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Armpits4August: Challenging Beauty Norms and Raising Money and Awareness of PCOS

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The current zeitgeist of discussion about women and body hair shows no sign of abating, and rightly so. From Emer O'Toole's brave and unashamedly hairy appearance on This Morning, Those Pesky Dames' appearance on Cherry Healey's 'How To Get a Life: Can Your Looks Change Your Life?' to the alarm at Pixie Lott's barely hairy 'fashion faux pas', and the storm that blew through the feminist blog and twittersphere at the alarming advert for waxing deals for the under 15s. Armpits4August, beginning on Wednesday 1 August, hopes to make a contribution to this timely discussion, and help keep this complicated issue floating in the social consciousness.

Another aspect of Armpits4August is that it is also trying to raise awareness of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and money for Verity, the only national PCOS charity. PCOS is a condition that affects around 5-10% of women living in the UK, and although often going undiagnosed, it is a leading cause of infertility, weight gain and hirsutism - excess body hair in places associated with male pattern growth, such as the chest, neck and face. In a society where nearly all of our images of women are completely hairless, except for on the head, the pressure to conform and embarrassment felt by many, probably most, women about their body hair is especially strong for women with hirsutism.

We are asking women to grow their armpit hair - or any other body hair - for the month of August and collect sponsorship from friends and family. Over time we are aiming to have pride in our body hair rather than shame, and to challenge the idea that post-pubescent women with body hair - no matter how much - are disgusting, unhygienic or 'unnatural'.

On Monday 30th July we pit-mobbed the South Bank in London to launch the campaign and, whilst the majority of reactions were positive and enthusiastic about Armpits4August, the negative reactions were at least as revealing: uncontrollable grimacing, shocked double-takes, and even one person who retched.

Armpits4August believe that we should be deeply concerned that we live in society where hair on adult women is seen as shocking and disgusting, to say nothing of the pressure this places on women to uphold this idealised image of beauty, and the time and money it takes to maintain this illusion.

It is emphatically not about saying that only what is 'natural' is acceptable or beautiful, but that women should be free to make these choices, consciously and actively, and without the fear of provoking disgust, hatred or being shamed. We think that the display of underarm hair growth in August 2012 - and in future years - will be one of many ways to try and change this.

Above all, Armpits4August aims to provide a stimulus and safe space for women to discuss and experiment with growing their body hair, something many women may never have done. We believe that the perceived necessity for women to be hairless is not only sexist, gender-policing twaddle, but also racist, lesbophobic and transphobic.

Whilst we encourage as many women as possible to participate, we are also especially keen to hear the voices of women who feel unable to grow their body hair and, in so-doing, demonstrate the necessity of intersectional feminism: the personal risk involved in growing your body hair as a political act as, for example, a woman of colour or a trans woman is not the same as growing your body hair as a white, middle-class woman. We encourage women to blog about their experiences and opinions, or submit vlogs and photos to our website and youtube channel.

For those that feel able, let the growing begin! Let's start the journey towards a situation where women can make active choices about whether to grow or remove their body hair, based on personal preference and not restrictive, woman-hating social expectations.

Around the Web

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