Rebecca Kamm

Poking a stick at ladies' issues, pop culture, and other cutting-edge curiosities.

Rebecca Kamm: Unshaven armpits make the news

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Can it ever be socially acceptable for women to be hairy? The outcry over Emer O'Toole's TV appearance says no. Photo / Supplied
Can it ever be socially acceptable for women to be hairy? The outcry over Emer O'Toole's TV appearance says no. Photo / Supplied

BREAKING: A woman stopped shaving her armpits. AND OUT SPROUTED SOME HUMAN HAIRS!

28-year-old Emer O'Toole from Dublin was catapulted into mainstream news when she blogged recently about her decision not to shave anymore and went on UK show This Morning to debate the matter.

'Can it EVER be socially acceptable to have hairy armpits?' cried out cultural arbiter, the Daily Mail. "She appears to be brimming with confidence," it decided. Yet: "Like it or not, there are few sights more arresting than a woman with a hairy armpit." One of its writers nearly had a vom, even: "Watching her I nearly parted company with my breakfast."

The Daily Mail being the Daily Mail, reader comments were a treat too: "She can be a feminist all she wants but don't bitch when men aren't interested in your hairy body." "As natural and equally disgusting as breastfeeding in public." "Vile. She should be enforced to shave. Disgusting for a woman to act this way. Perversion."

Here is a clip from O'Toole's This Morning appearance, which led to the story's prominence in nearly every tabloid rag in Britain. As goes the formula, O'Toole is nicely foiled against some halfwit guaranteed to hold the opposite view - in this case, that unshaven women are savages.

In a live vote carried out during the show, 80 per cent of This Morning's viewers agreed hair on a woman's body was pretty much the worst thing she could do to society.

The subsequent dissection of this (ideally, non) issue has been widespread. So instead of dragging you through my own personal regurgitation, take a look at this comprehensive piece over at Daily Life.

Even good old Cosmo got into it, with a slightly defensive piece about shaving and being a feminist ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Even if, "Admittedly, Erin's bushy pits don't make pleasant viewing."

(Incidentally, Cosmopolitan UK is running a "feminism campaign" - Not quite sure how that would work, because... Cosmopolitan.)

Emer's original blog post over at The Vagenda is also worth a read, her observations interesting and well-expressed.

"I had some kind of half-formed idea that I chose to shave," she writes. "But when I started to sound out that idea logically, it rang hollow. If shaving was a choice, how come I didn't know a single post-pubescent female who didn't conform to it?

"How come I had never seen a woman's hairy leg on TV in any context other than as a hilarious joke?"

For the record, I shave my legs, AND under my arms. It's rote behaviour I essentially view as my choice. But actually - upon reflection - that choice is maybe more of a technicality. Because ultimately, even if I did decide to quit, the ramifications would shove a razor back in my hand eventually.

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What are your thoughts on female body hair? Do hairy legs and armpits on a woman horrifying to you? Why is it that women are given little choice but to shave, yet men are free to do as they please?

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