months ago, but with the promise to myself that I would never *not* wear shorts or skirts because I hadn’t shaved.

  8. It’s all an ouchie weird tangle of things; my arm pit, leg hair, all of my hairs actually, gender and identity. This going to look like fucking life story when I’m done, the life story of my armpit hair. >_>

    I started shaving when I was 10 with my dad’s disposables that I filched and it was part disgust/horror that puberty (i.e. tits and a bleeding breedable womb) was on the way and part I’m enough of freak already. Puberty was scary because it would cause me become unperson’d, blossom into SOMETHING RIPE for the TAKING.
    I didn’t want to be prey, I didn’t want reminders my body was betraying me and making itself into some thing tasty to be preyed upon.

    But looking back on the fear and loathing of my body taking a “woman’s shape” and just traits of sexual maturity could’ve been a bit of dysphoria too. Still even with the shaving I stopped wearing sleeveless shirts at 11 because I didn’t wanna see the stubble. I was still towheaded then but those hairs were black against my skin.

    Eventually, at what age I can’t really recall, I’d only shave if I knew my pits or legs would be revealed. Which wasn’t very often outside school because I gave up swimming when I was 12, my ugly half formed body in so few clothes in front of people freaked me the fuck out, and stopped wearing shorts at 14 cept for gym.
    But uh it added a layer of stress for family events because feminine formal wear your straight mom approves of and adores seeing you in is usually a sleeveless dress.
    Also she can’t give you any shaving advice other than “just shave everyday” when you ask how to tackle your fully grown out hair with wee lady razors using soap as lubricant.

    So I gave those pretty dresses up, even if sometimes I felt good in some of them and not a dysphoric mess(not that I knew that word then). The stress and the self loathing I’d feel readying my body for gathering of people who I eventually realised were never going to be more than just passing civil to me. Or the feeling disgust that the polish fake femininity is what got me compliments and positive attention. Like real me was worthless also who the fuck was that even? I didn’t know and trying to girl in full or half measures wasn’t working. Much angst and confusion that took awhile to sort out.

    This is where things get weird, maybe tangled
    It wasn’t just stress of trying to remove fully grown in hair with wimpy tools that I felt or the self loathing of caving to a stupid social norm, it was loss that I felt.
    I felt a feeling of loss, of some part of me missing when I removed hair, any hair.
    All of the hair from crown to those silly hairs on my big toes.

    So I don’t really feel like what I do with my pits has anything to do with my gender presentation non binary-ness or bisexuality.

    This is the tangly part I guess:
    I don’t hate my body, haven’t for a long time, and view my shoulders as one my best assets but am too much of coward and too used to dressing to hide my arm pit hair(or leg hair) to wear what ever I want when ever I want to in public or even consider it unless I’m in an explicitly queer space. Then it’s likely you may find me dancing myself breathless in sports bra.
    But that’s rare.

  9. I stopped shaving a few years ago because shaving is a) expensive b) time/resource consuming c) painful and annoying AS FUCK. literally, we only started shaving because of capitalism and there’s approximately no objective or medical reason to do so. I might still shave my shins or cover up my hair when I absolutely need to be “professional” but other than that I will only ever trim with scissors. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself and I love both my hair and how much I feel in charge of my body by making that conscious choice. Plus, showing off your hairy pits is a very easy way to weed out the people I don’t want to be around.

  10. I grew up with 5 cisgender sisters in a heteronormative household. I started growing body hair when I was around 11 years old, and thought nothing of it until my younger sisters started making fun of it. My older sisters bought me a razor and initiated me into the western, womanly ritual of shaving. While on one hand I thought it was cool because I desperately wanted to be seen as mature and adult-like and escape the childhood I was stuck in, I felt a lot of shame for having hair and having thought nothing of it. Later in middle school I would get called “werewolf” so I started shaving all my body hair.

    I went to a fairly liberal college, and with the freedom to explore my own identity I stopped shaving. Partially out of laziness, mostly as a “fuck you” to the hetero and cisnormative culture I grew up in. I was super self conscious being around family for a while, but no one has ever said anything or made me feel shitty. ?
    After college I discovered the wonderful world of artificial color, and am amused by the looks I get when sporting pink pubes. The nurses in Thailand thought it great and funny, and the old artists I model for were quite beside themselves, and at times like that I am able to love my hair a bit more.

  11. I love this! I stopped shaving my legs and pits when I was 19, after years of struggling with an eating disorder. I did it mostly as an experiment, just to see how I would feel and how people would react if I stopped shaving. Reactions were mixed (my aunt was, and still is, horrified), but consciously rejecting one of the main expectations of feminine beauty was a HUGE part of learning to accept my body and recovering from my eating disorder. It helped me to figure out that beauty is a bullshit construct, and that I am the one who gets to define what I want to look like.

    Even though it’s been nearly 10 year since I stopped shaving, I still sometimes feel weird wearing shorts or tank tops in public. I teach women’s studies,and am sometimes afraid of scaring off my students by embodying the “angry, hairy feminist” stereotype, but they rarely seem to notice. These days, I don’t think about my body hair most of the time, and every once in a while I feel my pit or leg hairs blowing in the breeze and it makes me feel awesome.

  12. I first started shaving when I was about 11 (and yes I also shaved my forearms which??? I’m still a little confused why I thought that was a good idea) and definitely remember many (negative) conversations about body hair in my “all girls” school. I stopped a few years ago because of depression (I just couldn’t be bothered + the whole razors thing…), but I got quite a lot of those “well meaning criticisms” from my sister and mother. At that time I was finding a more explicitly queer and feminist community, which I do think have me the confidence to keep not shaving once I was technically better. I do still feel slightly uncomfortable in my pretty sleeveless summer dresses, but I also know it’s just internalised misogyny so it’s something I’m working on. The one thing I do find annoying is how every time I see a new person about my mental health they feel like it’s super important to comment on my body hair…

    Weirdly, the thing my mother is most negative towards is my facial hair. I’ve recently dyed my Hair hair white, so my dark brown moustache and under jaw hair is a lot more noticeable, and I’m super in love with it! Especially since I’m currently questioning the whole gender thing, and as I’m very high femme otherwise it’s just… nice.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!