Maybe this statistic is true, but for a lot of us growing out our body hair just isn’t ‘acceptable’
Initially I was really excited when I saw figures come out last week which showed that nearly one in four young women have stopped shaving their underarms, and about one in six have stopped shaving their legs.
Comparatively in 2013, 95 per cent of women aged 16 to 24 said they removed hair from their underarms and 92 per cent said they shaved their legs. Additionally, industry figures show that sales of shaving and hair removal products fell by five per cent between 2015 and 2016, from £598m to around £567m.
I mean, it is cool. The pressure to shave, to be a hairless, silky human, as slick as a condom, starts at a very young age for women. It's really hard to escape both peer and media pressure to pluck every rogue curly from your body. It was capitalism at its finest that effectively persuaded us that our natural state wasn't consumable, and any movement away from that is an achievement.
But while the figures mined from analysts Mintel have sparked a generous feminist glee, my guess is that the type of person who has stopped shaving isn't actually going to be that affected by their decision. And that's why my excitment weaned.
“I have to check myself not to judge women with thick dark hair who are brave enough not to remove it – even though my own hair would be just as noticable”
Because honestly, the people who are ecstatic over these figures need to remember we are only taking small steps in the right direction.
It's still not really societally acceptable for women with thick, dark, prominent hair to grow it out, and I know this because I have to check myself not to judge the few women who are brave enough to do so – even though my own hair would be just as noticeable.
Women of all races affected by PCOS (which means their hair can be thicker and darker), and women of colour who face the dual oppressions of racism and sexism, sometimes alongside thicker and darker hair, still don't feel like they can face the world without some kind of hair removal.
Of course everything's relative, but it's always frustrating to hear my (almost always white) friends complain about their hairy legs when I literally can't see any hairs, even right up close. In my opinion it's just not that radical when these women make the decision to stop shaving, and I think it's a likely bet that, considering who spearheads the current non-shaving “movement”, those motivated to do so are of the same ilk.
It's Miley Cyrus who has long been a poster girl for displaying her inoffensive wispy blonde bits. The same goes for the many women who got on board with the underarm hair-dying trend of 2014/15: their hair just isn't that prominent.
When I speak to my hairier friends about this, they agree. "My hair has always been thick, dark and prominent, so I've had no way to hide it except for getting rid of it altogether. With white women, when you couple lighter skin with light hair, the problem almost becomes invisible," says my friend Iman.
"I've only recently, at 22, stopped shaving my arms and felt comfortable about how I look. I think another person mentioned it, but I won't stop threading my moustache or my monobrow – too much hurt and insecurity is attached to those parts of my face so I'd rather just remove the hair there.
"I think this brand of white feminism is extremely alienating and not accessible to WoC who have thicker or more prominent hair, I don't think our hairiness is accepted in the same way that white women's are."
“Not shaving vs being visibly hairy are two different things. Hair removal was a head to toe thing for me”
Another friend, Meenashki, adds: "Not shaving vs being visibly hairy are two different things. Also hair removal was a head to toe thing for me, so I'm over the rhetoric that hair only grows on legs and pits, like, I was shaving my fingers aged 14."
Natalie, a friend with PCOS, adds: "It's not easy because the hair is thicker and darker. I get told that every single time I go to a salon – they say my hair's difficult. They make a point of it.
"In terms of me personally feeling comfortable not shaving, I wouldn't get rid of hair just because, for example, a guy wanted me to. But I personally like the feel of of soft, smooth skin. I don't know if that's the way I've been conditioned. And facially, it's a different story. If I was to let that grow out you wouldn't be able to tell if I was a boy or a girl.
"It would be good for it to be normalised, but all I've ever known is to be smooth and that started at home and at school. I'd just look at all my fair friends and think, what the fuck, why am I like this? My granny used to go and buy the hot wax and literally lay me on the living room rug until it was all gone. If I'd been taught from an earlier stage that it was normal then maybe I wouldn't have struggled against it for so long."
Of course, there are some women who are standing up for the monobrowed, toe and finger-haired amongst us. This week Allure published a brilliant video (below) featuring desi artist Ayqa Khan, who once told Dazed that "body hair is a natural thing and so it makes sense for me to want to project it into my drawings of people".
But still, there are so few beautifully, visibly hairy women out their flying the flag and, crucially, normalising visible body hair on women. This shouldn't be about shaming women over whether or not they choose to remove their hair at all, but true equality will only be reached in my eyes when it's as acceptable for any woman, be they white, black, East Asian or brown, to be as hairy as man; and for the hairiest women among us to feel proud.
That definitely isn't the case right now, which is why it's so hard to care about these new figures.