In women’s bathrooms and cabinets across the country one implement is getting far less use than ever before.
According to research analysts Mintel it has never been more acceptable for women to forgo razors and tubs of wax, and let their body hair grow with silky abandon.
The company found that almost one in four young women have given up shaving their underarms completely and, for millennial women (those roughly born between 1980 and 2000), the drive to remove arm and leg hair has been in steady decline for years.
In 2013, 95 per cent of women aged 16 to 24 said they removed hair from their underarms. In 2016, that dropped to 77 per cent. It’s a similar story for legs - in 2013, 92 per cent said they shaved but last year that had fallen to 85 per cent.
It’s no surprise then that we’re investing less in hair removal products, which fell overall by 5 per cent between 2015 and 2016.
Many, including Daisy Walker, 27, a fashion photographer and co-founder of Women in Fashion (WiF) who gave up shaving two years ago, believe it’s down to a greater visual representation of hairy women. Perhaps the most memorable in popular culture was Julia Roberts who in 1999 attended the Notting Hill premiere with unshaven pits - something that made headlines around the world (most disapproving).
More recently, Madonna’s daughter Lourdes, Miley Cyrus and Paris Jackson have all joined the growing body of women embracing natural body hair.
“Social media has played a huge role,” says Walker. “You have these influencers who are showing their underarms unshaved and people of that age group are seeing that message day-in and day-out, which is normalising it and making them feel more comfortable to do the same.”
Walker stopped shaving her underarm hair when she realised she was doing it for other people, not herself and “wasting time every day to conform to looking a certain way”.
The result, she says, has been blossoming self-confidence as the pressure to edit herself for others has dropped away. “I am not saying I’m only beautiful if I do that, I’m saying I’m beautiful anyway.” Her boyfriend has accepted her decision, agreeing it has nothing to do with him, and she’s noticed many more of her friends have put down their razors to save time and hassle.
“Once you’ve actually seen it you realise that it’s not frightening,” she laughs. “People think it is incredibly masculine or ugly because we’ve been sold this perfect shaven-legs idea of beauty. But it’s just a body - there is nothing shocking about that.”
Another who is pushing back against preconceived perceptions of beauty is Alley Einstein, a 40-year-old broadcaster from London. She, like Walker, believes femininity and body hair are not inextricably linked and stopped removing hers two years ago as part of an experiment.
“I’d separated from my husband and it was a cold winter. I was focusing on my seven-year-old daughter and work. I just thought, ‘What will happen if I stop?’”
The answer was, of course, very little. “You go for a wax and it hurts and costs a lot. I was spending more than £50 a month [£600 a year] on waxing my arms and legs. I’d much rather that go towards the gas bill. Sometimes when I’m in my swimsuit I get a few odd looks but it's saving me time, money and, quite frankly, energy. It doesn't affect my work or parenting skills and more and more women are simply doing it because, especially over winter, it becomes an unnecessary evil.”
Experts have attributed the rise in women opting for a more natural look to a rise in ‘clean-living’, wellness and a concern with artificial shaving foams and other beauty products effects on the skin. For some, using deodorant or oils after shaving exacerbate skin conditions such as eczema.
Still, as a ritual that has been around for centuries, hair removal can be a hard habit to break. Women living in 4,000 BC were known to rid their bodies of hair using arsenic and quicklime, while the Egyptians encouraged women to cultivate hairless physiques to prevent the spread of lice and disease. You can also thank the Romans for early versions of razors and pumice stones.
Nineteen-year-old model with Viva London, Fern Bain Smith, who has modelled for British Vogue, is glad to see a rise in women going "au naturel". For the past three years she has intermittently shaved her armpits and legs, despite being bullied at school for not doing so - at its worst, classmates threw rocks at her.
“My attitude to it is women would be left to choose whether they grow it or not. It is so unobtrusive. If they shave it they shouldn’t be called a bad feminist and if they grow it they shouldn’t be called ugly. It doesn’t affect anyone else other than them.”
“Sometimes I think it looks quite sexy because it is dark and thick and I have thinner fairer hair on my head.”
Even in an industry that prides itself on physical perfection, the reins appear to be loosening. “The modelling industry is becoming really accepting,” says Bain Smith. “There are quite a few models that have hairy armpits and they are doing really well.”
At the moment she is taking a break from shaving and is happy to report that no one - from colleagues in the fashion industry to her friend are raising a well-manicured eyebrow at her decision.