Januhairy Is Changing The Way Women Feel About Their Body Hair
Far too many women can relate to having tossed and turned the night before a school swimming lesson, after painstakingly yet amateurishly shaving away any tell-tale trace of body hair.
I would scrape clumsily away at my skin with a razor until it bled and rashed over, leaving angry red scratches on my knees and ankles. I was so genuinely – mortally – frightened of bearing a stubbly armpit, or worse, a stray pube making a straggly bid for freedom.
Meanwhile, the very same public swimming pool would be full of hairy blokes sporting superabundant carpets of chest hair spreading to every square centimetre of flesh.
No doubt they would have recoiled in horror if you’d shown them a strip of Veet, and yet this endless, painstaking ritual of hair removal is pressed upon girls from a grimly young age.
I can laugh a bit at such self-conscious fears now, being a fairly confident adult who is kind of fine with sporting a less-than-smooth pin on a night out.
But when I was younger I wish I’d known it was okay to have a fuzzy bikini line or a mini lady ‘tache; to exhibit signs of having gone through puberty other than possessing an ample yet impossibly perky pair of knockers.
According to a 2019 report from the Mental Health Foundation, 31% of teenagers felt ‘ashamed’ in relation to their body image, with young women being most likely to feel dissatisfied with their bodies.
Such profound internal shame can have a hugely destabilising effect on a young person’s life, and can lead to mental health issues, poorer quality of life and the eschewing of sporting activities.
It is frankly bonkers the lengths we women go to, to hide the fact that we have adult body hair; splashing daft amounts of time and money plucking and shaving and waxing parts that leave us hobbling for days.
While rampant male body hair can be viewed as virile and even sexy, a hairy women is all too often perceived to be completely undesirable. And women internalise this, hating the bits of themselves that continue to bristle and flourish, shave after shave.
As I say, my teenage years are behind me, I’m fairly confident and I don’t embarrass too easily. But I have previously found myself skipping a gym session because my exposed ankle looked a bit too furry.
I’ve also – and this disturbs me to think about – found myself actually apologising to a new partner about having ‘failed’ to shave my knees properly, with a few wisps of fluff around the kneecap area.
So I’ve been avidly following this year’s Januhairy campaign, a month-long celebration of female bodies in all their mammalian glory, with women participants encouraged to grow out their natural hair.
All across social media, women are bearing their luxuriant pits and overflowing bikini lines. Lush planes of body brush cover thighs and buttocks, stomachs and necks. Many are sharing their personal experiences of razor bumps and unsolicited advice, stigma and sensitive skin.
From women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) or hirsutism to those with the faintest golden threads, this campaign has brought forward the stories of so many diverse women and their relationship with body hair.
Through the Januhairy Instagram page, we hear from the girl whose boyfriend refused to take her on a date if she didn’t blitz her facial hair. We hear from the environmentalist concerned over the impact of disposable razors, and the trans woman who has learnt she can be both hairy and feminine.
I spoke with Laura Jackson, an actor and recent Exeter University drama grad, who founded the Januhairy campaign to empower women to make their own choices about their body hair, free of the pressures of societal expectations and unrealistic media representations.
Like many women, Laura has had to address and overcome taboos surrounding female body hair before getting comfortable with her own.
Laura told UNILAD:
I grew out my body hair for the first time for a one-woman show I wrote and performed in, exploring the social constructs of what makes the ‘ideal woman’… of course I grew my hair out as part of this subject… but this was the first time ever doing it.
The show took place in May 2018, when it was the hottest time of that year, and I was wearing long jeans and tops to cover up my hair.
There had been some parts that were challenging for me, and others that really opened my eyes to the taboo of body hair on a woman. After a few weeks of getting used to it, I started to like my natural hair. I also started to like the lack of uncomfortable episodes of shaving.
Having become accustomed to ditching the razor, Laura embarked on a mission to get other women to embrace their own unique, natural bodies.
In 2019, she set up Januhairy, a campaign she now hopes will become an annual event going forward; continuing to inspire and connect women from all over the world.
Opening up about the inspiration behind Januhairy, Laura told UNILAD:
Though I felt liberated and more confident in myself, some people around me didn’t understand why I didn’t shave/didn’t agree with it. I realised that there is still so much more for us to do to be able to accept one another fully and truly.
Then I thought of Januhairy and thought I would try it out. It’s a start at least. I had a goal to work towards (my show) and that helped me to use that time to grow out my hair and know there was an end goal to make a decision on whether I would like to shave or not.
I thought other woman may need that incentive also – knowing that they can choose to do what they like with their bodies at the end of the month, after exploring and accepting this part of themselves they have been shaming themselves for having.
Laura noted how men could also get involved as, of course, body image affects everyone:
Men could definitely get involved as well! It would be great to have them as allies to the movement and for what it stands for. They can show this by simply sharing posts on their social media, talking about it with other people, or buying merchandise and showing it off with the rest of us women!
Some men have even joked about shaving off their body hair for the whole month so the roles are reversed.
This would be up to them if they would want to do that because at the end of the day, the message stands for both men and women, It’s all about choice, shave whenever. But make sure you are choosing to do that for you.
Laura fortunately had plenty of support from her friends and family from the get-go, although she found herself having to explain her motivation to them. This in itself proved the need to spread greater awareness.
Speaking about how she got her initially confused mum on board, Laura told UNILAD:
When I first started growing my body hair, my mum asked me, ‘Is it you just being lazy or are you trying to prove a point?’ Why should we be called lazy if we don’t want to shave? And why do we have to be proving a point?
After talking to her about it and helping her understand, she saw how absurd it was that she asked those questions. If we do something/see the same things, over and over again it becomes normal.
She is now a proud Januhairy advocate and is joining this hairy month with hundreds of other women around the world! Joining last year to grow her body hair out was a big challenge for her as well as many women who are getting involved. Of course a good challenge!
This isn’t an angry campaign for people who don’t see how normal body hair is, but more an empowering project for everyone to understand more about their views on themselves and others.
I honestly have changed so many people’s minds on the subject of body hair and what is normal … and because of Januhairy, so many others around the world are having a conversation about it with one another, which is stepping towards the goal of it being normal; when you see/do the same thing again and again, it becomes normal.
This year, Januhairy activists are supporting Tree Sisters, a wonderful organisation that protects and restores natural carbon solutions through reforestation.
For Laura and many other body confidence campaigners, learning to love our bodies and working to protect the environment are very much interconnected issues.
Laura told UNILAD:
A message we resonate with as women within this movement; to protect and restore the habitat of our environment, as well as the natural habitat of our personal bodies.
Going forward, Laura hopes Januhairy will be able to have a similar sort of impact as Movember, a month-long campaign that raises money for testicular cancer research through global moustache-sprouting:
In 2019, the campaign had a big impact on a lot of people around the world. Some of the negative responses even made a positive impact; people are still talking about it, thus adding to the vision that one day it will no longer be such a taboo for women to ditch their razors and embrace their natural form.
Even though there has been some great changes seen since the campaign, there are still many people who don’t see this as ‘normal’ and are horrified by a woman choosing to embrace a part of herself that society shames her for having.
My hope, would be that Januhairy makes an annual recurrence and takes off as the same level as Movember does, but for us girls.
I’m 29 years old. I grew up in a time when it wasn’t cool to care about things and most young girls weren’t encouraged to think critically about the way their bodies were being discussed and portrayed.
Feeling under constant scrutiny to be ‘normal’, I was desperate to give the impression of being as smooth as a seal beneath my clothes; without so much as a patch of down on my scrawny little arm.
Teen magazines were full of problem pages about how to get your thighs as sleek as possibly, often with ads galore from shaving and waxing brands. Such rituals were sold as empowering and womanly, but in reality made you feel locked into a never-ending cycle of self-loathing.
And – like so many women – I hated myself, then and for many, many years into adulthood. I felt unfeminine, undesirable and weirdly guilty of somehow failing to live up to the frightening levels of beauty expected of me and every other ordinary girl just trying to get by.
Campaigns like Januhairy can and do make a difference to how girls perceive themselves and how they will go on to feel about themselves once they reach adulthood.
According to the aforementioned Mental Health Foundation report, one factor that can lead to poor body image includes ‘exposure to images of idealised or unrealistic bodies through media or social media’.
As a grown-ass woman who has had more waxing appointments than I care to remember, I found it greatly cheering to see body hair shown in such a normal – yet beautiful – way through the Januhairy campaign.
I can only imagine the impact this would have on a 13-year-old girl looking for ways to get out of a Monday morning PE lesson.
Many adult women are still working on accepting their bodies, and sometimes it feels like I have many years to go before I feel at home in my own skin.
However, I like to think that by the time I have teenage daughters of my own, they will feel comfy enough within themselves to play out on the beach all day without feeling the need to check their ankles for missed hairs.
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