According to The Daily Telegraph, Mintel market researchers have determined that as of 2016, nearly one in four women have stopped removing their underarm hair. Mintel states that 95% of women between the ages of 16 and 24 reported removing hair from their underarms in 2013. Three years later, only 77% of women in the same age group reported removing underarm hair.
Additionally, within the same time frame, research shows that women have become less likely to remove hair from their legs. Olivia Rudgard of The Telegraph writes, "Leg-shaving is also falling out of fashion — in 2013, 92 per cent said they shaved their legs, a proportion which had fallen to 85 per cent in 2016."
Between 2015 and 2016, industry figures show a 5% decline in sales of hair removal products.
But of course, body hair and its potential removal are entangled with much more than just fashion and sales. For centuries, body hair removal or maintenance has been an arbitrary aesthetic mandate for women. While the ancient Greeks considered female body hair uncivilized, unshaved pubic hair was once again expected of women in Europe's Middle Ages and in Elizabethan England. The shifting trends around female body hair have always depended varyingly on health issues like hygiene, STDs, and pubic lice; class issues and essential conversations about race and privilege; and on the capitalist systems that seek to exploit these complicating factors.
While body positive feminism in the era of Instagram may be to thank for the increased popularity of body hair, the feminist conversation around hair and hair removal isn't over. In "The Problem With Feminist Body Hair," Niloufar Haidari writes: "The hair removal processes of WOC, especially those from Latin America, the Middle East and South Asia often involve much more than this basic process of labor... The reality is that many WOC have been called hairy their whole lives, and most often by white women... For me, hair removal was performed as a form of assimilation into white society."
We should continue to take down body hair removal as an aesthetic mandate for women and femmes. In taking down these mandates, we must also acknowledge easy body hair removal as an act of privilege, and that when it comes to your body, there is no right answer. To remove or not to remove is your choice and yours alone.
So to the one in four women growing out her pits this summer: you go, girl! And to the women going hair-free: you go, too!
top photo: Billie
Originally published May 26, 2017
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Olivia Loperfido is an English and psychology major at New York University's College of Arts and Sciences, and the junior editor of NYU's Mercer Street (2017-'18). She enjoys spending time with her dogs and tortoise, watching RuPaul's Drag Race, and contacting her state representatives. Follow her on Instagram here and contact her via email here.