Well, would you? As part of the Armpits 4 August challenge, four of our bloggers agreed to banish their razors to the back of the cupboard for a month and give it a try. Cassandra Parkin, Fran Lewis, Lucy Benedict and Sara Bran share their experience of baring undepilated underarms, and tell us what it's like to go au naturel when you've always kept your pits hair-free.
Would you put away the razor for a month - or more?
Author and blogger Cassandra Parkin admitted that she was appalled by the prospect of having hairy armpits and appalled at herself for being appalled:
I don't know where I saw this picture, or if it even exists. But when Mumsnet HQ asked, Would you like to do the August pit-muff challenge and then blog about it?, I thought of a sepia photograph of an Edwardian woman. She's nude. She's looking down and smiling. Her hands adjust her fluffy Gibson-girl hair-mountain. And beneath her arms, two soft brown patches, like the underfur of small soft animals. An erotic image from a century when men weren't afraid of girls gone furry. I'll reclaim the beauty of armpit hair, I thought. Pitmuffs are go!
Time passes. My underarms turn wild and jungly.
If circumstances compel you to go hairy, Gyllyngvase Beach in Cornwall is the relaxed epitome of Rock what you got. You see every possible female bodily configuration, from round naked toddlers to lithe girls to gorgeous young women to well-padded mothers to tough old ladies - all in swimwear. All doing the freezing-to-death dance as we creep into the sea (apart from the tough old ladies. They march in and go for it. When I grow up, I want to be a tough old lady.) All comfortable in our skins. All except me. Because of my bloody armpit hair.
In my head, my hairy armpits are the magnetic focus of every single person on the beach. In reality, I can't think of anything less interesting. Of all the things there are to look at in this world, who would pick a stranger's pitmuffs? But I can't get past my delusion. My first novel's just been published, and my publishers have kindly arranged a launch party for me at the Falmouth Bookseller. It's a brilliant evening. But it takes quite a lot of wine to overcome my underarm complex.
Never mind. In a few weeks I'll have gorgeous plushy armpits, all soft and strokeable.
At the end of the month, I inspect my underarms, excited to see my beautiful new body-fur. I find a cluster of crispy, straggly black strands, shooting off wildly in all directions, like a dead spider.
Not precisely what I was hoping for.
But then, I haven't exactly put much effort into maintaining my pitmuffs. I haven't brushed them or combed them, or used special pitmuff shampoo, or a nice conditioner. I've just washed them with soap, sprayed them with deodorant and left them to get on with things. Imagine if I did that to the hair on my head. How would that turn out? If I want the pitmuffs of my dreams, it's going to take work...
And I finally see the flaw in my brilliant Edwardian-retro beautiful-pitmuffs scheme. I'm so steeped in the beauty myth that I actually feel bad about my underarms not being beautiful. All by myself in my bathroom, I'm making up a whole new set of unnecessary grooming products, to make my underarm hair smooth and shiny and touchably soft.
My armpits aren't there to be beautiful! They're there to join my arms onto my shoulders. They provide a...valuable...sweat-reservoir. They... hmmm lymph glands something blah immune system. Okay, maybe I'm a bit vague on what my armpits are for.
But I know what they're bloody not for. They're not an extension of society's billion-dollar preoccupation with making strands of dead extruded scalp-keratin smooth, shiny, bouncy and full of life. I grab my razor and shave my pitmuffs off in a fit of feminist outrage. Fuck the patriarchy; I'm going bald.
Maybe next year I'll shave my head as well.
It didn't take Fran Lewis, of blog Motherventing, long to notice just how often she raises her arms:
So, be hairy for a month, they said. I could do it, I thought. I am composed of 87% hair. There is hair on me where you wouldn't even think to find hair. But, see, I remove most of it. Conditioned by those societal ideals that smooth = shmexy. This was a CHALLENGE. Grow your armpit hair. For a month. For an ENTIRE MONTH. Yeah.
I'll admit, I balked. My initial reaction: bahahahaha no, really?
For the first couple of weeks, I had this constant feeling that I had forgotten something. When I showered, my armpit to razor motion was so automatic that I had to consciously restrain myself from shaving.
Then I thought: OK yeah why not. S'easy. I'm hardcore. I'm badass. How tricky can it be?
I fucking bailed after a week.
I grew my pit hair for a paltry week. At first, it was faintly liberating to not shave in the shower. 'Ooh get me,' I mused, as I caught sight of my burgeoning pit jungle in the mirror, 'I'm like a real feminist, yo!' I valiantly continued. It itched a bit. I wondered if it would be sweatier. I put on a vest top; then changed my mind. Hair is one thing. Crazy stubble is another. It looked grubby. I became very conscious of how often I raised my arms (really very often. I should be more muscled than this). And, one particularly sun-soaked day, I actually surreptitiously sniffed myself in the street. Yes. I am very silly. Slap me.
Then, the wedding. No not mine. A friend's. There was a plan to wear a sleeveless dress. That morning, I surveyed my growth. Yuck. Kind of dark and funky. Beetling. Not pretty. I hated it. So I shaved. SHAME FACE. Irony of ironies, I ended up wearing a cardigan and a coat all day anyway because it rained like a bastard but at least I didn't worry about exposing my hitherto succulent pit gardens.
After that, I missed a few days of shaving here and there but my heart wasn't in it. To be honest I felt faintly fraudulent. I was neglecting my pits but still plucking my eyebrows, shaving my legs, taming my muff, and sighing in frustration at my persistently faint moustache. Leaving my pits to roam free is kind of the tip of the iceberg, right? Surely I should be totally hairy to be truly liberated? Dunno. I am a feminist and I will defend everyone's right to a hairy armpit, and I will challenge conventions of beauty perpetrated by the media machine; however, when it comes down to personal preference, there are things I am comfortable with and things I am not. Armpits are a prickly subject. Ahem.
August Bank Holiday Monday and I was at my nephew's 4th birthday party. My sister's kitchen was filled with over-sugared, excited children and their glamorous and groomed parents. I looked as though I fitted in, in my pink and blue halterneck dress, one hand gracefully on my hip. My sister materialised next to me.
"Put your arm down, wookie." She hissed at me. I stuck my tongue out at her and put both hands on my hips, elbows at right angles, displaying my pitmuffs to the world.
Yes. I had unshaven armpits. Not just stubbly, but hairy. A full months worth of growth longer than I had ever gone unshaven since I first picked up a razor 25 years ago which was, surprisingly, not as long as I expected it to be. With nothing to compare it to, I fully expected to be sporting matted footlong pitdreads that would burst out of my clothes as though Chewbacca was trying to smuggle his way into the party. Instead, I had perhaps 2cm of very soft downiness, rather like a 14 year old boys first attempt at growing a moustache.
And despite the relative paucity of my pitmuffs, I felt oddly proud and protective of them. For some reason, I felt more feminine with hairy pits than I do without them. Not so glamorous, true. But more connected to my body in a way I didn't expect when I put down the pink razor a month earlier. In a way, something as tiny as not shaving has put me more at ease with not always having to conform to what we're brought up to believe women should do/not do to their hair and bodies. And that hairy pits actually aren't as repulsive as we instinctively believe them to be.
I'd love to say I changed a few opinions too, even if it's just my partner and children. But on 5th September, my son wearily reminded me "Mum. It's not August. You can shave now." And, feeling rather sad that my month of pitmuffing was over, I did exactly that.
Notes From the Edge of Motherhood writer Sara Bran channels 70s icons, but worries that her freshly-sprung hair might prove an exciting new destination for the family nits:
I'm fascinated by human behaviour, especially the stuff we do subconsciously, so when I was asked to grow my underarm hair for a month I immediately agreed. Body hair interests me because having or not having it is taboo; a strand of keratin seen in the 'wrong place' can incite a revolution.
I grew up in the 1970s and my mum's friends were divided into two distinct groups; those with bushy, feminist armpits who had lots of free sex - and those who didn't have hair or sex. Is armpit hair still political in 2013 I wondered? How much would growing my armpit hair change my world?
Since puberty, I have shaved my pits, so I was excited to see what would grow if I let it. Would I be some kind of underarm-challenged Rapunzel after a month? (An Axilla the Hun if you will?) Would the family's resident gang of nits relocate to my new bushy premises? Would there be grey hairs? I felt like a teenage boy waiting for his first moustache.
When I told my husband what I was doing, he muttered something about the German pop star Nena whose 1983 hit 99 Red Balloons is a cultural reference point for many of us in our mid-40s. Her hairy-pitted appearance on Top of the Pops apparently caused many boys to spend much joyous 'special alone time'. For the duration of the experiment, my armpit hair was therefore measured in 'balloons'.
For the first couple of weeks, I had this constant feeling that I had forgotten something. When I showered, my armpit to razor motion was so automatic that I had to consciously restrain myself from shaving. Then came my 10th wedding anniversary involving a rare and much longed-for weekend alone with my husband. We stayed at an eye-wateringly expensive private members hotel where I flashed my hairy pits in the swimming pool (which I'm assuming from the cost was filled with asses milk). But nothing. Nada. No one noticed my hirsute statement. I tried it again at posh dinner, casually pointing to the special menu board in a way that revealed my pit-tresses to the waitress, but again, nothing. "What's happening?" I asked my husband. "Darling, it's only about 12 balloons in there" he whispered sadly. I felt deflated, like when I was refused pethidine during labour on the grounds that I hadn't yet dilated. At all.
Next up, a vest-top infused holiday in Italy where the only person who noticed my armpit hair was my daughter who, lying next to me on a sun lounger, stared into one with the same morbid curiosity she reserves for looking at dead spiders. "You smell" she said. And to be fair, it did seem like my pit hair made me more... 'ripe'. Which makes sense. All body hair has evolutionary significance and biological purpose like protection and temperature maintenance of important things like lymph nodes and genitalia.
Nevertheless, after a month, I was still only about 20 balloons. More than anything, I was disappointed that even if I wanted to use my armpits as a platform for political or social activism, my paltry hair growth means that I can't. It would be like trying to start an insurgency with a profiterole.
So why did I shave my armpits in the first place? Ultimately, it demonstrates my desire to conform, but to what? Male expectation? Fashion? Subtle cultural messaging about hygiene, class and evolution?
The body can be such a powerful way to make a statement about what we stand for, what we reject and admire. There's a culturally assumed division between the natural, armpit and leg-hair growing, natural-birthing, breastfeeding feminist versus the groomed, woman-in-power who designates childcare to a nanny or chooses not to have children at all. But I've never met a woman as clear- cut as this. Aren't we are all just trying to make our lives work, taking the parts of feminism that speak to us and our individual family circumstances? There is a freedom in that.
Would you grow your armpit hair for a month - or more? Share your thoughts with us on the thread below.
Armpits4August is a month long charity event to raise money for Verity - a charity for people with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). If you'd like to show admiration for our bloggers' hairy chutzpah, then please do donate.
By Cassandra Parkin, Fran Lewis, Lucy Benedict and Sara Bran
I just find I am less smelly and uncomfortable if I let my pit hair do its designated antibacterial job....
Although I was a little alarmed to have to do over the head stretching at a singing lesson...would probably not have worn a strappy top if I known in advance....but meh....no one died at the sight of arm pit hair...
I've not shaved for 30 years. Hilariously I have utterly hairless legs apart from a tiny sprout on one knee. I've always thought that was so unfair that I was a stout feminist who would never shave her legs and got the genetic hairless legs. Where was my statement?
I don't shave mine unless I am wearing a strappy top or going swimming. So regularly go many months between shaving. Same goes for the legs, no shaving if wearing trousers or tights. DH doesn't bat an eyelid. Too much hassle to shave!
<Lucy Benedict here> I was reliably informed earlier this week on twitter that hairy pits harbour smells, dirt and fleas.
GUTTED I didn't manage to get any pit pets.
I know if you don't shave it probably doesn't seem like a big deal, but for August, it seemed MASSIVE to me because I had always unthinkingly believed hairiness = unattractiveness. Which probably sounds very shallow, I know. I think of it very differently now. In fact, I haven't shaved my pits since I whipped off the August pitmuffs and it just isn't an issue now.
Also blogged on this more extensively on Tuesday cough cough
sadeyed you will need to show off your efforts to all you meet. And a bit of singing and squealing too. You will make quite an impression. I don't want to get you too excited but I think it could end up as the latest beauty trend. Lead the way sadeyed ...