When it comes to magazines, the September issue is the most important issue of the year. It’s bigger and bolder and heralds in a new season, showcasing the hottest runway looks. However, as the decades go by, September issues have become more than just about new designs. They’ve become about big ideas, social commentary, activism and calls to action.
So, it comes as no surprise that within the pages of Harper’s Bazaar’s September issue, hyper femme model Emily Ratajkowski, poses in an alluring Marilyn Monroe esque manner – both arms raised and held behind the head – revealing a healthy patch of armpit hair. She followed up this defiant imagery with a candid essay illustrating her thoughts on sexuality, identity, feminism and more.
A PR stunt on the part of Harper’s and Ratajkowski, or a true reflection of the zeitgeist? The latter according to stats by research analysts at Mintel. In 2016 Mintel revealed that figures had dropped from 95 per cent of women aged 16-24 removing their underarm hair to 77 per cent between 2013 and 2016. While leg shaving had dropped by 7 percent. Fast forward to October 2018, where figures showed that 7 percent of Millennials claimed to have not removed any hair from their bodies in the last 12 months.
For too long the removal of body hair has been marketed to women as part and parcel of being attractive and through the years our value as women has been assigned according to how well we meet the beauty standards outlined by advertisers, fashion magazines and more. ‘Body hair has had a long association throughout history with power, and its removal is a symbolic and literal removal of some of our power,’ shares Breanne Fahs, women and gender studies professor at Arizona State University. Now, as the tides begin to turn and we usher in a fifth wave of feminism, and the era of #metoo - millennials are taking back control of their bodies by letting their body hair flourish.
"Millennials were raised by mothers who were either part of, or strongly influenced by the Women's Liberation Movement. These mums were the bra burning generation and their daughters have taken things a step further. Millennials are generally unwilling to follow norms created by men and reject expectations of beauty defined by them,” says PhD psychologist Vivian Diller.
It seems that what’s fueling this collective shunning of shaving is the ongoing demand for our right as women to choose. Ratajkowski agrees, ‘if I decide to shave my armpits or grow them out, that's up to me. For me, body hair is another opportunity for women to exercise their ability to choose,’ she wrote.
Sporting body hair is not about being lazy, as some men have stated on Ratajkowski Instagram, but rather a millennials outward protest for this right to choose. And with women like Ratajkowski leading the charge this is a movement that’s literally set to grow.