If you think about it for a minute, it makes sense that shaving armpit hair is a practice that’s only about 100 years old. Before that time, garments that revealed a woman’s shoulders—and thus her ‘pits—were generally thought of as being too risqué for wearing among the general public.
As society lightened up about what parts of the body women could show in public, new norms came to be—essentially saying that if we were going to see a lady’s skin, we shouldn’t see any of her body hair.
So as skirts got shorter, it was expected that legs become less hairy. As shoulders got to see sunlight, more and more armpits were introduced to razors. You win some, you lose some.
In the echoes of history, 100 years is just a blink of an eye. In fashion trends, however, it’s a pretty clear precedence. But it appears that this societal norm is becoming somewhat less normal.
Celebs take the lead.
You may have seen images of Miley Cyrus rocking her dyed armpit hair a few years back—to the concern and confusion of many.
Actress, comedian, and feminist Sarah Silverman came to Cyrus’ defense when the haters began to lay it on thick.
For her part, actress Jemima Kirke of Girls wasn’t even particularly trying to be an activist when she stepped on the red carpet with unshaved armpits for a 2015 awards show, but when she got an earful from overly judgmental people online she asked everyone to take it easy, saying it was just her “personal preference.”
Of course, social media is reshaping societal expectations, too.
In 2015, Chinese activists supported this changing trend with the hashtag. #WomensArmpitHairCompetition, noting that shaving wasn’t common practice in China until the 1990s. This endeavor was organized on the Chinese social media site Weibo.
“The contest was started by 26-year-old feminist activist Xiao Yue in order to bring attention to the idea that women do not need to be hairless to feel beautiful,” explains the Shanghaiist.
“Prizes [were] given out for the most ‘characteristic, beautiful and confident’ displays of online underarm hair. The first place winner receives 100 condoms, second place gets a vibrator and the lucky third place winner gets 10 female urination devices.”
“Women’s underarm hair can be adorable, interesting, humorous, sexy, serious, connotative and ever-changing,” explained the contest’s creator, Xiao.
Beyond the Chinese competition, other international hashtag activism has included phrases like #hairypits and #pithairdontcare.
Stats Behind the Changing Trend
This isn’t just a one-off fad on social media, it’s really changing the way women behave—and there are numbers to prove it.
Teen Vogue picked up on a study reported on by The Telegraph: “A survey conducted in 2013 reflected that 95% of all women between the ages of 16 and 24 said that they removed hair from their underarms. Meanwhile, that same survey conducted in 2016 revealed that the number had dropped by nearly 20 points—to 77%.”
Beauty is a subjective matter, whereas comfort is a very personal matter. Perhaps the most exciting part about this news is that women are feeling empowered to treat their bodies in ways that make them feel comfortable and beautiful—not in ways that society tells them to look and feel.