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An armpit selfie contest forces us to examine if we’re a nation of prudes

The recent armpit hair selfie contest that stormed the online world has created much controversy and shoved a private, personal matter right into our faces

In recent months, a bizarre armpit hair selfie craze has swept over Weibo, the popular Chinese microblogging platform. Thousands of young women who looked otherwise well put-together proudly uploaded selfies displaying their, ahem, unshaven armpits.

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Some of the brazen armpit selfies that inundated Weibo

(photos from swaggernewyork.com)

Brouhaha over Our Bodies’ Bushy Bits

As they raised their arms, netizens raised their eyebrows. Some gagged while others applauded the movement. Those in favour of the armpit selfies claimed that they “revolutionised stereotypes”.

Weibo user @Alicey said, “Why are girls forced to shave? We need to advocate for change.” Another user @NewForcesOfCulture said, “Natural beauty is true beauty.”

When I told my friends that I found any armpit hair selfie to be downright gross and too in-your-face, I received mixed (and heated) reactions.

Guilty of Being a Prude, And I Am Not Alone

Despite our growing acceptance of fellow Singaporeans with tattoos and facial piercings, we still found the endless stream of hairy armpit selfies unsavoury and unacceptable.

My male colleague concurs, “Maybe ‘repulsive’ is too strong a word but I found the Weibo contest and posts on it to be… distasteful.” He adds, “I am not against nor averse to women having hair on their underarms, generally speaking, but I think this should be more personal and should not be made so public.
Sylvia, who self-identifies as an emerging feminist, chides me, “Come on, aren’t you being a prude? It’s the 21st Century!” She adds, “Feminism started with bra-burning. It’s only a matter of time that trends recur and women feel the need to make a loud, unmistakable statement about what they stand for. Let them be!”

I have to admit, Sylvia makes sense. On the internet, sentiments are more often hollered than whispered. Attempts to raise social awareness have not always been intelligent or successful, but new memes are guaranteed to continue sprouting anyway.

We didn’t bat an eyelash at the scores of people who did the Ice Bucket Challenge for the sheer fun of getting drenched, so why not lighten up about the armpit selfie contest too?

To Shave or Not to Shave?

The hype over the controversial contest has died down, but the question remains—should women be expected to shave? Opinions are divided.

Many women have been choosing to liberate themselves from shaving without raising a ruckus (or their arms in front of a camera).

Candice from Michigan says, “I used to labour over shaving and waxing during my early twenties, when I was just following social norms. These days, I’ve stopped being a slave to social pressure. I don’t shave and I wear whatever I want.”

For some, hair removal can be empowering. Amy, an executive in her forties who’s single, says, “I shave or wax almost everywhere, but only for myself. I feel sexier that way.”

For many I know, shaving comes down to a practical, personal choice. While body hair itself isn’t “dirty” per se, given Singapore’s hot and humid weather, one tends to develop body odour faster if unshaven.

Joe, an IT guy in his thirties, is practical about the hairy issue, “Body hair isn’t going to be a deal-breaker when I’m dating. Hairy is okay, stinky isn’t.” Hear, hear!

Trendsetters vs. Laggards

Have you wondered why grown women are expected to sport smooth, silky skin all over when it’s perfectly natural for body hair to sprout upon puberty?

Big names such as Julia Roberts and Britney Spears have unabashedly allowed themselves to be photographed with their arms raised while exposing their fine crops of armpit hair.

Perhaps the women posting their selfies on Weibo are in fact trendsetters taking a cue from those celebrities. It’s easy to stay unshaven and hide under a cardigan, but it takes guts to put your body hair on display for the whole world.

Trends come and go, and just as there are trendsetters, there are laggards too. To all who have found the armpit selfies tasteless or repulsive, I dare ask, “Could there be a prude in you?”

Why do you think society expects women (or men) to shave? Do you think exposing body hair is a trend that’s here to stay? We want to hear from you. Drop us a comment now!

By Runbin Yew