Xiao Meili photographed her armpits to bring attention to issues of gender inequality. (Photo: Xiao Meili)
One morning last week I awoke to a newsfeed and desktop full of stories regarding the new trend in female body grooming —unshaved underarm hair.
Chinese feminist Xiao Meili, 25, started an armpit photo contest on social media site Weibo in which women were asked to show off their furry pits in all their un-groomed glory. Hundreds of women posted photos.
Jemima Kirke shows off her armpit hair at the CFDA awards. (Photo: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
The campaign drew attention to the issue of gender inequality and domestic violence by asking the question, why are women expected to shave their underarms when men are not?
The ritual of women shaving their underarms became more common in the US and UK in 1915 with the release of the first safety razor market specifically to women. However, it did not become as prevalent in the rest of Europe until much later in the 20th century.
Cultural attitudes and practices vary from country to country, and even celebrities like Madonna, Miley Cyrus and Lena Dunham are proudly waving the ‘happy to be hairy’ flag. “Girls” star Jemima Kirke recently showcased her armpit hair on the CFDA Fashion Awards red carpet. From au natural, to dyed, to lasered off permanently, Yahoo Travel explored the global differences in underarm grooming throughout the ages.
In Colombia going bare is the norm. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Men and women alike shave their underarms in this South American country. In all actuality you will be hard pressed to find body hair gracing the exterior of any body in Colombia. Colombians are taught about hair removal from a young age and the vast majority of people keep all areas, especially the armpits and genitalia, completely bald.
Women in China only very recently began shaving their underarms. Prior to around 20 years ago, every woman unashamedly flaunted their luscious pit hair. With the westernization of much of Asia, China especially, came the trend of hair removal. But although hair removal does occur, and has risen in popularity, most women of all generations, simply choose not to. Many Chinese medical practitioners believe that removal of armpit hair and pubic hair is unhealthy. But many Chinese women just refuse to accept Western beauty standards, of being shaven, plucked or waxed under the arm, as their own.
Another reason that Chinese women may be hesitant to remove their body hair could be down to superstition. Culturally, the Chinese consider it bad luck to alter their physical appearance in any way.
The United States has a complicated history with armpit hair on women, but today, many still prefer to go hairless. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Women in the U.S. have been on quite a roller coaster ride when it comes to their armpit hair, or lack thereof, over the past century. Shaving became common place in the 20’s with the release of women’s razors and magazine images showing women with no armpit hair. But by the 60s and 70s, the practice was seen as conforming to men’s idea of beauty and was largely shunned during the hippie movement. By the next decade women country wide were back to shaving, waxing, plucking or whatever their chosen means of removal was.
In recent years, there has been a renaissance amongst many women who are returning to the natural (furrier) aesthetic. Some women are even going so far as actually dyeing their armpit hair bright colors to draw attention to this commonly overlooked body region.
For generations, French women have had the reputation of being hairy and proud. However this dated stereotype is not as true now as it used to be, with the vast majority of women under the age of 65 being hair free and carefree. The original stereotype is actually rumored to have come from back in the 1940s when the US military were stationed in France at the end of World War 2. But as any French woman would tell you, thinks have changed a bit since then.
The Egyptian ritual of sugaring is similar to the modern waxing process. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Ritual hair removal is believed to have begun in Ancient Egypt up to 5000 years ago when men would used sharpened flints or bronze pieces to scrap off their head and facial hair. Egyptian women however, would remove all their body hair, including armpit hair, using the process called sugaring — a process still widely used to this day.
Along with other predominantly muslim countries, both men and women in Turkey are required to remove their underarm hair in order to comply with the religious guidelines of cleanliness in Islamic culture. The removal of underarm hair is just one part of the hygienic regimen that was recommended by Muhammad as is consistent with fitra according to Islamic theology.
But while armpit hair is expected to be removed, eyebrows are not allowed to be touched. Islamic custom prohibits the plucking, tweezing or waxing of eyebrows for both men and women.
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