After decades of relative peace wherein their main foe was razor burn, Venus, Hydro Silk, and other denizens of the ladies’ razor aisle suddenly face a new common enemy: Model, actress, activist, and swimsuit impresario Emily Ratajkowski wants to empower women everywhere to skip shaving their underarms if that’s what makes them feel sexy. Ratajkowski posed for the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar in a black lace bra with her arms stretching behind her head to reveal a healthy patch of dark hair in one of her pits, and the photos, now online, accompany an essay that lays out her feminist principles: Sometimes, especially when you’re Emrata (as she is known on Instagram), it can be sexy not to shave!
The photo very quickly fulfilled its destiny of pissing off the men in Ratajkowski’s Instagram comments … that is, when the comments weren’t speculating that Ratajkowski was faking the underarm hair with an armpit merkin, as the Cut called it. But let’s give her the benefit of the doubt here and try to seriously consider her declaration.
Ratajkowski’s arrival to hairy-pits-ville follows the June cover of Rolling Stone, which featured Halsey showing off what was arguably more armpit stubble than hair, as well as a general trend toward the increased pop-cultural visibility of female body hair. From the ground in supposedly hip Brooklyn, I can report that the pop culture reflects what’s going on under the arms of real women, who do seem to be, on balance, shaving less than they used to. After years of the media touting the coming storm of ladies’ armpit hair with seemingly little to show for it, this time unshaven pits really are gaining a, er, pit-hold.
But as usual, Ratajkowski’s entrance into the fray complicates the matter. She’s correct that the normalization of women’s body hair represents a welcome loosening of long-held sexist double standards. Ratajkowski often places herself on the right side of progressive issues; it’s just a shame she insists on being right in the most half-baked, self-congratulatory way possible. Who could forget when she writhed around in pasta, for feminism? And I’m still not over the time she posted an unflattering picture of her friend in which she looked hot and then said it was body-shaming if anyone criticized it.
So it goes with Ratajkowski’s manifesto on armpit hair. In the Bazaar piece, she writes, “For me, body hair is another opportunity for women to exercise their ability to choose—a choice based on how they want to feel and their associations with having or not having body hair.” It’s hard to say what’s clumsier here, the wording or the logic: “[A]ssociations with having body hair”? Many of those associations come from a mainstream culture that heavily polices women’s self-presentation; is she saying that if a woman associates body hair with being gross and unattractive because that’s what she’s gleaned from our sexist society, that’s fine? Ratajkowski also acknowledges that she is “positive that many of the ways I continue to be ‘sexy’ are heavily influenced by misogyny,” so she kind of gets it, but wouldn’t it be great if she could go one step further in her thinking about how these things are connected and what she can do to move the culture forward? Instead, she writes, “On any given day, I tend to like to shave, but sometimes letting my body hair grow out is what makes me feel sexy,” and also, “I like feeling sexy in the way that makes me, personally, feel sexy.” K.
Another way in which Ratajkowski’s pits might grate on ya? (Sorry.) From a certain angle, Ratajkowski and Bazaar’s embrace of underarm hair looks a lot like co-opting. They’re putting a glossy veneer on a grooming decision that’s theoretically meant to defy commercial, conventional beauty standards, the very standards magazines like Bazaar exist to uphold. If not a full-on anti-establishment rebellion, underarm hair was at least a way to be free of one society’s most sexist customs. Now? You risk looking like a slave to trends who decided to jump on Emrata’s sexy pit-hair bandwagon.
This brings us to one last concern, which is that armpit hair simply won’t look as good on most women as it does on Ratajkowski. Her next feminist statement could involve giving up bathing and affect her hotness not at all. I’m beginning to think that’s not feminism. That’s just being really, really hot.
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