In the summer, cardigans are forgotten, jackets are left behind and armpits are out. But on women they’re rarely hairy - even though that is their natural state.
Have you ever asked yourself why you shave your armpits? Or has it just become something you do, almost without thinking, like brushing your teeth?
Misli Akdag, 26, from northwest London and an assistant set decorator for films and TV, used to shave, occasionally wax and even did two rounds of laser removal on her armpits (although she was put off from continuing when a mole near her nipple fell off just after a session).
“I just never questioned that it’s something to be removed,” she says. But the upkeep began to get to her and now she has embraced her natural hair.
“Honestly it started out as laziness,” she says. “The regrowth just hurt too much, I had dark patches under there and ingrown hairs and I would leave it for ages just to avoid having to go through all that again. Then I got used to it and all of a sudden, naked meaty armpits looked and felt so strange!”
A woman’s unshaven pits are still quite an unusual sight, their display is typically seen as an act of rebellion or a “statement”, but women who spoke to HuffPost UK about their choice not to shave, spoke about it in terms of an awakening to a choice.
Like Akdag, Rosalind Jana, 23, from North London and author of ‘Notes On Being Teenage’, journalist and model, also says she stopped shaving in her later teens out of sheer “laziness”. She simply put it down to being “just not how I want to spend my time”.
Whereas, Holly Gorne, 24, a film maker and illustrator from North London, says her attitude changed after she left school and started spending time with a diverse group of women.
“There was definitely a moment of seeing other women not particularly giving a shit about how their bodies were perceived and thinking, ‘Oh! We don’t have to do this anymore?! Thank goodness - my arms are so tired and I have razor burn’,” she says.
“I definitely haven’t always been proud of my armpit hair. I used to be extremely self-conscious about all body hair, and wouldn’t dare go swimming before ensuring every possible visible pube was removed.”
Her armpit awakening came around the same time celebrities such as Miley Cyrus started dyeing theirs different colours a few years ago. “I saw someone complaining about it online and looked at the photo and thought ‘No, this is gorgeous’,” she recalls.
Going au naturel, has had other positive ramifications for Gorne. “I very much see my decision to stop shaving my armpits as a response to reaching a point of exhaustion with the increasingly smaller boxes I was trying to force myself into in order to play by the rules in a patriarchal society, and specifically to be desirable to the male gaze,” she says.
“For me personally, by letting go of my need to be hairless, I also unconsciously let go of a lot of other restrictions I was forcing upon myself. Looking back, it definitely contributed to my acceptance and exploration of my bisexuality, and I feel I have a more positive relationship with my body.”
A common reason why women, especially young girls, feel the need to be hairless across a large portion of their body is because they are scared of the scrutiny they’ll receive if they go against the grain. However, both Gorne and Jana spoke about the positive responses they have received since not shaving.
“I’ve had women at swimming pools tell me openly they’re so happy to see someone not shaving, and was once approached at a wedding by a woman who said she wished she hadn’t shaved hers for the occasion,” says Gorne.
“The only negative response I can think of is that I had to stop hashtagging ‘armpit hair’ on Instagram because of the volume of men contacting me who fetishised women’s body hair. There are only so many times I can take someone commenting on a photo ‘I want to lick your armpit’.”
However, Akdag has found herself having to explain her decision. “With my Turkish family, they just can’t wrap their head around it,” she explains. “Friends in the UK generally respond with ‘I wish I could pull that off’, which I’ve never understood. Just don’t pull it off, that’s the point...leave it there!”
The discourse around body hair is even more complicated for women of colour. As Jana acknowledges: “I know that as a white woman that fits into Eurocentric beauty standards, it’s not revolutionary for me to wander around with unshaven armpits.”
Aisha Salim, 24, a mental health social worker from East London, says being a woman of colour her relationship with body hair is complicated: ”I don’t want to be giving in to the patriarchal socialisation that has led women to be so utterly fixated on their body hair, yet this is easier said than done as a woman of colour.”
“When a white woman embraces her armpit hair, it’s revolutionary. When a woman of colour does it, it’s more grotesque. Many women of colour that I know, as well as myself, are not in a position where we feel like we have the choice to be embracing armpit hair.”
When asked what she though the solution to this would be, Salim says: “I’d be even more grateful to see influential women of colour embrace their body hair, particularly armpit hair, so that this idea of what’s acceptable and what’s not isn’t drilled into them from such a young age.”
When asked to give advice to other women looking to grow out their armpit hair, the women all advise thinking about what you want and not feeling pressured to shave or not to shave, just “do what’s good for you”.
And if anyone has anything judgmental or negative to say about your armpit hair, Jana says: “If you’re nervous about showing off your armpit hair, come up with responses - remember, it’s like a muscle, it takes time to build up resilience.”
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