It’s none of your business whether girls shave their armpits

Why is Growvember any worse than Movember?

armpit body hair feminism feminist gender growvember hair hairy movember non binary sexist

The pressure to be bare is one all women have experienced.

As we hit puberty, we are taught how to shave – we are taught how we must keep our legs and armpits clean. Of course, this is not the only way women’s bodies are policed. In fact, almost every area of our lives, our appearances, and our hobbies are dictated by some archaic, redundant, yet socially-binding rule.

Two Leeds Uni students, Florence Scott and Anna-Clare Chappell, are encouraging women to grow out their armpit hair for November. Their event, Growvember, is an alternative to Movember for those who can’t grow a moustache. It aims to challenge the societal stigma associated with armpit hair – and yet a large amount of the responses have been negative.

While Growvember doesn’t stress that all women should give up shaving, it’s about creating an environment where women (and non-binary people) have more freedom to do what they wish with their bodies. It is often argued that wearing make-up and shaving is a free choice, but when you will be described as ugly and unattractive, or teased if you fail to conform  – how free can this choice really be?

The pressure to shave is one of the most insidious of all the societal rules, if only because so many women have bought into it. To deviate from the norm is still seen as shameful, something to be said in hushed whispers: “I think you forgot to shave”, or something to be circled in red in gossip magazines.

Personally I do shave – probably not as much as my mother wishes I did, but I do. I claim I do it because I like having smooth legs or bare armpits. It’s true, nothing beats the feeling of new sheets and freshly-shaven legs. Perhaps this is one of the only truths of advertising aimed at women because, really, who wears white on their period or laughs whilst eating Activia?

However part of the reason I shave, truthfully, is the shame of being caught – the shame of being the girl in the changing room deemed “hairy” or “unclean”. I say this as an unabashed feminist who knows this is a bullshit social code. But still I adhere.

‘As a white cis woman, the most I am likely to experience for not shaving is an odd look or a snigger’

I therefore long for winter in the same way many women do: cosy jumpers, pumpkin spice lattes, and hairy legs. The time-consuming tri-weekly ritual of shaving, exfoliating and moisturising left at the back of my wardrobe with my bikinis, flip-flops and sun cream. My razor rusting in the shower untouched except for that odd night out to Fruity when maybe I just might get laid.

I realise however that my choice to shave or not shave is one of privilege. As a white cis woman, the most I am likely to experience for not shaving is an odd look or a snigger.

As the founders of Growvember have said, trans women and women of colour experience far more due to prejudice from body hair than I do. While I don’t intend to speak on behalf of these women, I feel this would be an incomplete, and very “white feminist”, article without touching on it.

I personally have one vivid memory from year six of being laughed at by a boy in my class for having hairy legs – but this is one of my only memories of this. For many women of colour, the experience of being called hairy is something which has marked their existence and symbolises another way that they don’t adhere to the white beauty standards that dictate our society.

When we say do what you want with your body hair, we have to realise that some people are more free to make that choice than others. There are steps we can take to make that choice easier for everyone – but really it requires a revolution.