Tayler D. Parker, BA1; Ashley E. Brown, MD1
- McGovern Medical School, UTHealth Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX
Corresponding author: Tayler D. Parker, BA, 6431 Fannin St, Houston, TX 77030, email Tayler.D.Parker@uth.tmc.edu, phone: 806-445-4949
Tags: beauty, behavior, shaving, medical sociology, health anxiety
“Keep your man faithful and ensure home security- Shave your underarms!”. This slogan may sound comical, but it is an actual message found in underarm shaving advertisements for women as early as 1915.1 Whether shaving was driven by the emergence of sleeveless tops or by a male-driven culture, most women in the United States were shaving their armpits consistently by the 1950s for both social normativity and perceived attractiveness/femininity.1 However, recently, it appears that femininity is evolving- armpit hair is in, and with it, a new stance on hyper-femininity.
A century after those initial advertisements, we examine the battles that women are facing today. The movement to stop shaving armpit hair is a choice for women to present themselves to the world in a powerful way and to define femininity for themselves. Emily Ratajkowski, a model and social media influencer, has recently shared her reasons for no longer shaving her armpits. “On any given day I tend to like to shave, but sometimes letting my body hair grow out is what makes me feel sexy… As long as the decision is my choice, then it’s the right choice.”2
Dermatologists may see more patients who want to stop shaving their armpits, but have questions about the health implications: Will it smell more? Is it dirty? Armpit hair is natural and acts to diffuse sweat from the skin and prevent chafing. While armpit hair does not change the odor, it may be more difficult to apply solid deodorant as it’s harder to contact the skin underneath. Patients might consider changing deodorants to liquid roll on, a gel, or a spray.3 To prevent harboring of bacteria, an antibacterial body wash or deodorant soap may be recommended. The goal is to empower patients to express themselves freely and healthily.
Author Bio: Tayler Parker is a fourth year medical student at UT McGovern Medical School in Houston, Texas with plans to apply for the 2020-2021 dermatology residency match. Her research efforts have focused on rare dermatological case presentations, graduate medical education cirriculum, and clinical guidelines and safety in pediatric surgery. She has a background in psychology as well as fastfood management. When she isn’t on clinicals or working on research, Tayler loves reading, yoga, and gardening.
- Basow, S. A. (1991). The Hairless Ideal: Women and Their Body Hair. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15(1), 83–96. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1991.tb00479.x
- Ratajkowski, E. Emily Ratajkowski Explores What It means to Be Hyper Feminine. Bazaar. August 8, 2019. https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/a28577727/emily-ratajkowski-sexuality-essay/. Accessed August 25, 2019.
- Davis A, Hou K. Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Pit Hair. The Cut. June 12, 2015. https://www.thecut.com/2015/06/everything-there-is-to-know-about-pit-hair.html. Accessed August 25, 2019.
From Professor Bhushan Kumar, Chandigarh, India:
The subject of body hair (axillary included) is very interesting. I do not think it is an issue primarily of liberation (defiance of the existing norms of the society for the expected looks of a woman -may be) – it is the issue of body image. It is natural for anybody- man or woman to try and look as presentable as one possibly can. So, the beauty products / beauty salons, and the fashions in dressing and hair styling and cosmetology, cosmetic surgery and body sculpting and Lasers for all purposes assist / support this natural urge. Another additive factor is desirability index of a woman and the impression/ visualization / imagination of a beautiful/ sexy woman- with smooth glistening (fair) skin chiseled features, long tresses, and the body emitting fragrance so the women would not like to be labeled as not coming upto expectations of a defined beauty. So, where is the place for unwanted hair, at any place- which will be considered ugly, on the arms and legs, axilla and around genitalia?? (many people consider genital hair as sexy). Also, it is an issue of perceived body image based on the looks of models, screen stars and the fairies described in tales for children and the women depicted with perfect anatomy and perfect features in the old temples, and various carvings (imagine the celestial beauty- ‘Apsara’ able to arouse even the saints and disturb their penance). To maintain/ to achieve this image the women go through some annoying, time consuming and essentially painful procedures- of shaving, waxing, using depilatories (containing sulphides which dissolve hair), rubbing the pumice stone, laser hair reduction etc.(upto the bikini area). Many times these procedures produce irritation, infections and even frank dermatitis. So, whatever the modernism/ women liberation may mean, no woman even if a staunch feminist would like to look ugly. It is an emotional (temporary) phage like Bra burning- which will pass off soon. Therefore the (seemingly impossible) rejection of a concept of beauty by women if it happens will have consequences on the whole world more serious than COVID-19- economical and emotional.
So coming back to the axillary hair- desired / wanted / not wanted- it is safe (no infection / irritation / pain) to keep them (no effect on degree of sweating and odor)- but I can assure you – they will be sacrificed at the altar of beauty, presentability and desire for an intoxicating odor with the help of exotic deodorants (forget the pheromones). Maintaining humidity / moisturisation of the axillary skin is not the concern and with regular cleaning there is hardly any chance of bacterial growth-but are these the real concerns?