There's nothing quite like the topic of women's armpit hair to inspire a vigorous, impassioned debate. When these Chinese feminists held an armpit hair contest to highlight gender inequality, the responses they received were telling of how unduly controversial female body hair has come to be.
Twenty-five-year-old Xiao Meili started the contest on the Chinese social networking site, Weibo, asking participants to send in photos of them flaunting their natural armpit hair. Xiao said that the contest aimed at fueling the discussion of "the definition of feminine beauty." She added:
I hope to raise the issue of the ownership of female body and to dispel the belief that it is wrong for girls to keep their armpit hair. Keeping armpit hair should not be seen as uncivilized or dirty — it is nothing of the sort.
The greater message here is about discussing the ownership of female body and challenging the stereotyping of femininity.
Of the 46 women who participated, six winners were announced based on the number of likes and shares their entries received. Prizes included condoms, vibrators and a pedestal urinal that women can use while standing.
"The media coverage on female celebrities' underarms is disgusting," Xiao told CNN, "as if women shouldn't have hair or it's something to be ashamed of, while male celebrities openly show off their armpit hair."
Though some might think it frivolous to hold an armpit hair contest, women's body hair has become part of the struggle for gender equality. Whether one chooses to shave or not is entirely their own predilection, but women's armpit hair is often stigmatized as something unclean or, as many commenters on Weibo noted, "gross."
Why are men free from criticism — in fact, sometimes celebrated — when their body hair is exposed? Why are women often criticized for growing out their natural body hair?
Xiao told The New York Times:
I'm not calling on everybody to grow underarm hair. I'm just saying if some people don't want to shave, the rest of us should not think their underarm hair is disgusting, unhygienic, uncivil or not feminine enough.