Monday, 27 August 2012
Allot of the time, the stereotypical image of a Feminist seems to include being hairy. As Rhul Fem Soc highlighted in our Rumour has it campaign, some of us shave, some of us don't, what's the big deal? The taboo over body hair always seems to be floating around, be it armpit, leg, arm or pubic hair. So we were delighted when we came across this amazing new campaign called Armpits4August and have been following their work ever since. And they were even nice enough to give us an interview :)
So, what is the aim of Armpits4August and how did this campaign begin?
Armpits4August: One of our members, Sarah, originally came up with the idea last year. As a sufferer of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), she found that the most difficult symptom to deal with on a day-to-day basis was hirsutism (excess hair growth). What’s more, as she had already started growing out some of her body hair, she wanted to do something to refute the notion that body hair on women is unclean, ‘unnatural’ or disgusting, whilst also highlighting the constant pressure on women to be hairless, and how difficult it is to go against this norm. The rest of us joined the campaign in varying levels of hairiness – from frequent hair-removers to full-time hairies – and whilst not all of us suffer from PCOS, we all have friends who do.
We came up with two main aims to our campaign: firstly, to raise awareness of and money for PCOS – a serious condition which affects around 10% of women – and secondly, to challenge narrow beauty standards which claim that only hairlessness is acceptable and attractive, whilst also providing a space for women to talk about their relationship with their body hair. All the money we raise goes to Verity, the UK’s largest charity for PCOS sufferers.
Why do you think that body hair is constantly made a big deal of in the media?
Armpits4August: I see it as part of a larger system where in the media, and indeed many members of the public, feel that it is ok and even their right to comment upon and police women’s bodies and appearances. For example, we have all seen the trashy magazine articles denouncing the fact that a female celebrity has ‘dared’ to leave the house without make-up on, or has put on or lost weight (depending on whatever has been arbitrarily deemed the ‘correct’ body size at the time). For me, this is just one example of the way in which patriarchal society attempts to deny bodily autonomy to women.
In terms of body hair in particular, I think it is either viewed in the media as a further example of women
having ‘forgotten’ to consistently keep up with beauty standards (like, for example, the recent coverage of Pixie Lott’s hairy underarms, or as something altogether more deviant, as a radical act of defiance by women. Because hairlessness has become such an entrenched norm, by refusing to depilate you are often automatically seen as making some kind of statement even when this is not the case; I think seeing body hair on women also creates a kind of panic in some people (and some journalists!) because the ‘rules’ of ‘femininity’ and ‘attractiveness’ are being transgressed.
What sort of feedback was you expecting from the campaign and what sort of feed back have you received?
Armpits4August:To begin with we had no idea whether the campaign would be successful and whether it would take off like it has. We knew that there was a dearth of awareness of PCOS in the public domain and we also knew that there were women out there who didn’t shave or who wanted to try growing out their body hair, but we weren’t sure if we could pull the two things together. However, the overwhelming majority of feedback we have received has been positive: from PCOS sufferers who felt like no-one understood their experiences to women who have finally felt able to throw away the razor as a result of our campaign. Of course, we were also expecting a fair amount of negative feedback from people who still think that female body hair is disgusting or ‘unfeminine’, and whilst we have had some of that, the positives have by far outweighed the negatives.
What have been the highlights of the campaign so far?
Armpits4August: On July 1st we held a day of action to promote the campaign; not only was it really successful in raising our profile, it was also very fun to do! We decided to ‘arm-bush’ statues of women around London: we made a number of ‘pit-wigs’ out of wool and then, after carefully avoiding any marauding security guards, we attached them to the statues along with a large tag saying ‘Armpits4August’, before tweeting a photo of each of them. We got a huge response on Twitter and Tumblr and I think that that day in particular really kick-started our campaign.
Since then we have also done another day of action on the South Bank, where we ‘got our pits out’ and talked to members of the public about their thoughts on female body hair; we have also held a couple of talks at Lambeth Women’s Project and the Feminist Library, where we got some great feedback and signed up some new members. My personal highlight was talking to Jenni Murray about the campaign on Woman’s Hour a couple of weeks ago!
Finally, we are holding a Pit Pride Party in central London on Friday 31st August and we encourage all self- identifying women – whether they are growing their pits for August or not – to come down, talk about their relationship with their body hair and meet other women in various stages of hairiness and in solidarity. I’m hoping that this will be an evening where we can really let our hair down (pun intended) after all the hard work.
We hear some of the women taking part in this event have been blogging about their Armpits4August experiences, what stories have you found the most intriguing?
Armpits4August: For me, the most interesting stories have been from those women for whom Armpits4August is the first time they have stopped shaving on a regular basis. In particular, my friend Hannah who, when I mentioned the campaign to her a couple of months ago, told me that she would never be able to stop shaving and that she didn’t like her own body hair. She is now keeping a daily blog with updates of her pits and has had a complete change in opinion! She has become brave enough to go out and face the world with unshaven pits and gives me frequent reports on her daily experiences with friends, family and co-workers!
There have also been a number of men who have pledged to shave their pits every day in solidarity; unsurprisingly most of their feedback has been complaints about the pain, itchiness and the amount of time they have to spend to keep the hair at bay. In a slightly sadistic way I think that this is great, as it really helps to open some men’s eyes to the amount of work women have to put in to stay attractive according to patriarchal society’s norms.
Many Student Unions get really involved in Movember, how do you think Student Unions can get involved in Armpits4August?
Armpits4August: Although most students are away from campus during August, we hope that Armpits4August could fit into a larger scheme throughout the year whereby SUs promote body positivity and body confidence, and of course fight to stamp out sexism at universities all over the country. Where possible, we are more than happy to come to campuses to run workshops on body hair and/or PCOS and we strongly encourage any feminist societies or women’s groups to contact us, get more involved and perhaps even hold their own Pit Pride Parties at the end of August. Students are generally great at fundraising so it would be great to hear about any inventive ideas people come up with to raise more money.
What plans do you currently have to raise awareness of POC and pit pride throughout the year?
Armpits4August: We will be maintaining an active online presence on Facebook and Twitter and hope to continue discussions about PCOS and body hair through these media. We are also very happy to come and talk about the campaign at feminist or women’s events throughout the UK. As we now have a full year to plan for next August’s campaign, we hope to come back in 2013 (and every year after that) even bigger, better and more well-organised than before!
What advice would you give to other groups that want to tackle body hair taboos?
Armpits4August: Firstly, now is definitely the time to get started: we’ve witnessed a real upsurge in awareness about the issue over recent months and I think body hair has become part of the zeitgeist: women are definitely keen to talk about the issue. In terms of campaigning in general, don’t be put off if it’s difficult at first: it’s a lot of hard work but it’s 100% worth it. Network with other feminists, both in real life and online, and finally: never underestimate the power of Twitter. Seriously.
If anyone wants to get in contact with us for more advice or to let us know about any groups or campaigns they’ve set up or are in the process of doing so, we would love to hear from you!
To see photos and video from our two days of action, visit www.flickr.com/photos/armpits4august/ and www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rK6SoE9neY
To donate to Armpits4August and help us reach our team target of £3000, visit: our JustGiving Page
For more information about the campaign, visit www.armpitsforaugust.com