- A photo in the Nike Women Instagram feed sparked a comment war – over underarm hair.
- Annahstasia Enuke, a Nigerian-American singer, artist, and model, is featured in the ad. She stares intensely at the camera, with one arm raised and bent behind her head, casually pulling on her sports-bra strap on the other side. It’s a striking image even without a small detail: Enuke’s small tuft of armpit hair.
- The comments remind us that body hair is complicated; it brings up a mix of societal conditioning, politics, and personal preference. And it has a complicated history.
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A photo on the Nike Women Instagram feed sparked a comment war – over underarm hair.
Annahstasia Enuke, a Nigerian-American singer, artist, and model, is featured in the ad. She stares intensely at the camera, with one arm raised and bent behind her head, casually pulling on her sports-bra strap on the other side.
It’s a striking image even without a small detail: Enuke’s small tuft of armpit hair.
That hair, however, caused an uproar in the comments section, with people both defending and decrying the sight of body hair on a woman.
One commenter shared a series of vomit emojis, while others thanked Nike for their “support of being natural.”
The comments remind us that body hair is complicated: A mix of societal norms, politics, and personal preference.
Eliminating it is a relatively recent phenomenon, in respect to human history. The attitude shift began in the late 1880s, Nadine Ajaka wrote in The Atlantic, citing Rebecca Herzig’s book “Plucked: A History of Hair Removal.” The shift to removing hair started in part because of Darwin and theories of evolution, race, development, and the differences of the sexes.
“Scientists surmised that a clear distinction between the masculine and the feminine indicated ‘higher anthropological development’ in a race,” Ajaka wrote, quoting Herzig.
By the 1900s, women were going to town using questionable (and dangerous) methods to remove their hair.
“In a remarkably short time, body hair became disgusting to middle-class American women, its removal a way to separate oneself from cruder people, lower class and immigrant,” Herzig wrote.
“By 1964, surveys indicated that 98 per cent of all American women aged fifteen to forty-four were routinely shaving their legs,” Herzig wrote, as quoted by Vogue.
Herzig also explained that the pressure to be hairless produces “feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability, the sense that women’s bodies are problematic the way they naturally are.”
During the second-wave feminist movement there was backlash to this societal conditioning. In a stand-alone edition of Ms. magazine from 1972, Harriet Lyons and Rebecca Rosenblatt published “Body Hair: The Last Frontier.” Not modifying your body hair became a feminist and political act.
Today, there are specific razor blades, creams, tweezers, waxes, laser treatments, etc., to remove the hair from legs, underarms, upper lips, eyebrows, arms, nether-regions, chins, and more.
But there are also new body-positive attitudes and more fluid notions of gender, Vogue’s Maya Singer pointed out in a 2018 article. Body-hair norms are changing. To have or not to have body hair is slowly being presented as a choice: some women choose to remove, while others like Enuke don’t.
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