As we near the end of Armpits4August, a month of leaving your armpit hair feral to raise awareness for Polycystic Ovary syndrome, I can’t help but notice that it didn’t enjoy quite the same popularity as its masculine counterpart, Movember.
There were no screen prints of hairy armpits on t-shirts in Topshop, no comedy stick-on pit-wigs in a variety of shades and styles and, very few body hair-themed parties. In fact, Google’s auto-complete gave me ‘Armpits for Augustana College’ and ‘Armpit for Augustine’ before providing the goods.
The fact is, peculiar hair growth on men’s faces is either good banter, or it’s folksy and hipster. It might not be attractive, but it’s funny or it’s cool. Body hair on women just doesn’t provoke the same response. If you leave it to its natural devises as a woman, it’s not funny, care-free or edgy, it’s lazy, unattractive and deeply unfeminine.
Armpits4August isn’t just about ovaries. It’s about sexism.
The average woman shaves 7,718 times in her life for an average of 10.9 minutes a-go. In a lifetime this adds up to 1,402 hours and seven minutes, almost 59 days, and costs £6,393. That’s not all, in one survey I looked at 58 per cent of women felt more frustrated by their hair than by anything or anyone else. We really hate it.
I mustn’t be alone in seeing the madness of this; we loathe so much something that is natural; we despise the way in which God made women to be. This doesn’t mean that I am an exception to the trend, far from it. I buy razors, and waxing strips and tweeze any eyebrow hairs which try to creep out of line. I hugely admire the women saying no, but I haven’t joined them.
It’s not even the fear of people’s reaction which primarily stops me from letting it all hang out; it’s that I have subscribed to this version of beautiful myself. I look in the mirror and think of my body hair as a blemish. It’s a symptom that I have been too busy and neglected myself. I see it as ugly.
I remember a few years ago looking for a bikini wax in Mumbai, India. It wasn’t easy. No local salons offered the treatment and even Western ones at hotels only offered a very basic version – a far cry from the sugar-wax-fishfinger-brazillians that populate the treatment lists in spas and beauty kiosks across Britain. Extreme hairlessness just wasn’t the expected minimum of beautiful.
Just three years later, as Western pornography and sex-sells advertising filters over to India, the bikini wax industry is growing rapidly.
Dr Rashmi Shetty, a skin expert, wrote last year for the Times of India that an increasingly large number of Mumbai teenagers were coming to her with skin problems and infections after bikini waxing. “What people don’t realise is that hair is there for a reason,” she wrote. “One, it acts as a cushion and protects against injury. In cases where you have to use a washroom in say a cinema or a mall, it can prevent from picking up skin infections as it acts as a shield.”
God didn’t make a mistake.
So why aren’t we different as Christian women? Why don’t we embrace a different gospel of beauty?
We talk about having freedom in Christ from addiction, consumerism and legalism but what about freedom from the aesthetic standards dictated by the lads-mag and pornography industry?
I once heard a sermon from a well-known speaker about women grasping freedom in Christ and what he said was this: Christian women look at the verses in the Bible about braiding hair and mixed cloth and worry about whether they should be ditching the make-up bag. You have freedom from rules, he said, how much make-up you wear doesn’t depend on rules, it depends on your face.
Of course, freedom in Christ means we are able to do those things, to shave our legs, to have a nice haircut and wear mascara, but it also means we are free to reject them, to leave our follicles in peace, should we so wish.
I’m not preaching a message of hairiness and lambasting girls who don’t subscribe. I can examine my identity and assumptions about beauty but truthfully, I can’t ever see myself opting for au natural. What we can expect and create is a Church where you can bear your armpit stubble in worship without worrying about whether people will see and what they might think. We can empower women with choice.