This January Movement Challenges Women to Rethink Their Body Hair

Many people use January to try lifestyle changes, such as going alcohol-free for “Dry January” or cutting out animal products for “Veganuary.” But one January movement that you may not be familiar with is “Januhairy.”

Januhairy is a combination of the words “January” and “hairy”. Januhairy is a movement that encourages people to put down their razors and let their body hair grow for a month – and maybe all year long if they enjoy the experience. While Movember and No Shave November aim to raise awareness around men’s health and cancer, Januhairy aims to challenge societal beauty norms, especially for women and female-presenting people.

“This is a way for us to question body hair standards and why we follow social norms that make us feel that body hair is not beautiful or feminine or acceptable on a woman’s body – even though it is acceptable on a man’s body – and it’s challenging world. feeling like the hair on our bodies is inherently dirty, even though it’s just hair,” Esther Calixte-Bea, a body hair activist and visual artist, told Talk News.

It’s true, Januhairy founder Laura Jackson launched the movement in January 2019 to raise money for a body image-focused organization called Body Gossip, and to empower women to stop shaving, waxing and lasering – or at least question why they feel they have. do that. to.

“I think it’s an interesting way for women to try growing their hair out collectively, as a form of resistance, as a form of self-experimentation, and as a cute and fun form of rebellion,” said Breanne Fahs. a professor of women’s and gender studies at Arizona State University and author of “Unshaved: Resistance and Revolution in Women’s Body Hair Politics.”

In many ways, Januhairy serves as a reminder that women removing body hair is a relatively new phenomenon.

“This happened in the early 1920s as a result of several different factors: the rise of fashion photography, the end of World War I and men going home with razors (compulsory), the pandemic of 1918 shifted bathing from public places to the bedroom. respective household baths. for middle-class households, and the Gillette razor company made a conscious decision to market razors to women and sell them at ‘gross’ body hair prices to make money,” explains Fahs. “Before the 1920s, most women did not shave their body hair voluntarily. This only happens in the context of colonial conquest, and so on.”

As fashion trends developed toward sleeveless tops that exposed women’s armpits and skirts that showed more leg, Gillette released its “Milady Decoletté” razor for women in 1915 and marketed it as a product that “solved an embarrassing personal problem.” Although there is evidence that ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians removed body hair, women around the beginning of the 20th century were less focused on the absence of hair.

Women shave their legs with mechanical razors in New York City in 1927.

Keystone-France via Getty Images

Women shave their legs with mechanical razors in New York City in 1927.

“As a Black woman, I was interested to read an article that talked about how it was largely white women who propagated the idea of ​​hairless women as an ideal,” Calixte-Bea said. “I also hear from women from African countries that they don’t feel obligated to shave their legs until they arrive in America or Canada. My hair mostly comes from the Ivory Coast, and I know that in the days of my ancestors, body hair was seen as something beautiful. So I think the hair on my body tells the story of my family and my ancestors.”

Although marketers may have women view body hair as an “embarrassing personal problem,” the practice of removing it generally has no basis in medical or hygiene matters.

“In reality, hair is normal, and having hair or choosing not to shave your hair is actually normal,” says Dr. Susan Massick, board-certified dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Not shaving and letting hair grow in places like the armpits, bikini area and legs is not unhygienic. Believe it or not, pubic hair, for example, has a protective function, especially for women’s vaginal health. If people choose or prefer to shave, that is fine to do. Keep in mind that for some people, shaving can actually irritate the skin, causing patchy and painful acne and rashes.”

In recent years, there have been some changes to the acceptance of body hair in Western culture, but for the most part, these changes have not been as significant as many people would hope.

“We’re seeing more body hair on screen, and some companies have even found ways to sell razors with body hair-positive marketing,” Conger said. “But I don’t think this means a complete change in norms as most cisgender women regularly shave their legs and buttholes.”

He pointed to the moment Julia Roberts showed off her unshaven armpit hair at the 1999 premiere of “Notting Hill” and the media frenzy that followed (though the actor later admitted it wasn’t meant as any sort of statement).

Julia Roberts at the premiere "Notting Hill" in London in April 1999.

Fred Duval via Getty Images

Julia Roberts at the London premiere of “Notting Hill” in April 1999.

“He forgot to shave once, and pop culture will never forget it,” Conger said. “Nearly 25 years later, if Taylor Swift appeared on the red carpet with her hair visible, the internet would probably collapse in on itself. In my opinion, body hair removal continues to occur, partly because pressure to remove hair begins at an early age, and often comes from peers and parents. As long as we expect girls to start shaving, women will not be ‘allowed’ to stop.”

Fahs agrees that the idea of ​​norms changing is overblown, with some estimates saying that more than 95-99% of women in the US, Australia and the UK still shave their body hair. However, she finds it encouraging to see women using opportunities like Januhairy to try growing hair on their bodies and see how it feels.

“It’s always better to see the power of a norm by breaking it, and this is a great way to understand your body better!” Fahs said, sharing what he would say to someone considering taking part in Januhairy. “Do it! This can teach you a lot about who thinks they have a say in your body and how you present your body to the world. It can also teach you about your own biases about grooming and femininity regarding body hair. Body hair is a powerful locus of gender and power!”

Conger echoed this sentiment, praising the movement’s impact in making people reconsider “this time-consuming, sometimes painful and expensive maintenance of femininity.”

“Januhairy is an opportunity to opt out of beauty norms, but more importantly, it is an opportunity to examine our own reactions to women’s body hair and understand how it differs in people with polycystic ovary syndrome, for example, or Sikh women who maintain kesh. ,” he added.

January is also a great time for people to experiment with their body hair if they are in doubt.

“If you live somewhere with winters like I do in Canada, you will grow hair on your body while covering it outside and not feel like anyone is going to judge you,” says Calixte-Bea.

Conger believes that “Januhairy” is a more interesting way to describe what many girls and women do during the cold weather months.

“That’s the thing about body hair, right?” he says. “It’s only ‘taboo’ if other people can see it.”

Growing one’s own body hair in winter provides a kind of safe space to challenge the norms and discourse that make us view ourselves negatively.

“Once you get home, you can see yourself for who you are,” adds Calixte-Bea. “It is a very liberating experience to see your body as it is and not after you have changed it. While working in retail, I’ve seen women of all ages talk about the things they hate about their bodies, but that’s not something I want for myself and other women.”

Of course, anyone can try growing hair on their body at any time of the year. And if you don’t enjoy the taste, you’re not obliged to continue.

“I think it’s important to normalize hair and having body hair in the same way that society should embrace all body types,” Massick said. “My philosophy is ‘you do what you do’ – do what feels right.”

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