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The great big body hair debate: Why Millennials and Gen-Z are questioning whether it's time to abandon hair removal altogether in favour of naturalness

A hairy situation.

What do Emma Corrin, Amandla Stenberg and Miley Cyrus have in common? They all give zero f*cks over what we think of their armpit hair.

In a recent interview with GLAMOUR, Emma revealed "beauty for me has always been when I feel most myself," before leaning back to reveal a scattering of fluffy hairs peeking out from her armpits. “How I present myself, what I do with my makeup, my body hair, my hair or anything aesthetically, will always be dictated by what I feel and nothing external,” she added. It shouldn't be unusual, but in a culture that's grown up around policing women's bodies, it feels radical.

It's not exactly a new conversation. Issues around body hair – and whether or not to ditch it – date all the way back to the Stone Age. Cavemen shaved off their hair with whittled stones as a survival tactic to avoid being grabbed by it during fights. It's thought that they removed the hair from their bodies to avoid frostbite, too. But ideas around cleanliness and sanitisation emerged with the Ancient Egyptians who invented sugaring (a waxing technique still used today) to depilate their skin. Hair was considered dirty and uncivilised and was associated with servants and slaves.

Thousands of years, and some commendable rebellions later (lest we forget the swinging sixties), and deciding what to do with your own pubes remains an awkward taboo, if you're a woman. Hmm.

The revulsion that people feel over women's body hair: that it's dirty, smelly, or unattractive, is learnt. It's the same stuff that men have under their arms, over their chests and around their groin, but we grow up being told ours is undesirable.

Now, millennials and Gen Z are starting to question our motivation behind hair removal. If we “choose” to remove it, do we do it because we think it's empowering, or because we don't want to feel undesirable? When we shave our legs, do we do it because we want to, or because we learnt to? And, if – like men – we'd never been encouraged to remove our hair in the first place, would we feel compelled to do it?

Having asked ourselves whether it’s for us, or acceptance, many are now limbering up to screw the patriarchy, and capitalism at that.

We have A-listers like Adele who are prepared to give it straight. “I’ll have no man telling me to shave my fuckin’ legs," Adele said in an interview with Vanity Fair when questioned whether her then husband, Simon Konecki, cared if she shaves her legs. "Shave yours," she said.

We have movie stars like Emma Watson, who casually dropped her pubes into the conversation like she was talking about moisturiser. "I’ll use [Fur Oil] anywhere from the ends of my hair, to my eyebrows, to my pubic hair," she said in an interview with Into The Gloss. "It’s an amazing all-purpose product."

We have social activists and influencers like Florence Given, who wrote "fuck your overpriced pink razors, I'm gonna be a hairy bitch now," in a chapter of her debut book, Women Don't Owe You Pretty. "I hate being told what to do with my body," she says.

We have artist, body hair activist and GLAMOUR cover star Esther Calixte-Bea whose photographic series, Lavender, is a self-liberating photography project about body hair and femininity. By creating images proudly showing her chest hair, she’s helping to normalise images that ought, already, to be considered normal. “In different cultures, body hair is seen as beautiful on some part of the body,” she told us. “When I went to Haiti last year, I remember my cousin telling me that he found girls with moustaches cute, and I saw women not shaving their armpit hair, which was a great relief,” she told us. “Body hair became empowering because I set myself free from this prison I felt I was in, that society had constructed for women”.

And we have sex positivity campaigners like Cat Lygate, from sex positive community, UnGirl, who told GLAMOUR, “you have the choice and the power to decide what to do with your body, despite what people may tell you.” Realising that “is incredibly empowering,” she says. And questioning the motivation behind body-hair shaming can help, too. “Women’s body hair removal only became a thing because companies wanted to sell more razors,” says Catriona. “All of a sudden adverts started shaming women for not shaving, but our natural bodies are not wrong”.

Over the past few years, attitudes have been changing slowly but surely. Last year, hair removal brand, Billie, launched a campaign that (shock-horror) showed actual hair, the fact it made headlines for this reason, is notable in itself. But, the recent pandemic has accelerated a more widespread acceptance towards body hair. Lockdown has changed our routine. Salons haven’t been able to open and people haven’t been able to access their regular bikini wax. You'd think, with no access to wax appointments, DIY hair removal would boom, but nope. Dresses have been replaced with lounge wear. People have relaxed about their armpit hair – no one can see it. Behind closed doors, we #cba to landscape our leg hair and our nethers.

When asked about changing body hair habits, our readers admitted to feeling a lot more relaxed. Gemma Walton, 31, a PR executive from Bristol told us, “my hair doesn’t bother me at the moment because the only person seeing me right now is me and my husband and that bothers neither of us.” As for whether it’ll last. “When those salons are open again, I am back on it ASAP,” she added.

For others, it’s prompted a change for the long-haul. “It’s actually been quite fascinating and liberating to let my hair grow out,” says Tallia Berat, 30, a writer and activist from South London. “It’s made me rethink how much time and effort I put into it, and how much I actually care about it. Moving forward, I think I’m going to feel a lot less pressured to remove it, and just be guided by what I feel moment to moment.”

Either way, lockdown has made us reconsider our body hair for a minute. “I always feel I remove my body hair for my own reasons,” says Gemma, “I exercise a lot, so I find it helps with smell and if I am wearing anything sleeveless. But the reality is, how much of anything that ‘we’ want is truly disassociated from what society expects of us?”

Many are seriously considering whether it’s time to abandon hair removal altogether in favour of naturalness. The #bodyhairmovement hashtag is taking off on Instagram, with women intentionally posting pictures of their body hair on social media to inform and empower others that body hair is a natural and beautiful part of us.

There’s a whole pro body hair network, sharing positivity. Campaigners like Delali (@healing_babe) are posting their experience. “Quarantine gave me the space to let my hair grow! Letting my hair grow and not feeling like I have to adjust and change based on the looks people give me for not being ‘smooth’ and soft in the ways women traditionally are has given me space to breathe,” she says.

The message: don’t shave, wax or pluck away if you don’t wish to. It doesn’t matter whether you love to shave or whether you want to let your hair grow, the only thing that matters is that we support and accept everyone to make the decision for themselves.

So whether you’re growing out your own fuzz, or you’re here to stan hairy girls everywhere, in the words of Florence Given, “life is too short not to love the s**t out of yourself.”

This article originally appeared on GLAMOUR UK | Shannon Oxley an Elle Turner

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