How French Women Are Fighting Body Hair Stigma

Although virtually every woman grows body hair, you wouldn't know it by looking at mainstream Western culture. Women are encouraged to pluck, shave, wax, and otherwise erase the evidence that we're not naturally as smooth and hairless as our culture's impossibly strict (and Photoshop-heavy) beauty standards would have us believe we're supposed to be. But even princesses have hair — or at least, the real world ones do. It's up to individuals to choose whether they want to de-fuzz their bodies or not, but on Tuesday, the French Twitter hashtag "Les Princesses Ont Des Poils" ("princesses have hair") pointed out that the stigma surrounding female body hair leaves many women feeling like they don't have a choice in the first place.

According to The Guardian, the hashtag was created by 16-year-old Adele Labo after she was singled out at school for growing underarm hair. Like her body positive Tumblr of the same name, "Les Princesses Ont Des Poils" celebrates female body hair, encouraging women to post pictures of their fuzzy underarms and legs. Labo told the Huffington Post UK that she hopes the hashtag will "show girls that having body hair is completely normal and hopefully they won’t feel alone."

French women certainly rose to the challenge; within a few days, French Twitter exploded with pictures of women showing off their body hair.

Of course, in a turn of events that will surprise no one, the backlash against this celebration of body hair was swift. According to the Telegraph, some have deemed #LesPrincessesOntDesPoils "disgusting" and referred to its proponents as "feminazis." Others made light of the hashtag; some male users posted pictures of their (perfectly normalized body) hair, while others posted photos of their pets.

Needless to say, the very fact that "Les Princesses Ont Des Poils" became controversial proves its point: The societal pressure to be hairless is so strong that when a woman chooses not to shave, it's often seen as a political statement, and research has shown that she's likely to be subject to mockery. (The same could be said, to a lesser extent, about men who choose to shave.) As researcher Anneke Smelik noted in a 2015 study on the subject, "Hair on the body is traditionally connoted as dirty, ugly, superfluous, sexual and animalistic [in Western culture]." Is it any wonder a 2005 UK study found that over 90 percent of women reported removing at least one area of their body hair?

Body hair on women is hardly a recent taboo, either. There's evidence that women all the way back in ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire practiced some form of hair removal, and the art historian Jill Burke wrote a fascinating (and at times hilarious) blog post exploring Renaissance women treated their body hair. Fast forward to 1915, when the first razor directed toward women was developed, and advertisers quickly began pressuring women to remove their underarm hair in particular. 100 years later, the smooth, hairless female body has become the norm.

Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with shaving; if that's your decision, go for it. In fact, a dermatological study published just last month found that most women who remove their pubic hair do so for their own purposes rather than their partner's preference. However, the problem arises when women and men are pressured to stick to strict grooming habits and stigmatized when they deviate from the expectation. In the same way that there's nothing wrong with shaving, there's nothing wrong with not shaving.

Fortunately, the popularity of "Les Princesses Ont Des Poils" shows that even unspoken taboos aren't enough to keep some people from doing their fuzzy thing. Here's hoping that these women will inspire others to feel less alone in their choices, whatever those choices may be.