Body hair on women is a topic covered everywhere from middle grade health classes to Cosmopolitan magazine. With something so common among all humans, and apes, why is the idea of female identifying persons with armpit hair an igniter for conversation and a tool of societal oppression?
Women did not start shaving their underarms until around 1915 when the strapless dress made its first appearance.
In May of 1915, Harper’s Bazaar ran an ad for a sleeveless dress hailing it as perfect for a “Summer Dress and Modern Dancing,” but also encouraging women who wish to don the newest summer trend “combine to make necessary the objectionable hair.”
An entire industry of hair removal products was created. They used anxiety over “objectionable hair” to generate profits, and it was not just in America.
A 1934 ad from the UK features a woman sobbing into a handkerchief after her friend has told her that she smells bad and her armpits are to blame, “[h]air under the arm is not only ugly and repulsive-looking but greatly aggravates the old problem of body odor.”
The ad was for New White Veet, a hair removal brand still in existence today. These tactics spawned the strange obsession with females removing their body hair as a sign of femininity.
The growth of armpit hair is associated with feminist movements and a generally liberal political stance. A woman who flashes an unshaved armpit is seen as making a statement. Body hair is natural, inevitable, and should only reflect that a woman has made a choice not to shave, unless of course she wishes to make a statement.
Since the idea that women should, if they wish to be hygienic and desirable, shave their armpits, has been engrained in society for generations now, many people see a shaven pit as the only acceptable appearance of the pit.
A few men on the Maryville College campus were candid enough to share their responses.
“My personal opinion is, I don’t necessarily approve of it, but to each their own if it’s their body. But if I have a daughter, my house, my rules,” said sophomore Dawson Hope.
“I don’t know, um, hm. I think if that’s the way that a woman wants to express herself she should have that right without any judgment,” said senior Auston Taylor.
“It’s not my personal preference, but again I don’t really care one way or the other,” said senior Lenny Lively.
“I don’t think it matters it’s irrelevant to my armpit hair,” said senior Boomer Russel. “I never realized there’s a gender norm for armpit hair. We all grow it.”
The women on campus also had their own thoughts to add to the conversation.
“How am I going to phrase this? I have so many things to say,” began sophomore Kirksey Croft. “I think that due to stereotypes portrayed by conservative media throughout history, many may have a negative image of armpit hair and how it represents more masculine qualities in what society would expect to be someone who would be feminine. For this reason, in society’s long perpetuated stigma, it may be hard to get female armpit hair accepted, but I think it’s possible with women’s empowerment movements that critique these social constructs.”
“I think it’s your body, and you should do whatever makes you feel confident and beautiful. It’s not for me,” said freshman Autumn Weaver.
“I think that women should be able to do whatever feels comfortable in their own skin,” said senior Bailey Decker.
Luckily, for all those who desire to go without shaving, whether its for November or forever, Maryville College appears to be a pit-friendly environment. Maybe the climate on campus is indicative of a change in the way female body hair is viewed in this generation.