Beyond Conformity: Embracing Body Hair

Although this is a post that talks specifically about femmes’ choices regarding their body hair, it celebrates anybody’s choice to stay fluffy, regardless.

Shaved or hairy, a question haunting most femmes since preadolescence, is at the centre of conversations around queerness, women’s choice and against patriarchy. In some cases, embracing body hair is about making a political stance while in others it is about preference—being this matter no longer about what men prefer. Body hair, no matter how organic this process is to our bodies, continues to be a taboo that many are challenging in an age of female empowerment.

But to begin with, why the body hair phobia? The stigma goes back as far as Ancient Egypt when hair removal was a symbol of beauty and purity, and a signifier of class during the Roman Empire too. Only wealthy women used to shave but as razors became widely available, it became the standard for every woman. Hairless, smooth skin, to this date, is associated with femininity, defined in terms of beauty and cleanliness, and it is precisely ‘femininity’ and such beauty standards that body positivity confronts: my body, my choice.

Annahstasia Enuke for Nike, 2019

In the last years, and more specifically since the worldwide lockdowns, the attitude around body hair has significantly changed, yet, it remains one of the most polarising subjects on the internet. Advertising campaigns showcasing femmes with body hair are deemed ‘disgusting’ by many. For instance, a Nike campaign displaying Annahstasia Enuke’s armpit hair in 2019 was received with horror, and the general reception of such instances is either encouraging for some or disturbing for others. Who draws the line?

Honouring the efforts of body positivity movements, razor brand Billie has caught everyone’s attention with its campaigns showing hair, as it centres the conversation around choice and not duty. In conversation with Ashley Armitage for Dazed, the photographer of Billie’s first campaign, she reckons that “Every photo I post of people with body hair who aren’t cis-men gets adverse reactions.” Similarly, astrologer and DJ Marissa Malik, who’s been posting pictures of her unshaved body since 2016, confirms that cisgender men are often the ones reacting adversely to her choice.

Beyond conformity: embracing body hair
Billie Campaign © Ashley Armitage

Body hair, like many other social ailments, isn’t about hygiene or health but disempowering narratives of the autonomy over our bodies. This is why body hair has become a staple in the gender expression of many queer people, as they intend to disestablish gender expectations and patriarchy—and again, that is not to say that body hair is necessarily a political statement. It can be. But it mostly is a choice that is increasingly becoming endorsed by younger generations and those who are poised to celebrate beauty beyond conformity.

When we talk about body positivity, we talk about gender, size, skin tone, physical abilities and body hair, among all the categories in which the body is intersected with shame. We are in a time to celebrate diversity. And we are certainly more than cis-men. Free the fur!