The human condition: Coming out with my hands up

Colette Harris keeps it a secret all winter, but now the sun's out, the sleeves are off, and it's a secret no more: she doesn't shave her armpits
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Now i can feel real warmth in the sun, it's time to get back into combat mode. I'm no longer safely swathed in layers of woollen fabric when I'm dangling from one of the handles on the tube. And in a sleeveless top, I have to worry about people catching a glimpse of a stray armpit hair. Oh all right, let's not be coy about this, it isn't just one. It's a whole community nestling under there. Because I am, I'll admit it, one of those women who doesn't shave their armpits.

In my sixth-form days of burgeoning womanhood, I decided I wasn't going to put up with the hassle. When, in the middle of a "naked on his Mum's sofa rolling about session", my 18-year-old boyfriend shouted, "Yuk! I'm not having sex unless you shave your armpits right now!" it put the lid on it. Filled with indignation, I told him the armpit fluff was staying. My hairiness became a constant point of argument. I suppose that I was hoping people would notice so I could do the "What are you looking at? Have you got a problem with the way I live my life?" type thing. Or mouth off at them about the way magazine images of airbrushed skin on thin women makes us all feel ashamed of our natural body state. Oh, the heady days of youth when hairy armpits are a symbol of individuality! Then, I met a bloke at university who didn't mind my unshaven armpits. I felt vindicated, passionately loved, and very sexy avec the armpits Continental. But, curiously enough, now I'd found a boyfriend so wonderful that underarm hairiness didn't bother him, I found myself shaving my armpits one day in a state of idle curiosity. (It's amazing what you do to distract yourself from revision.)

I felt really odd with nude armpits. Very pre-pubescent. And very itchy. My girl friends told me that it would all calm down if I got into the habit of shaving regularly and I thought, "Sod it, I can't be bothered." Welcome back bush. But that word's misleading. My armpits aren't the forbidding forests you always imagine growing darkly in the armpit regions of stout Germanic healthcare workers. The hair is quite fine and you can see the skin underneath it. I certainly don't think it's ugly. And I don't get any sweatier or smellier than people who shave.

But, in the same way that I can't be bothered with the hassle of shaving under my arms, I also can't be bothered with people's stares, whispered comments and wrinkled-up noses when I go short-sleeved in summer. I didn't think I'd be reaching for the Jolen Creme Bleach until I developed my menopausal moustache. But as summer 97 draws nearer, I've toyed with the idea of bleaching my armpit hairs, which would give me comfortable hairiness and a degree of camouflage all on one spatula.

"I remember, when I was 17, sliding my hands up this girl's dress and coming into contact with this slightly sweaty underarm hair. It was almost revulsion I felt. At that age you feel that it's boys who should be sweaty and hairy. Hair doesn't bother me as much now I'm older and wiser." Andy, 25, account manager for direct marketing firm

"If I saw a woman with hairy armpits, I'd think it was greasy, sweaty and unhygienic. I think men would find it foul, it looks stinky and conjures up visions of unhygienic nether regions as well." Nathalie, 23, full-time mother.

"I think it's really sexy, womanly. I remember seeing Kid Creole and the Coconuts on some television show and the gorgeous backing singers wiggling away with their slinky bodies. And then one of them raised her arms in the air and I'm sure I saw hair there and it kind of made me shiver. There's definitely something grrr about hair." Tim, 36, telephone engineer

"Seeing a woman with underarm hair doesn't worry me at all. If it's there, it's there like it is on any human being. If it's not, it's not." Chris, 27, writer

"I think it's really horrible. Men should have hair under their arms, not women. It would turn me off completely if I went to bed with a woman and found she had hairy armpits." Dean, 24, shop assistant

"I reckon men in this country would think it's gross. I don't even know if it's different abroad now. A friend of mine who recently studied in France said the younger girls shave and it's more old-fashioned to have hairy armpits." Sarah, 25, advertising executive.