A feminist statement No, untamed body hair is the pits!
11:35 GMT, 10 May 2012
You have to hand it to Emer O’Toole. Not many 28-year-olds would go on national TV wearing a sleeveless little black frock if they hadn’t shaved their armpits for 18 months.
Yet the incredibly pretty Emer proudly raised her slim arms on This Morning last week to reveal that she doesn’t shave, or wax, or pluck. And we’re not talking a bit of fluff here — she revealed underarm beards that would have made Osama bin Laden proud.
Yikes, it was horrible. As were her hairy legs to match. Watching her I nearly parted company with my breakfast.
Scroll down to see Emer on This Morning
Proud to be hairy: Emer O’Toole shows her armpits on This Morning
Of course, she isn’t the first woman to be captured by the cameras with hairy armpits — when Julia Roberts turned up at a premiere and revealed a Rolf Harris beard tucked into her armpits, the world was revolted.
While I have no idea why the Pretty Woman actress decided to stay natural, Emer claims that shaving body hair is anti-feminist, and forces women to conform to ‘artificial gender norms’.
Having, like most girls, started shaving her armpits and legs aged 14, she had her epiphany 18 months ago. ‘I started examining my own relationship with my body and my body hair,’ the graduate said. It is clearly a very close one. She has not shaved under her arms since.
While an online poll revealed that 80 per cent of viewers were as appalled as I was, Emer’s comments did make me question my own relationship with my body hair. It didn’t take much contemplation to come to a conclusion: I hate it. As far as I’m concerned, the only hair that belongs on a woman is on her head.
Like most women, I shave. Unlike less hirsute women, I also wax, tweeze, use hair removal cream — and my Epilady home epilator is my best friend.
As nature intended: Emer hasn't shaved her under arms or her legs for 18 months
I have to admit a rather troubled history with my hairiness. When I was born, the nurses fondly called me ‘the wolf baby’. Well, it was the politically incorrect Fifties. I was born with a head of jet black hair that descended down to my eyebrows. It quickly dropped out to make me look normal again, but was quite a shock for my mum.
Although my face was hair-free by the time I went to school, the rest of my body was another story.
The other children nicknamed me monkey, as I had soft dark hair on my legs and arms when I was just ten years old.
Even in the searing 40C Australian heat, I would always wear a cardigan to cover my hairy arms.
The happiest day of my life was when my hairdresser auntie introduced me to Veet hair removal cream. She slathered it over my arms and legs, and voila! Ten smelly minutes later I was a normal girl — and the cardigan was shelved, along with my acute embarrassment.
So I guess I’m a bit over-sensitive to the issue of body hair, but I think most women feel the same. Hairiness is just unfeminine. And this isn’t a current fad resulting from modern advertising — which, of course, only features smooth-limbed, hairless models.
'If only men knew the way to tell if a
woman is losing interest in them is how often she has her bikini line
waxed or shaves her legs'
Women have been plucking and tweezing for centuries. Removing underarm hair became common in 1915 in Britain, when flapper-fashions meant women started wearing sleeveless dresses.
But as early as the ancient Egyptians, a smooth and hairless body was seen as a sign of great beauty. They concocted a mixture of oil and honey to strip body hair, a forerunner of what we call ‘sugaring’ today.
As far back as 1096, the returning
Crusaders brought the practice of women shaving their bodies back to
Europe from Asia, and castles had a specially built room where the
ladies of the court met to shave.
It was only in the Seventies when the
fashion to be hairless became a feminist issue, with campaigners
declaring it to be a form of slavery to men’s desires.
For a decade it became fashionable to
let your bikini line run wild, matched with hairy armpits and tarantula
legs. But even Germaine Greer couldn’t convert women to the natural
look and the hair removal industry has thrived ever since.
Modern women have an arsenal of
hair-removal weapons at their disposal. I’ve recently had my underarm
hair lasered off, using a procedure called Broadband Light, which zaps
it and takes about eight sessions (though mine worked in two), each
While it doesn’t permanently remove
the hair, it reduces it drastically so a quick shave in the morning
leaves you as smooth as a baby’s bottom, where once my armpits looked
like a mafioso’s five o’clock shadow by lunchtime.
Join the club: Emer isn't the first woman to publicly show off her under arm hair, Julia Roberts also once did so at a film premiere, right
And I’m not the only one plumping for costly, high-tech treatments. The demand for permanent hair reduction has never been greater.
While I’m sure the majority of these women spend hours and thousands keeping their bodies hairless for themselves, rather than the men in their lives, being hair-free is certainly linked to sex appeal. Emer, of the hairy armpits, claims it’s women who hate body hair, not men, who are unfazed by it — but I don’t know what kind of men she’s been dating.
I always loved that scene from Sex And The City where Samantha’s new boyfriend unsubtly suggested she needed a trim — of the more feminine kind. She was appalled and retorted he was more thickly thatched in that department than a Brazilian rainforest.
The scene in the movie where Miranda gets into her swimsuit and reveals a bikini line like a long-neglected hedgerow was also hilarious — and pertinent. It was a clear sign that she’d let herself go and wasn’t interested in sex.
If only men knew the way to tell if a woman is losing interest in them is how often she has her bikini line waxed or shaves her legs. Body hair is clear signal you’re not interested in sex — with him, anyway.
Excessive hair growth, also known as hirsutism, affects around one in 20 pre-menopausal women
It is, of course, unfair that men don’t have to pay such attention to their body hair. In fact, a hirsute man is seen as being masculine, provided he doesn’t have a gorilla back.
Sure, most of them have to shave their faces daily, but that’s a five-minute job — nothing compared to the hours we spend keeping our entire bodies hairless.
The defiantly hairy Emer does have one good point. She is appalled at the way beauty salons in her native Dublin offer ‘virgin waxes’ to girls as young as 11.
I was equally shocked when, while having a bikini wax recently, I asked the beautician who had been her youngest and oldest clients. She said she’d had mothers bringing in their 12-year-old daughters for Hollywood waxes — removing all pubic hair.
Others opted to pay for their tweens to have a Brazilian — which involves having almost everything off except for a ‘landing strip’.
She told me that after refusing to wax one child, her father turned up the next day and said he’d sue them if they didn’t do the waxing.
This is simply obscene and reflects society’s unhealthy rush to sexualise the young. But I don’t see why this should stop adults dealing with their body hair as they please.
My waxer also told me about an 80-year-old who has a weekly Brazilian — just in case she gets lucky. There’s hope for us all.
While I respect any woman’s right to establish her own relationship between her body and her body hair — even if that involves going on national TV looking like a gorilla — nothing will ever part me from my shaver, tweezers, waxes and beloved Epilady.
VIDEO: Acceptable to give up shaving Emer O'Toole tested the theory on This Morning