14/08/2014 08:28 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

Why Does Body Hair Still Have The Power To Shock?

Do you shave your armpits? Your legs? Do you wax? Do you pluck your eyebrows? Can you just not be bothered? Or is your body hair a deliberate, political statement? Where do you draw the (bikini) line?

Close up of pink razor in bathroom

At the height of summer, as we traditionally reveal more of our bodies to the world, women are being urged to embrace their body hair, in a backlash against shaving, waxing and all that faff. The Hairy Legs Club is an increasingly popular Tumblr blog, encouraging women to post pictures of their hairy legs, along with affirming, positive comments.

"I used to shave every single day," says one of the posters. "I used to associate my hair with being unclean. I used to believe my body was unacceptable in its natural state. I've been told my body hair made me unworthy of getting dates.

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"Then I realized we're a patriarchal culture obsessed with young female bodies through 'barely legal' porn that makes grown women maintain bodies like that of a pre-pubescent girl and got a little sick... so I stopped shaving completely."

If I thought I could pull it off, I'd be saying "GO GIRLFRIEND!" The site is a welcome antidote to the acres of coverage in newspapers and magazines, showing airbrushed, skinny, tanned, 'perfect' models and celebrities prancing about in their bikinis. Do you want to know what real women look like? Check out The Hairy Legs Club. If you find it disturbing, take a long hard look at yourself and ask why.

Then there's the Armpits4August group, which was formed in 2012 and ran again last year, encouraging women to grow out their armpit hair for a month, to raise money for polycystic ovary syndrome charity Verity.

It's not running this year due to 'political differences' but it's had an effect on many, who have chosen to follow in the footsteps of Julia Roberts and Madonna by letting their underarm hair grow naturally.

Julia Roberts Attends The World Charity Premiere Of 'Notting Hill'. . (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)

But these women may not be in for an easy ride. If you want to see some truly revolting behaviour, check out this Mirror article, shaming celebrities for daring to appear in public without shaving.

Littered with phrases like "embarrassing", "forgot to shave", "left red-faced", "stubble trouble", "horrified fans" and even "skank", it's a shockingly revealing snapshot of misogyny.

Shaving and waxing is tedious and uncomfortable. And when do women come under pressure to start? Exactly at the moment we reach puberty. Suddenly as we become women, our bodies are changing, and we're immediately told they are disgusting. Something to conceal. Instead, we should try to maintain the pre-pubescent, hairless state of a child. Now THAT'S disturbing.

In a GirlGuiding survey last year, nearly eight in 10 girls aged between 11 and 16 said they shaved or waxed their legs. But it's not making them happy. A third of girls aged between seven and 21 were not happy with their looks – more than ever. At the ages of 14 to 16, more than half of all girls were unhappy with their appearance.
Teenage girls are mostly desperate to fit in. Why did I start shaving my legs? Because I was bullied at school, at various times, for having long hair, for wearing the wrong clothes, for working too hard, for having spots, for not wearing a bra, for being overweight, for not wearing make-up, for not having a perm... and for not shaving my legs. At last – something I could change. It didn't make any difference, I was still wildly unpopular, but at least I had smooth legs.

But now I'm a grown-up. Isn't it time we started behaving like grown-ups, instead of listening to teenage girls and the similar, adolescent sneering of the popular press? In that GirlGuiding survey, more than seven in 10 girls aged 11 to 21 said pictures that 'shame' celebrities make them anxious about the way they look. What's the antidote? More Hairy Legs Clubs, more Armpits4August, more pictures celebrating real women; and less shaming, mocking and disgust about women's bodies.

Disclaimer: I do shave my armpits and my legs, but I'm going to go away and think REALLY HARD about why, and whether I should...

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