If 2014 was the year that bush came back, then 2015 is ostensibly the year of axillary hair. In January, New York-based photographer Cass Bird posted a portrait on Instagram of Daria Werbowy with armpit hair. By April, Miley Cyrus was uploading selfies revealing her own grown-outunderarms. And in May, Lena Dunham officially put “grow armpit hair” at the top of her summer to-do list.
Historically a look embraced by European women—Sophia Loren has flaunted hirsute pits for years—armpit hair hasn’t been socially acceptable in North America since the pressure to remove it began in the 1920s. “Women were active participants in this,” says Rebecca M. Herzig, author of Plucked: A History of Hair Removal, who points to various influences, including the introduction of hair removal products, the sexual freedom of the New Woman movement, and the desire for young women “to mark themselves as a new generation in a distinctive way.”
But some women rebelled against what came to be seen as a hygiene imperative. Patti Smith’s wispy pits on the cover of her 1978 album, Easter, caused such offence, some shops in the South refused to display it. Two decades later, a photo of Paula Cole was censored by Entertainment Weekly, which airbrushed her underarm hair, claiming they thought it was a “smudge.” And when Julia Roberts waved to fans at the London premiere of Notting Hill, she exposed scraggly pits, which became an international controversy.
Not every celebrity has been lambasted for the look; Drew Barrymore has sported armpit hair on and off for her entire career, and Milla Jovovich appeared on an iconic June ’99 cover of Dazed & Confused wearing a bridal veil and a red bandeau, with tufts of hair under her arms. But when Cyrus revealed her pits at the 30th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony while flipping the bird, comments on social media ranged from “disgusting” to “ugly” to “stinky.” Paying no mind to the criticism, a couple weeks later Cyrus dyed the hair pink. It was a message of freedom and choice, echoed by the #FreeYourPits movement, which welcomes women to share online photos of their armpits—shaven or not.
Devoid of judgment, this campaign asks you to raise your arms in solidarity.
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