LEGEND has it that art critic John Ruskin’s wedding night was a bit of a disaster. It was 1848 and, perhaps as a result of his profession, Ruskin’s knowledge of women was pretty much restricted to those appearing in western art: mostly beautiful, flawless and idealised.
Unfortunately, the new Mrs Ruskin was a real woman, not an oil-painting. The moment he saw her body hair – something he’d never suspected women had – he was so repulsed, he fled the bedroom. The marriage was eventually dissolved on grounds of non-consummation.
In the 21st century, we think we’re so much cleverer and more liberal than the Victorians. We know all about our bodies and we’re not afraid to show them. In fact, some of us talk of little else. Ruskin’s reaction to his first sight of his naked wife is absolutely hilarious in this day and age, isn’t it?
Apparently not. Apparently, we’ve learned very little in the past 160-odd years.
Early this month, I noticed a story about Verity, the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) charity, which was launching an awareness-raising action called Armpits for August. A kind of female version of Movember, it called for women everywhere to grow their armpit hair in a gesture of solidarity with PCOS sufferers, who often have problems with excessive hirsuteness. Good news, I thought. But since I’d only just waxed, and don’t regrow very fast, I thought no more of it.
Now, however, despite the fact that August is on its way out, I have to speak up. When men grow facial hair for Movember, to support their brothers with prostate cancer, nobody blinks an eye. But when the sisters stop shaving, all hell breaks loose.
If you thought that the last taboo surrounding female body hair was broken when Nena (99 Red Balloons) flashed her pits on Top of the Pops in 1983, you’d be wrong. If you thought it finally became acceptable when Julia Roberts displayed a healthy underarm growth on the red carpet in 1999, you’d still be wrong.
The reaction to this cheerful, light-hearted little initiative has genuinely shocked me. Last week, one of Verity’s happily hairy girls appeared on This Morning to talk about Armpits for August, which is, after all, in aid of a charity that helps around 10 per cent of Britain’s women cope with a difficult and often depressing condition. Since then, the vitriol that has been poured on her and her ilk has been truly gobsmacking.
The comments have ranged from “offensive” and “disgusting”, to “unhygienic” and even, just “WRONG!” At one Armpits for August event, a woman – a WOMAN – walked past and faked retching. Another said she would rather have cancer than hairy armpits. Yes, you read that right.
Sisters, what is the matter with us? I’m ashamed to say that I wax for the simple reason that I’m too much of a coward not to, but I can only applaud any woman who puts two fingers up at the whole depilation debacle and contentedly stays the way Nature made her.
Hairy is the way we’re meant to be. How can it be offensive, or wrong, to be natural? What is so repulsive about something we all have, and which only some humans – the ones who choose to bow to certain cultural pressures – have decided to hide?
I can’t understand why anybody would be so viciously critical of such a small and harmless personal choice, especially when the whole body-hair issue is so rife with double standards. Men can look like gorillas, but nobody calls them “unhygienic”. Meanwhile, on the distaff side, Cara Delevigne’s eyebrows belong in a petting zoo, but because they’re on her face and not under her arms, they’re OK.
I feel so ashamed that I didn’t jump on this bandwagon earlier because condemning a woman for being real is nothing less than oppression.
Lassies, we may only have a few days left, but let’s show the world that we are free to do whatever we want with our body hair. If your oxter locks are long enough, plait them with pride. Dye them all colours of the rainbow, if you want. And if anybody, like me, missed out on this month’s chance to be proud of their pits, how about Stubble for September?