“What do you do to reveal your underarms?” The voice over on Dove’s advert asks; quiet condescension in her voice indicates the answer isn’t the obvious ‘lift your arms up’. With that option removed, you have roughly half a second to consider other options before the voice over lady innocuously asks, “Just shave?”
Ah. It did seem unlikely that Dove’s answer would include creative suggestions; a motion-based alarm, that set off a celebratory fanfare the moment your underarm is displayed, (ensuring maximum impact), or an armpit-less shirt, designed for strategic underarm exposure. Because, though Dove thrives based on the ‘Be yourselves, ladies!’ marketing strategy, their disclaimer ‘(But make sure you buy our products!)’ inevitably trails after. Dove urges women, ‘buy into natural products!’, but natural hair is apparently a step too far.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that deodorant and body lotion are inherently evil – though Dove’s promise to provide ‘whiter’ underarms for customers this January was ethically questionable. And I’m not saying that all women should be forced to grow their pit kittens. What I am saying is that interminable reminders that women need constant improvement takes away their choice
I recognise my biases – I don’t shave. So, identifying that, I decided to launch a survey – asking men, women, and non-binary folks, (though ultimately women were more open to discussing their opinions on female body hair, with 76% of the participants being female, 11% non-binary, 9% male, and the remainder non-specified), from ages under 16 to 64, with religious orientations ranging from atheist to Russian Orthodox to Sunni Muslims, about women’s body hair.
Participants were asked ‘Is body hair on women acceptable?’, and reassuringly 81% of women agreed it was. 6% of women found body hair unacceptable on women, 7% of women were unsure whether or not it was acceptable, and 6% of women found it acceptable in some areas, but not in others. Interestingly, many found armpit hair ‘dirty’, despite the suggestion from many that the hair draws dampness and odour-causing bacteria off the skin, increasing freshness.
However, it seems that the minority here – those who don’t accept female body hair – have the upper hand over the majority – though an encouraging amount of women felt comfortable showing armpit hair in public, (35%), just under 1/5 of females were uncomfortable showing any hair in public. Sadly, these women often noted that this probably wouldn’t be the case if they didn’t feel so pressured by society to adhere to strict shaving regimes.
And without a doubt, these societal pressures are felt by the majority; over 90% of participants believed that women’s body hair choices were limited. When individuals were then asked what they believed contributed to this ½ credited pressure from friends, 1/3 credited political pressure, and ¼ imputed religion.
Mass media, however, seemed to be the biggest culprit; whether it came through advertisements such as Dove’s, pornstars’ hairless bodies, or metro posters asking women if they’re ‘beach body ready’, (white, skinny, hairless), 97% believed it constrained women’s body hair.
So the ultimate message, (because I’m acutely aware how dull statistics are), is that though we as people are generally accepting of hairy women, media portrayals of females render women who want to quit the whole shave/wax/laser shebang too self-conscious to do so. Upsettingly, these restrictions not only emotionally compelled women into shaving, but they then felt morally reproached, with expressions of not being ‘Feminist enough’.
All of this was explained by one participant; “If society didn’t notice or comment on women’s body hair … I’d not bother to shave/wax/epilate … I begrudgingly remove the majority of my body hair. I suppose that’s bad… it means I’m bowing to society’s warped views and not making a stand.”
So what’s the solution? Well, firstly, we as Feminists have to work harder to not judge those who remove hair; we have to recognise that some women remove hair consensually – any independent choice a woman makes regarding her body is to be applauded – And we have to stop assigning blame to women who begrudgingly shave, because it doesn’t stop them doing it, it just makes them feel worse.
The second step; we have to complain, and petition, and kick and scream. We have to do this until it’s recognised that if we want to be hairy, sexist, unrepresentative, and predatory media platforms are no longer going to stop us.
It’s our move; how are we going to play it?