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Opinion: Underarm hair is natural so why do people reel in horror from my hairy armpits?

The kickback women face when we dare to show contempt for this societal norm is most intriguing, writes Síomha Ní Ruairc.

Síomha Ní Ruairc.

“WHAT IS WRONG with women?” 

A man I met once wrote that about me, in a WhatsApp group. He attached the message to a screenshot, of a picture that I had uploaded of myself, to my Instagram.

You might wonder what I had done to rile this man to the point of renouncing all women?  

Had I betrayed him or committed some atrocity against his family?

Or worse still, perhaps I deleted the latest episode of Game of Thrones before he had a chance to watch it.

No. I had allowed my armpit hair to grow out naturally – that is hair growing in a place where literally every adult person on planet earth grows hair.

Keratin covered strands of protein which blossom from the skin of all humans and most mammals. 

But that man is by no means the only person from whom armpit hair elicits this type of response.

Just last month the sportswear giant Nike uploaded a picture to their Instagram page of a model in a sports bra with one arm resting lazily on top of her head while displaying a petite patch of armpit hair.

The reaction would make you weep. They ranged from ‘No thanks’ to a plethora of vomit-face emojis.

What is it about this little hair-oasis in a concave, fleshy space that upsets people so much?

Marketing techniques

As part of a deep-rooted and misogynistic tradition, women have been removing their armpit hair since Gillette launched a women’s razor in 1904

Perhaps the razors weren’t selling too well – because in 1915 Gillette launched a marketing campaign which advertised the razors as the solution to an “embarrassing personal problem”.

In an ingenious marketing move – they kindly provided women with both the problem and the solution in one slick poster.

Ever since then, women have been shaving, epilating, waxing, tweezing and walking over hot coals, to ensure their feminine hairlessness meets the acceptable standard laid down by society.

But it is the kickback we face when we dare to show contempt for this societal norm – that is most intriguing.

Fury

When you are female, growing your armpit hair provokes a deep fury – a resounding outrage results when we force a confrontation with our natural state.

And this reaction is not just coming from men. People of all genders have been conditioned to believe that it is unnatural, unkempt and unclean. There is opposition from all sorts of people from all walks of life.

How upsetting that girls unquestioningly condemn the existence of something so very natural about themselves and each other. Surely this is internalised sexism at its very finest.

So why do we have armpit hair? Well, the leading theory is that the hair exists to help attract a mate.

This is backed up by the fact that it develops during puberty at the same time that glands become more active.

So some experts believe that the hair exists for the purpose of getting soaked in potent, mate-attracting pheromones.

Pit life

My own journey to accepting my fuzzy pits began about six months ago when I became a bit lazy with my grooming habits.

While I personally had always found hairy armpits a bit ‘out there’ and just not for me, I found myself growing accustomed to them.

This acclimatisation then developed into fondness. I like the shock of dark hair against my skin. I like the little tendrils that peep out when my arms are down by my side.

My personal preference changed and so I was happy to step away from the razor and embrace the pit life.

It wasn’t instantaneous and I still feel remnants of the shame experienced by 13-year-old me. Suddenly worrying if people would notice that I had forgotten to shave.

Twelve years of being petrified of raising your arms while wearing a sleeveless item of clothing will do that to you.

The fear of someone spotting a hint of 5 o’clock shadow in a place where literally every human in the world grows hair, was almost crippling.

Imagine a tyrannosaurus rex trying to give someone a hug – well, that was me in a string top.

For years society dictated to me what to do with my body hair but now I’ve reached a point where I’m comfortable with having hair in its usual place.

Surely I’m not the first, or last, woman to make this choice. 

But until people start using love-heart-eye emojis under pit pics on the gram, it’s important to discuss these issues with the younger generation. Hopefully, we can reduce some of the excruciating shame that young girls experience during puberty. 

Let’s make those awkward years a little bit easier for the coming generations -  by not condemning what is natural or censoring what is normal.

Nobody really chooses the pit life; it just grows on you.

Síomha Ní Ruairc is an Irish language activist and TV presenter. 

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Síomha Ní Ruairc.

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