The new year is often a time for month long challenges: Veganuary, Dry January, and so on. But, a new “challenge” was started by 22-year-old university student Laura Jackson that has caused both widespread acclaim and criticism. “Januhairy”, similar to the well-established “Movember”, is a month-long fundraiser encouraging females and transgender people to grow out the body hair that Western society has deemed unacceptable. With January over with the patriarchy is likely breathing a sigh of relief as participants are expected to return to their razors and wax strips, and with it, “normality”.
While this initiative, its founder, and all those who took part should quite rightly be applauded, the discussion it started needs to continue beyond the first thirty-one days of the year to truly change the narrative on gendered beauty norms. Body hair on anyone other than a cis-male needs to become accepted outside the format of a challenge or allowed only because it’s “for charity”. Failing to do this will likely present “Januhairy” as a novelty rather than a mainstream movement.
It should be pointed out that some women and queer folk have already been making the choice not to shave long before “Januhairy”, and will continue to do so regardless of the calendar month. Like various other expectations that have arbitrarily been assigned to fem-presenting people, maintaining a smooth, hair-free body does very little beyond satisfying the male gaze and the beauty industry. When you accept that, Olympic athletes aside, there is no practical purpose to be hairless it does seem ridiculous that we shudder in disgust at a hairy armpit purely because said armpit owner is female. There is something quite troubling in the normalisation of what, at best, is expensive and time consuming and at worst is painful and damaging.
My own experience with body hair has been fairly fraught. Embarrassed of the hair that grew on my arms, legs, and lower back long before I reached puberty, I insisted that my mother help me rip it all off with hot wax while I watched Disney Channel to distract myself from the “necessary” pain I was subjecting my 8-year-old body to. I didn’t question myself then, nor a few years later when I was wiping blood off the bathroom floor after my first, very unsuccessful, attempt at shaving my legs. It wasn’t until almost a decade and much feminist literature later that I began to wonder exactly why I was putting myself through this.
I almost immediately regretted my decision to stop removing my body hair but having already declared my feminist stance to multiple people I, thankfully, felt too proud to quit straight away. The first time I went outside, bearing my unshaven legs, I braced myself for some unpleasant consequences. But when no outrage was voiced and not a single car pile-up was caused by the shock of my furry calves, I realised just how inconsequential female body hair actually is and how much we as a society have shamed and demonised something that has no effect – beyond an added breeze while you walk. I have been rejected due to my body hair but quite frankly if the only side-effect of not shaving is that I can better determine whose values align with mine than the better off both I, and my sex life, are for it.
As Jackson has pointed out, deciding to grow out body hair is far less daunting for cis-gender, white women such as Jackson or myself to do. Already meeting multiple beauty norms due to our array of gender and racial privileges, as well as likely having far lighter hair – and less of it – than many women of colour, it is arguably much easier to stand with our arms above our head and demand to still be seen as “beautiful”. This is why the conversation on body hair has to continue beyond January, as we have only begun to scratch the surface on the multiple sexist and racist layers that underpin this “beauty” practice. Not only do we have to accept different standards and multiple versions of beauty, but we also have to accept that not every decision we make with our bodies has to be in the name of beauty.
This is not to say if you choose to continue shaving, or if, like myself, you remain selective of the body hair you remove and leave, that you are reinforcing this patriarchal standard. To be a feminist is not to conform to a single way of living and presenting yourself, it is to be confident that what you decide to do, or not do, is your decision alone. The issue of body hair will not be resolved when everyone resorts to their “normal”, hairy-selves but when we accept that the amount of hair on our bodies does not determine our attractiveness or gender. While the growing “male grooming” industry is changing the narrative of what men are allowed to look like, for the most part with body hair, anything goes. It shouldn’t be that revolutionary to ask the same for everyone else.
Personally, I love my body hair. Not because I think it makes me more or less beautiful than before, but because it is a constant reminder that anything and everything I do with my body is entirely up to me. So, don’t pick up the razor just because it’s February. Or do – because fundamentally, it’s your choice.
Image: Isaac Small, Januhairy Campaign