My armpit hair is not grotesque; it is cute and downright lovely!

By Juli Min Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/17 18:28:40

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

I was appalled to read last week's article by Cyril Saidah, a foreigner living in Shanghai, who wrote that underarm hair on Chinese women is "nauseating" and "just wrong." As a modern Asian female, I was appalled by Saidah's misogynistic attitude toward, and fetishism of, Asian women. As a fellow writer, I was also dismayed by his argument's utter lack of logic.

Saidah wrote that women with armpit hair are "masculine and neglectful of their hygiene." But he does not seem to be up on his knowledge of Chinese history. For millennia, Chinese women have not practiced the unnecessary art of shaving their armpits. Local women only just started to epilate their bodies two decades ago, due to the country's opening up and the growing influence of Western trends.

Even in modern times, most local women still won't give their body hair a second thought. But according to Saidah's logic, such women (including, I suppose, Mulan, Wu Zetian, Cixi and other famous females throughout Chinese history) have not a smidgen of self-respect.

Saidah, a Frenchman, hails from a country where men wear tight speedo trunks to swim. In the US, where I'm from, this form of swimwear is a fashion faux pas; he'd be laughed off the beach. But were I to visit France, I would not go around saying that Frenchmen are nauseating, effeminate and have no self-respect; I would understand that they are only acting in line with their own cultural norms.

I wonder if Saidah thinks that Jemima Kirk, Julia Roberts and Madonna (fashion trendsetters and paragons of femininity) also have no self-respect? They have all proudly shown off their underarm hair on Hollywood red carpets - but they do so as an act of defiance against misogynistic standards of beauty. They refuse to subjugate their bodies to arbitrary and unfair alterations just for the pleasure of men like Saidah.

In fact, what Saidah's TwoCents reveals is that he is the one who lacks respect - respect for cultures and perspectives outside of his own narrow one. I wonder if he even knows that, in Colombia, men often shave their armpits? Does that half of the country's population also lack self-respect?

Saidah also had the audacity to write that "Western men throughout history have mythologized Chinese women." What he's doing here is rhetorically excusing his own attitude by lumping himself in with a larger group. No, this mind-set is not acceptable just because it's common. And he is not "mythologizing;" he is fetishizing. The former lifts something up to an ideal; the latter demeans something into a sexualized object.

He repeatedly states that women with underarm hair are unhygienic, but I'd kindly ask him to look up the word. "Conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease." Nowhere is it scientifically proven that underarm hair leads to poor health.

As for body odor, East Asians at large have a much lower number of osmidrotic apocrine "body odor" glands than members of other races. I've lived in Asia for years, and I'll be blunt: most of the time, when I get a whiff of B.O. on the subway here, it's more often than not coming from a foreigner.

At the start of the summer, I myself decided to keep growing the underarm hair that I'd accumulated over the winter. They are not grotesque "thick tufts" but instead small downy fluffs. In fact, they are cute; downright lovely! When I told my husband that I was going "au naturel," he was indifferent.

You'd be surprised, Saidah, but there are men out there who do not require women to change our bodies just to conform to heteronormative standards of beauty. They accept our bodies in all of our mature beauty. I urge other women and wives to confidently speak out against the damaging "hairless little girl" fetishism popular among this vocal minority of misogynists.

What is the purpose of underarm hair, anyway? And why have humans evolved to keep rather than shed it? One common belief is that underarm hair serves as a kind of diffuser for pheromones, the hormones that secrete subtle scents to attract the opposite sex.

So perhaps the revulsion felt by Saidah is serving a purpose he did not even realize: the many Chinese women he's been encountering are actually sending him a message with their bodies. He just did not understand. Let me translate. Their message says: "We don't like you; we refuse to please you; and there's no way we'll ever be mating with you."

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.


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