Run your fingers along your legs. Do you feel stubble? Do you feel bristles of long, unruly hair? If you, like me, live in a northern altitude, then most likely you are lazily hibernating, wrapping your soft bod in scarves and wool and oversized sweaters, skipping your shaving routine for weeks on end or even all together.
I’m not sure I consider this act brave, or even inherently feminist, but one white woman has discovered the joy of having hairy pits and legs and is marketing her awakening as “Januhairy.” People reports that the movement was started by U.K. college student Laura Jackson, who “noticed a difference in how she felt when she grew out her body hair for a role.” The goal is to encourage women to embrace their body hair.
We live in a stupid world where a bunch of men decided that women are more fuckable when their bodies more closely resemble naked mole rats, so yes, choosing not to participate in that and learning to love your bod as it is is a wonderful, good, important thing. I support Januhairy’s intentions, and if it encourages more women to embrace their body hair, that’s lovely. But let’s please keep it in perspective: a white woman discovering and promoting the wonders of not shaving her pits, in the dead cold of winter, when we shave the least anyway, is not a particularly brave stance.
Pretty white women are often celebrated for their bushy eyebrows or for their courageousness in growing long, silky strands from their pits, but it’s black and brown women and trans people we should be honoring and highlighting; they are routinely mocked, harassed, and threatened for refusing to conform to Euro-centric, Western standards of beauty. While white women are liberating their pits, brown people, who have darker, and oftentimes coarser, thicker hair (in more places), are contending with colonialist expectations of what their bodies, and hair, are supposed to look like.
For brown people of all genders, the choice to not conform to society’s expectations of how to treat their dark hair are not met with such celebration, nor are they decided upon so casually. In 2012, Reddit attempted to shame Sikh woman Balpreet Kaur by a posting her photo of her (taken without her consent) online (she righteously schooled Reddit about the sanctity of the human body and why she doesn’t have time for your bullshit.) Gender non-conforming artist and writer Alok V. Menon has talked about facing death threats simply for daring to post a photo of them in a bathing suit. Pakistani-American artist Ayqa Khan felt so much pressure to be hairless that she “had to prepare two hours to wake up early to make sure I had no hair on my face” just to fit in with her white peers at school. Now Khan paints reaffirming portraits of brown people with body and facial hair. In i-D, one Turkish woman, for whom waxing was a communal event and cultural right of passage, wrote about the internal conflict with removing body hair she felt after going to Scandanavia and reading feminist theory that “links acts like waxing to internalization of misogynist ideals.”
As Fariha Roisin, a queer Muslim writer, told i-D: “White women not removing body hair is quite laughable to me.”
“White women don’t have the history, or the baggage of growing up with visible body hair, so their announcement of it, or political positionality of it, seems insincere. Many brown folks, including me, were bullied growing up for being too hairy. When there’s no history of subjugation or even cultural abuse, it seems premature to align yourself with something that essentially has no consequence for you, irrespective of how vocal you are with it.”
With that, I say: It’s January. Grow your hair out—or don’t! I honestly don’t care. Just remember that feminism isn’t a white woman’s cute one-month hashtag exploration on Instagram.