Earlier this month, @harpersbazaarus published an article by Emily Ratajkowski on the topic of female body hair. While often discussed and talked about in relation to issues like female empowerment, the male gaze, and ‘her body her choice’, we still find a number of people (often in the deep crevices of the Internet) who frown upon women that do not remove their body hair. To many, including myself, this is a perplexing concern.
What does one woman’s body hair have to do with you?
(You, the cishetero male who seems to think it is your noble calling to police female beauty standards).
The issue with body hair is that it is still an issue. But with more brands, influencers, and celebrities that are displaying body hair on Instagram–both overtly and covertly–the whole ‘debacle’ is being progressively normalised. Let’s take a look at some of these accounts on Instagram.
1 – Models who Dare to be Different : @emrata for @harpersbazaarus
It makes sense to begin with her, and the post which features her underarm hair is the top most commented and 4th most liked post on her account this year.
The point she is trying to make, in this case, is not so much about being an ambassador for body hair–the sad realities of the mainstream modelling industry do not allow this (yet). Rather, Ratajkowski steps outside the comfort zone of an objectively attractive woman: one who is often told what to wear, how to speak, and where to shave in order to remain an objectively attractive woman. She takes the leap that most other models would be unwilling to, and in doing so, she claims her body as her own.
This post performed at a 9.21% engagement rate, which is 3 times higher than her personal average, and the average for American celebrity influencers. The sentiment analysis report on this post also tells us that majority of the comments were positive, which tells us that followers appreciated this content.
2 – Artists who Question Femininity: @arvidabystrom for @adidasoriginals
Some years back, Adidas engaged Arvida Byström to promote their Superstar Bold: an adjective that can be used to describe the marketing direction too.
To their benefit, the post on the Adidas official account received the most number of comments compared to all the other posts in that year, which is quite a feat. While likes tend to represent passive appreciation of a post, comments are active responses — be they good or bad.
More often than not, we see shoe models (both male and female) with perfectly sculpted legs, shaved and oiled to perfection. The decision to use a model (female, too!) with unshaved legs was quite revolutionary and has not been forgotten.
Byström continues to question hegemonic perceptions of femininity on her own account, and one of her top performing posts this year are images of her feeling comfortable in her own skin.
Since being featured on Adidas, Byström’s following has increased tremendously. This means that followers who came across her profile via Adidas were interested or inspired by her take on female beauty standards, and that can only be a good sign of progress.
3 – Brands that Don’t Discriminate: @nuud.care
Apart from being a natural deodorant that comes in bioplastic sugarcane tubes, nuud is cool because they don’t just feature models with impeccable underarms. Who looks like that anyway? Some people choose not to remove the hair that grows, while others do — even then, hyperpigmentation naturally occurs on most sensitive areas of skin. Nuud embraces this.
This carousel post features men & women with various skin types and hair types which makes the entire endeavour less ‘tokenistic’ and more genuine.
One of their most popular hashtags, #carefree, is most representative of this value, and encourages people to be body positive.
4 & 5 – Celebrities who Normalise Body Hair: @willowsmith & @indyamoore
Apart from being an incredible singer, Smith is also part of @redtabletalk: a series that focuses on intimate, thoughtful conversations. It is important to acknowledge the demographic that Smith speaks to:
She has far more female than male followers, and majority of them are millennials. Thus, the messages that she espouses on her Instagram feed are central to shaping mindsets and making progress.
Some time ago she posted this video with the caption #archeryaddict. Unlike the post by Adidas and Harper’s Bazaar, there was no focused or overt attention drawn to the fact that her underarms aren’t shaved. To an extent, this is an even more powerful message because it suggests how much of a non-issue body hair is: how normal it should be.
It was her top liked and top commented post of 2017, significantly surpassing even the second-most liked & commented in terms of engagement.
Indya Moore from POSE presents something similar: an unapologetic display of body hair, even when it is not necessarily the main ‘point’ of the post.
In other instances, however, she makes her stance on this quite clear. For example, her second most-liked post this year addresses bodily autonomy.
“Respect isn’t Clothing, body hair, sexuality or gender, respect is human. Freedom can’t be compromised. My body is not a sexual device.”Indya Moore
6 – Creatives that Depict Body Hair in Their Work: @ladyist
A cursory glance at Ashley Armitage’s profile will tell you that she is big on representing the underrepresented. Her top liked and top commented post for this year was an announcement for the commercial she directed for @billie, a female shave and body brand.
Despite the fact that there have been so many advertisements for and about feminine products, this was the first one to actually display pubic hair.
It is the most viewed video on her personal Instagram account. The video garnered a 34.5% engagement rate, which is 7 times higher than her personal average and more than 10 times higher than the average for American micro influencers. It is also the most liked and commented post on Billie’s Instagram account. The engagement rate on the brand account was 40%, which is 20 times higher than average.
7 – Sex Educators that Destigmatise Female Sensuality: @evyan.whitney
Whitney has an unusual profession: she is a sex educator and sexuality doula™, as written in her bio. This is out of the ordinary in two ways: (1) sex is a rather taboo topic and is hardly ever discussed openly in relation to pleasure, (2) female pleasure is still very much considered secondary to the male pleasure. There is a stigma that surrounds women who seek sex for pleasure, or who pleasure themselves — that they are morally deviant, loose, or ‘easy’. What Whitney does with her content is address the root of this issue as well as provide women (& men) with healthy ways to feel good about themselves.
In doing so, she also inadvertently addresses other issues related to the body such as skin and hair. A video of her doing sensual dance meditation is one of her top posts this year, and in it she unapologetically displays her natural, unshaven underarms.
The comments left by followers are beautifully positive, and make no issue of the fact that she is unshaved. Instead, they focus on the content i.e. the dance, and her being.
Much like Willow, a very large majority of Whitney’s audience are young females.
68% is much higher than average, especially considering that the AI registers 3 genders, and we can take this as a sign that Whitney is very much a beacon of female empowerment. The content that she puts out is important because of how authentically feminine it is, without needing to conform to capitalist or colonialist standards.
Whether you are a brand, an influencer, or just a regular user of social media, it is important to be yourself online. While in 2019, keeping our hair natural might still be considered ‘subversive’, we do it so that some day, it doesn’t have to be talked about anymore. The people mentioned in this article are doing important work, and are brave for venturing where very few on Instagram are willing to.
In the words of RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else”.