Millennial Women Reject the Razor: 1 in 4 Don’t Shave Underarms

May 24, 2017 at 1:51 am

After a century of cultural conditioning women across the globe are defying social shame and going “au naturel.”

Less than two decades after the media mercilessly mocked Julia Roberts for not shaving in 1999, nearly one in four millennial women, ages 16-24, are now following her lead.

The number of young women shaving their underarms is down from 95 percent in 2013, to 77 percent in 2016, according to Mintel, a market research firm. Leg shaving is also on the decline, dropping from 92 percent to 85 percent.

“The shaving and hair removal market continues to struggle” due at least in part to “consumers taking a value-driven mindset to shopping the category,” Mintel warned clients like Gillette in a report on U.S. trends released last month. Similar reports were released for dozens of other countries worldwide.

Mintel cited “shifting trends” and “increasing acceptance of hair” as culprits in the decline in razor and hair removal product sales. “Men are embracing facial hair, while women are embracing body hair,” the report continues.

The “increasing acceptance” of underarm hair may be partially thanks to the growing number of celebrities taking up the cause.

While the downward trend is bad news for Proctor and Gamble, it’s great news for women (not to mention the environment). A recent article in The Atlantic explains how “hair removal, at its core, is a form of gendered social control.” The article is a summary of the book Plucked: A History of Hair Removal by Rebecca Hertzig:


“The campaign against body hair on women originates in Darwin’s 1871 book Descent of Man … Darwin’s evolutionary theory transformed body hair into a question of competitive selection—so much so that hairiness was deeply pathologized … evolutionary thought solidified hair’s associations with ‘primitive’ ancestry …
An important distinction in this evolutionary framework was that men were supposed to be hairy, and women were not … hairiness in women became indicative of deviance … [excessive] hair growth in women was linked to criminal violence, strong sexual instincts … and exceptional animal vigor.

By the early 1900s … body hair became disgusting to middle-class American women, its removal a way to separate oneself from cruder people, lower class and immigrant.
In the 1920s and ’30s, women used pumice stones or sandpaper to depilate, which caused irritation and scabbing. Some tried modified shoemaker’s waxes. Thousands were killed or permanently disabled by … a cream made from the rat poison thallium acetate. It was successful in eliminating hair, and also in causing muscular atrophy, blindness, limb damage, and death. Around the same time, X-ray hair removal emerged as another treatment option. Women would sit for three or four minutes in front of the invisible rays of a boxed X-ray machine, and the radiation would do its work. So great was the appeal of each hair withering away in its sheath that for nearly two decades, women underwent dangerous radiation that led to scarring, ulceration, and cancer.

Concurrently, Gillette had slowly been mastering its marketing of razors. During World War II, there was a shortage of the thick stockings that women wore to cover their hairy legs, and shaving—something that had previously been associated with men’s routines—became a common practice for women. By 1964, 98 percent of American women were routinely shaving their legs…
It’s not a coincidence that the pressure for women to modify their body hair has risen in tandem with their liberties, Herzig argues. She writes that the effect of this hairlessness norm is to ‘produce feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability, the sense that women’s bodies are problematic the way they naturally are.'”

I for one am inspired to help bring the number of shaving women back down to its tipping point. As someone who typically likes to be on the cutting edge of “return to nature” movements like these, I’m embarrassed to admit I still shave my underarms.

I quit shaving my legs a couple of years ago, but for some strange reason couldn’t liberate myself all the way. I, like this woman, sadly, have never seen my own underarm hair. A copycat of my culture, I started shaving before it even showed up. Maybe I’ve been afraid to see myself for what I really am. Not anymore!