In 1915 a women’s magazine in the US ran an advertisement by X Bazin’s Depilatory cream that said: “The fastidious woman today must have immaculate underarms if she is to be unembarrassed.” That same year an ad appeared in Harper’s Bazaar for the Milady Décolleté Gillette razor, the company’s first “razor for women”. These are the earliest examples of media and corporations presenting female body hair as a problem to be solved. Now more than 95 per cent of female-identifying people remove their leg and armpit hair.
“Shaving was never a decision for me,” says Alex Andrews. “It was just what I did. And what everyone around me did.”
Andrews has launched a campaign called Get Hairy February – The No Shave Movement. The concept is: grow your body hair during the month of February and raise money for services that help women who’ve experienced domestic violence.
For Andrews the expectation that female-identifying humans should be hairless is an example of the gender inequality that is linked to the disproportionate number of women affected by family violence compared with men; the gender pay gap; the lack of parity between men and women in leadership roles and politics; and more. Studies show that the less gender equality there is in a community, the higher the rates of violence against women (although this is further complicated by race, class, and sexuality and gender identity).
“For me, there is a real connection between disrespect for, and subtle control over, a woman’s body and violence,” she says.
Andrews says girls as young as 10 shave and remove their leg and underarm hair. “It creates a vulnerability that can then be exploited by perpetrators, by industry, by lawmakers,” says Andrews.
So the campaign is about hair, but not really.
“Women can choose to grow their hair today and it doesn’t matter. But it’s not a free choice until they can do it without feeling shame or guilt or unattractive or not valuable and not worthy,” says Andrews. For Andrews, that inequality is what connects the act of growing hair deliberately for the campaign and the cause it supports.
Female body hair is inflammatory. In 1999 Julia Roberts was photographed at the premiere of Notting Hill in London with hairy armpits. It was headline news across tabloids internationally. Google “celebrity armpit hair” and pages of links to galleries of hairy famous women come up. Not doing the same as 95 per cent of the gender you identify with will get you noticed.
“People often ask, ‘Why did you pick February? It’s summer!’ Because it’s challenging and confronting. But that’s where the other aspect of the campaign comes in. You’re doing this with a community of people.
“In this campaign you can raise money to support those affected by gendered violence, and you can also help to challenge gender stereotypes and gender inequality,” says Andrews.
And she points out: “We’re very familiar with growing hair for a cause in Australia, it’s something we understand. Grow hair. Raise money. Done. It’s fun, it’s topical and it’s something the individual can do.”
Andrews stresses that the campaign is not about advocating for women to be hairy. Or demonising women who choose to remove their hair.
“I do think getting people to do the challenge is essential. But it’s as much a media campaign as it is about participation. It’s an opportunity to have conversations about gender inequality in offices, in friendship groups, in homes. And it also does something really important, which is raise funds.”
Money raised by Get Hairy in February goes to the Full Stop Foundation, which supports Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, an organisation that provides over-the-phone trauma counselling to those affected by violence. It also works to end violence in Indigenous communities and runs prevention programs for men.
You can get involved in the campaign here.
If you or someone you know needs help call 1800 RESPECT.