How We’re Embracing A New Era Of Body Hair Post-Lockdown

Photo by Zaineb Abelque.
From my underarms to my navel, I have hair everywhere and it grows consistently, no matter how much personal grooming I do. I estimate that I spend in excess of $1200 a year having my body hair ripped from my skin. Sometimes it feels as though my body hair reappears within hours of removing it. But at the height of the pandemic, I actually began to enjoy seeing how long it could grow.
Eventually my parents guilt-tripped me into removing my body hair, although I now only wax half my leg in a small act of resistance. Why? Because in 2020, something changed for me and I know I'm not alone. Salons had been closed for extended periods, we were forced to stay at home and besides, there were bigger issues at play, like our personal health and when we'd next see our loved ones. The last year has allowed many people to embrace their body hair entirely as amid the chaos, underarm stubble and wispy leg hair seemed like the last things to worry about.
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At the height of the pandemic, I actually began to enjoy seeing how long my body hair could grow.

Last November, The Crown actress Emma Corrin graced the cover of Glamour with unshaven underarms. In her interview, Corrin stated: "I haven't done it before because I've been in a relationship and I guess I had been programmed to think that I should probably shave for the benefit of both parties. But fuck it — I don't really want to shave! I realized, 'why did I ever bother?'" Corrin's point raises an interesting question: have we previously removed body hair for ourselves or to appease those around us? And how has lockdown shaped the conversations we have regarding our body hair?
Questioning our body hair at this moment in time makes sense. Constant lockdown rules mean we've been isolated from friends, family, partners and colleagues – people who we might have been embarrassed to allow a glimpse of our body hair. During the pandemic, our entire lifestyle changed and that has been reflected in our grooming practices. Many of us have come to realize that the ritual of hair removal was born out of obligation rather than necessity. University student Sof started growing out their leg hair during the pandemic due to "laziness" and has since embraced the look. "I’m definitely going to keep my leg hair," Sof says. "It’s just part of who I am now and I love having hairy legs." Sof says they do still get self-conscious about their body hair every now and again but adds that their love of leg hair goes hand in hand with accepting their ethnicity. "I'm half Arab and therefore hairier than a lot of white folk. That isn’t something to be ashamed of, rather something to embrace," Sof says.
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This past year has enabled us to pick and choose whether we want to keep some, all or none of our hair without outside influence. The isolation of the pandemic has seen more people begin to reflect on their bodies without the pressure of regular hair removal appointments, such as waxing and laser. Ella* agrees. "The pandemic has put things in perspective for me," she says. "Before, I'd remove my arm hair and facial hair because I've had friends say that it's 'too much' but being alone with my body has made me realize that it's just hair. While I do remove my facial hair now things are lifting, it feels liberating not to have to remember to shave my arms. Previously, I'd spend so much time and money on hair removal but this summer I'm trying to be less bothered."
Similarly, Olly says that being at home more means "not many people even really notice" if her body hair is shaved or not. Princess seconds this and says that having nowhere to be has seen her hair removal routine take a back seat. As a new mum, she hasn't thought about the hair she was growing, nor did she have much access to it over her pregnant stomach. Princess says she will keep her leg hair once lockdown lifts but ditch her underarm hair. She hits home the importance of being comfortable with this choice and claims it's a result of seeing others embrace their body hair on social media.
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During the pandemic, our entire lifestyle changed and that has been reflected in our grooming practices. It has enabled us to pick and choose whether we want to keep some, all or none of our hair without outside influence.

TikTok has grown in popularity during the lockdowns and it is helping to challenge the stigma of visible body hair on women. The hashtag #bodyhairisnatural has over 56 million views, with #bodyhairpositivity garnering 22.3 million and #bodyhaironwomen at 226.2k views respectively. The videos range from people suggesting natural alternatives to hair removal, such as sugaring, through to people showing off their leg and underarm hair accompanied by positive captions on self-love and responding to critics. UK-based TikToker Solana uses the #bodyhairisnatural hashtag to show her 414.9k followers that body hair is okay. In a recent viral video, she asks her followers: "What colour should I dye my hair next? I’m thinking either purple or green or maybe red." Solana is talking about her underarm hair, of course. The supportive comments show that body hair isn't something to be reviled but celebrated. Instagrammers like Harnaam Kaur, Paris Jackson and, more recently, TikTokers like Solana are showing those struggling to come to terms with the body hair they possess that it is totally normal.
We have been led to believe that hairiness is a signifier of masculinity. It suggests that as women, the less hair we have, the more 'feminine' we are. Some TikTok users emphasize that perhaps they are 'too' hairy but these comments and posts are quickly called out and any criticism nipped in the bud. Videos also show that the new era of embracing body hair isn't going anywhere. TikToker Anna, who speaks openly about being an Asian woman with "thick, coarse, dark hair", recently discussed this on the app. In response to a comment from a male follower, she said: "There’s this conception that women should be hairless and I think it comes as a shock when they see how much hair a woman can grow." Referring to a video posted this year, which showed her underarm hair, Anna continued: "When I made that video, my armpit hair wasn’t even as long as it could be, so if that is disgusting to you, I think that’s a you problem, because body hair is natural and if you don’t want to remove it, you don’t have to remove it for other people."
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TikTok is helping to challenge the stigma of visible body hair on women; videos and comments show that body hair isn't something to be reviled but celebrated.

It can be argued that the beauty industry and media prey on the insecurities of women, and more so ethnic women, whose hair tends to grow darker and thicker than their white counterparts. "I think a lot of it was about feeling like grown-ups and mimicking what we saw on the TV or media," says Olly, referring to hairless limbs in magazines and countless adverts for hair removal products. But that has changed in the past year. Beauty company Billie continues to promote its Project Body Hair campaign, aimed at showing body hair on the big screen. Throughout 2020 and into 2021, the brand's Instagram account has been committed to showing all kinds of women with different types of body hair: long, short, dark and everything in between.
Personally, it makes me feel seen, as the posts are so unlike the immaculately shaven women we have known previously. After spotting the Project Body Hair campaign, I knew I didn't have to hide my aversion to removing my body hair; there were others like me. One new razor brand which has become popular in the last year for championing choice is Sunny. Its tagline is: "To shave or not to shave. It's no biggie, is it? Prickly or smooth, it won't change the world." Carol echoes this notion: "Embracing my body hair in small ways is not an open act of resistance. I just want to be free." She adds that post-lockdown, she will only remove her body hair when she feels like it. Having more control has encouraged Carol to abandon her monthly salon appointments.
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On the flip side, removing body hair can be seen as an act of self-care, particularly during such a stressful year. This is something I can vouch for. Despite not always removing my hair, I acknowledge the heightened sense of self-confidence that being silky smooth can bring. Refinery29's beauty editor, Jacqueline, can relate. She recently wrote: "In lockdown, my stringent hair removal routine means more than a quick shave. I could argue it is a form of self-care. For some, choosing not to remove body hair, excess or otherwise, can be empowering, liberating. For me, nixing those uncomfortable wiry hairs every morning is just as satisfying. One of the only real routines I have left under lockdown, it makes me feel a little less stressed and anxious – even 'normal' and put together, especially when the symptoms of PCOS, and of course now quarantine, often make us feel out of sorts."
There is no denying that the pandemic has made many women rethink their body hair, whether they are marvelling at the length – like I am – or are excited for a professional wax. As the UK begins to open up, I know that some will rush to book in for hair removal appointments. But for others, body hair signifies a newfound freedom. Whether you keep it or remove it, it's a personal choice and if the past year has taught us anything, it's that we shouldn't pass judgement. We should highlight acceptance and understanding. That extends to how we navigate beauty, in particular body hair.
*Name has been changed
This story was originally published on Refinery29 UK.

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