AS January drew to a close, so too did the aptly named ‘Januhairy’: a campaign created by Exeter student Laura Jackson that has garnered international media attention as women pledged to stop removing their body hair for the month of January. The intention of the campaign was undoubtedly positive, aiming to raise money for Body Gossip, a charity that promotes education and acceptance, and to encourage the normalisation of women’s body hair.
Unsurprisingly, Jackson and the other women who chose to stop removing their body hair this month have faced backlash, mostly from men in the comments of Facebook posts or articles about Januhairy who describe women’s body hair as “unhygienic” and “unattractive”. These kinds of comments are disappointing, but in a world where even adverts for women’s hair removal don’t actually show the hair being removed, it’s hardly surprising. Clearly, the ongoing presence of people who believe that women with body hair are lazy or unclean serves to show just how necessary it is to change the way body hair is perceived and depicted both in the media, and in everyday life.
Despite my defence of women’s body hair, I have to admit that my feelings towards the Januhairy movement in particular are mixed. Upon first hearing about the project, my thoughts quickly gravitated from “good idea” to “why would I bother shaving in January anyway?” For me, it doesn’t seem particularly revolutionary to stop taking the hair off my legs when I haven’t worn shorts since August. ‘Januhairy’ is a catchy portmanteau, but the reception of it would be quite different if it was the middle of summer as opposed to the dead of winter. Also, the month is only 31 days long – like Dry January or the increasingly-popular Veganuary, there is the significant issue that the campaign will only last so long. Come the first day of February, we’ll have forgotten all about free will, and most women are likely to go back to feeling that they have no choice in the matter.
Maybe this is a pessimistic way to view it all, but as a woman of colour with more, and faster-growing hair than my white female friends, it’s hard to imagine that Januhairy has had, or will be having, any long-term positive effects.
Writing for The Guardian, journalist Chitra Ramaswamy notes that “not all body hair is deemed equal, or rather, equally disgusting”. And it’s true – when you see cute little feminist cartoons of women with body hair, they never show women with hair on their upper lip or stomach, it’s always leg or armpit hair. For women of colour, trans people, or those with polycystic ovary syndrome, it’s a very different story. Hair removal is time-consuming, expensive, and usually painful. The ongoing process is physically irritating and mentally taxing, and personally, it doesn’t really seem like a viable option to stop removing any hair at all for an entire month when it grows back so quickly and noticeably.
Hair removal should be a choice: if you choose to wax, shave, tweeze it, or leave it alone, it should be completely up to you. Sadly, the judgemental society within which we live makes this difficult, particularly when your hair grows quickly or in places that aren’t considered acceptable by the vast majority of people. I highly doubt that a month-long challenge is going to change a deep-set social convention, especially when the nuances of the problem are so complex and subjective.
Kudos to the creator of Januhairy – this is certainly a step in the right direction. We just need to avoid it becoming a white-feminist-esque campaign where only conventionally attractive white women with a bit of fluff on their legs are being heralded for breaking down boundaries. Instead, let’s try to bring body positivity forward into the months and years to come.