In today’s age of instantaneously available and markedly abundant knowledge and freedom of opinion, it is unsurprising that the internet has been consumed with a conversation about the slew of celebrities sprouting a new growth of underarm hair. Madonna and Miley Cyrus are among the most talked about, especially after Cyrus posted photos to social media honoring her freshly-dyed neon pink body hair.
While her grooming choice may be shocking to some, Cyrus is one of many women who are making a concerted effort to grow their hair long and strong enough to dye. #LesPrincessesOntDesPoils is a French hashtag that is receiving a great amount of attention for the same reason—women are taking pictures of themselves to highlight their body hair and celebrate their femininity; the hashtag translates to “Princesses Have Hair” and is a nod to the idea that body hair is not only natural, but womanly.
Although women choosing not to eliminate their body hair has in recent decades undoubtedly been considered a feminist choice as well as a naturalist choice, it has now become something of a symbol for pop feminism. Women all over the world are finding it empowering to defy societal expectations and relieve themselves of the physical and financial burden that is regular hair removal. It is, of course, every woman’s choice to do what she likes with her own body, but the popularization of this trend and the media coverage that it’s receiving is likely as damaging to some as it is empowering to others.
One of the central concerns surrounding the pop-feminist body hair movement is the fairly definitive demographic of the women on which it is celebrated—typically thin, pale, white women. Very few women of color are cited in the vast array of articles that commend women for their bravery in defying modern beauty standards via body hair.
Many women of color feel the trend isn’t representative of all women, and cannot relate to the light, wispy body hair that is portrayed as normal within the pop feminist body hair movement; that is, what is deemed as acceptable on white women in the media is not accessible to those whose body hair is dark, coarse, and thick. The trend has thus been problematic for women of color and has accentuated the divide between the white feminist movement and the non-white feminist movement.
Another concern is the idea that body hair is an essential facet of the stereotypical modern-day feminist; as celebrities and popular culture adopt it, popularize it, and link it repeatedly with the pop feminist movement, it becomes a highly politicized decision, and it becomes a trend. This means that how a woman manages her body hair can make her even more of a target for negative stereotyping and perhaps abuse, and also that as the “trend” of body hair goes out of style, the progress that was made in normalizing women’s natural bodies is effectively lost, the majority of trend-following women again succumbing to the pressure to be hairless.
Ultimately, the best solution would likely be for the media to make an effort to stop sensationalizing female body hair. After all, sensationalizing and normalizing are two entirely different things; the former makes an issue known, and the latter makes a non-issue. As with the censorship of the female body, we as a society should aim to stop politicizing women’s bodies, or at least to only politicize them to the degree that men’s are. That’s equality. This would also leave space for arguably more important feminist discussions about things like the glass ceiling, rape culture, and violence against women. By minimizing the attention given to “feminist grooming trends,” we also begin to prove to women that their bodies do not speak louder than their words.