Picture a super hot guy. Does he have armpit hair? Now do the same with a super hot woman. She’s got pits as smooth as a baby’s bottom, right? Why is there such a stigma against women with armpit hair?
Historically, our revulsion over underarm hair seems to partially stem from religion. In the Islamic tradition, men and women were required to pluck their armpit and pubic hair in order to be observant Muslims. While they believed such hair removal was necessary to maintain good hygiene, today we know those little tufts don’t carry any really harmful bacteria.
The tradition appeared in several other religions as well, but somewhere down the line, men were let off the hook, while women continued to achieve hairlessness. One theory behind why both women and men seem particularly disgusted with female underarm hair has to do with the pheromones we emit from that area. Yes, pheromones are supposed to light up the attraction sensors in our brains, but too much pheromone stimulation can actually stir up the opposite effect — as in, disgust.
According to a 2014 New York magazine article, the scent coming from male armpits has a relaxing effect on women, whereas the scent from female armpits results in sexual excitement in men. Armpit hair works like a scent diffuser, allowing more pheromones to affect surrounding males and females. And while inhaling more male pheromones may be soothing to women, inhaling too many female pheromones can result in tipping the scale from being aroused to being grossed out. Apparently there’s a very thin line between arousal and disgust, and armpit hair on women is what pushes our pheromone level over the edge — hence women’s obsession with keeping their pits bare.
Despite all this scientific mumbo jumbo, women are becoming more and more frustrated about being held to this sexist double standard. One reporter from Buzzfeed decided to take to the streets to get the average person’s take on armpit hair on women and see if this long-held stigma might be changing.
Yes, people in general still seem to find armpit hair on a woman off-putting. Women are more accepting of the idea, but when pressed, some said they weren’t thrilled by the thought and would never think of growing out their own. The guys, on the other hand, were not afraid to be blunt — many think it’s “super disgusting” and “gross.” When the reporter asked a few of the men if they think it’s a double standard, they plainly said, “No, because women need to be more clean than men.”
But why? That’s the reigning question.
It all comes back to the hygiene thing. But there’s one problem with that — there’s nothing really unhygienic about armpit hair. People only blame their disgust on hygiene because it’s an easy answer. The real answer is much more complicated. When I did my own crowdsourcing, I received a much more varied response:
Sander, a playwright from the Pacific Northwest, said, “I’m into it, but then I’m from Oregon, land of mist and drum circles.”
Jena, a teacher and sociologist from California, said, “I’m a fan … but I hate to shave.”
Meanwhile, one New York composer hated on all armpit hair, both male and female. “Aren’t all hairy armpits pretty gross? I don’t want to see men’s hairy armpits, and I don’t want to see women’s hairy armpits. It’s not a double standard, it’s just a standard. Men are so disgusting that we have to cover up everything but our heads and hands — at least in the workplace. Why? [Because] we’re hairy. It’s gross.”
So there you have it. Some are starting to change their tune with regard to female armpit hair, while others remain staunchly opposed. However, I think there’s one thing we can all agree on — shaving is a pain in the ass.