Long hair, don’t care: nearly a quarter of women “don’t shave their armpits”

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Anna Brech

An increasing number of women are working against the grain of traditional beauty standards by not shaving their armpits, new research out today shows.

More and more young people are shunning the shaver in favour of a grown-out look,  according to the 2017 British lifestyles report from market research firm Mintel.

Their analysis shows that 77% women aged 16-24 removed hair from their underarms in 2016, down from 84% in 2014. 

A massive 83% of women aged 16-24 agree there is too much pressure on women to remove or groom body hair, while sales of shaving and hair removal products dropped by 5% last year.

The more towards embracing body hair is reflected in legs too,  with 85% of women aged 16-24 removing hair from their legs, down from 91% in the same time period.

Mozart in the Jungle actress Lola Kirke

Mozart in the Jungle actress Lola Kirke rocked armpit hair at this year's Golden Globes

These figures mirror a sea change in the way women view body hair. It chimes with a movement that question long-held beliefs about what beauty is, and highlights the pressures exerted by false images of “perfection”.

At the Golden Globes in January this year, Mozart in the Jungle actress Lola Kirke (above) accessorised her pink Andrew Gn gown with simple jewels, rosy lipstick, and unshaven armpits; an important political statement in a world where Hollywood ideals reign.

She was also doing her bit to normalise female body hair. 

The idea of a woman not shaving her arms or legs shouldn’t be novel – but it’s still cause for a kind of “wow, that’s brave” reaction in this day and age.

This is something Madonna and her 20-year-old daughter Lourdes Ciccone Leon have picked up on, with Instagram posts that poke fun at outdated reactions to a woman not razoring off her body hair:

A post shared by Madonna (@madonna) on

In March, a social media storm erupted over the fact that the new Wonder Woman (below) – raised on the island of Themyscira, a matriarchal society entirely comprised of badass warrior women – sported immaculately groomed pits.

Many fans pondered why this demigod had fallen privy to modern-day beauty standards; while honing her hunting and battling skills in a land far far away.

“Just speaking aesthetically,” tweeted one person, “the new Wonder Woman trailer had me wishing she had armpit hair.”

Another agreed, pointing out: “She was raised on an island of women [with] no Schick advertisements.”

Wonder Woman's armpit hair - or lack of it - has been criticised by fans

Wonder Woman's armpit hair - or lack of it - has been criticised by fans

Women only started shaving their underarm hair from around 1915, when the emergence of the sleeveless dress prompted Harper’s Bazaar to advise "the removal of objectionable hair".

The same year, Gillette launched the first razor aimed at women. Smooth skin became associated with youth and femininity and the force of expectation of women to remove body hair was set in motion.

By 1999 it was enough of an accepted norm for Julie Roberts to cause shock when she sported a grown-out look at the premiere of Notting Hill (below).

Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts made headlines back in 1999 when she didn't shave her armpits for the premiere of Notting Hill.

Recent years have witnessed an increased dialogue around the meaning of female body hair, with the rise of subversive trends such as rainbow-hued armpit hair.

Clearly, we’ve come a long way – but this is a challenge that still needs to be addressed.

How we women choose to treat our body hair is our own choice. It shouldn’t be dictated by outside standards of acceptability, nor raise eyebrows no matter what we do.

When that day comes, we’ll know we’ve won.

Photos: Rex Features and Instagram


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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