In December 2017, a video featuring supermodel Gigi Hadid went viral and became the topic of a heated debate on social media. The reason was that Hadid appeared to have some armpit hair. On the one hand, some commenters were very pleased to see her so empowered and owning her hair. Others, however, were unhappy and claimed it was disgusting, among other things. Later on, TMZ broke the story and said it was actually only fluff from the sweater she had been wearing.
Female body hair has been a hotly debated subject on social media for a couple of years now. Other celebrities, such as Miley Cyrus, Paris Jackson, and Lourdes Maria, Madonna’s daughter, have posted pictures or appeared in public with their underarm hair on display. This caused an uproar online, with people expressing strong opinions about it.
The display of armpit hair, remarkably, became connected to very large social issues regarding femininity, personal freedom, and body positivity.
The display of armpit hair, remarkably, became connected to very large social issues regarding femininity, personal freedom, and body positivity. Some people believe that women should have the ability to choose what to do with their own bodies. While others see these women as ‘less feminine’ and ‘relaxed’. The hair is also strongly associated with feminism, freedom of choice and self-expression in the public sphere.
It was this connection between very small details of the body and large issues of public concern that brought in the specific group of public individuals we call ‘social influencers’. Paris Jackson, Michael Jackson’s 19 year old daughter, and a model, is a particularly active voice regarding this topic. Not only does she frequently post pictures with her body hair on display, but she has also spoken publicly about body positivity. This term usually refers to women accepting their bodies as they are even if this means resisting the standards imposed upon us by the media. In an interview for i-D in August 2017, Paris said that:
Unfortunately, in the world we live in it's almost impossible to feel comfortable in your skin 24/7. Especially with what the media is constantly feeding us. I still have countless insecurities and fears, like everyone else I know. But we're getting there, slowly but surely. Which is a big reason I want to change this fashion / beauty stigma, so it's not as difficult for people around the world to feel beautiful just the way they are (i-D, 2017).
Paris Jackson's status as a social influencer turns this statement into something that transcends debates within the comment sections of social media. It is no longer a small detail, it represents a much larger set of issues. Body hair is indicative of a woman’s agency to choose what to do with her own body and her personal freedom. Interventions such as these show us how even the smallest details of body presentation can and will be used as major targets for discrimination in society. The responses to the display of hair are often violent, even to point of threatening rape. These women are frequently seen as less ‘female’ if they opt out of shaving, and their public appearance is judged to be fundamentally inappropriate in the light of what a woman is supposed to be.
Debates about whether one sees hair or the fluff of a sweater in a woman’s armpit are, at the same time, debates of the big dividing lines between genders in our societies.
Debates about whether one sees hair or the fluff of a sweater in a woman’s armpit are, at the same time, debates of the big dividing lines between genders in our societies. They are not about details.