Here’s a little secret: women shave only when people are paying attention and for generations, no one was looking. There was no compelling reason for a women to shave her armpits. That is until the 1910s when sleeveless dresses became fashionable. In May 1915,the upscale magazine Harper’s Bazaarfeatured an ad with a young woman posing with both hands up in the air wearing a silk sleeveless dress. The ad read, “Summer Dress and Modern Dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair.” Even the word “underarm” was considered taboo at a time where modest long sleeve gowns were the norm.
Before long, au naturale was out and hair-free pits were in. Deodorant companies and other big money interests erupted with more ads showing beautiful women revealing smooth hairless skin. One ad even went as far as to saying that unpleasant body order is the direct cause of underarm hair!
If we want to push the clock back even further, people have been removing their body hair from head to toe for thousands of years. Since 4000 B.C. the ancient Egyptians have used dangerous substances like arsenic to burn that sh*t away. Not only did they like the look, their argument was that temporary discomfort compared to the long term health benefits of avoiding the spread of lice. By 500 B.C. Romans were using a very crude and primitive version of a razor.
In modern times, it did not take much convincing before silky smooth was the beauty standard and that obsession spread to every part of the woman’s anatomy. As outfits became more sheer and more tiny, anything else but hairless was the golden standard among all classes. The Flappers of the 1920s wore shorter hair alongside shorter dresses.
With most cultural standards though, came a counter-backlash. The hippies of the 1960s rejected consumerism as well as portrayals of what a woman should look like and dress. Hair cutting and grooming was a lot of labor, and the counter-culture adopted a simple, natural care-free lifestyle that put spending money on the backburner. Au Naturale was, you guessed it, back in again.
Today, there is yet another natural airpit movement going in with hashtags like #freethepits and #armpithairdontcare. Entertainer Miley Cyrus has posted pictures of her natural pits numerous times on social media. Julia Roberts rocked unshaven pits in 1999 during the premiere of Notting Hill.