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Deadpool 2 interview: Zazie Beetz on why Domino embraces armpit hair

‘I felt if people got offended by that, that’s not something I really have to worry about’

Clarisse Loughrey
Friday 18 May 2018 15:59 BST
Deadpool 2: Zazie Beetz explains why character Domino doesn't have shaved armpits

The year is 2036. Earth has been ravaged by nuclear apocalypse. All civilisation has been destroyed and humanity’s few survivors live a strangled, desolate existence. We see her, in a muddied tunic, dragging her meagre possessions behind her. Shotgun in tow. Her face bruised and bloodied. She pauses for a moment. Lifts her arm to brush her hair away from her face, revealing a perfectly shaved armpit.

It’s far from Hollywood’s most insidious trope when it comes to representing women on screen, but it’s still a little ludicrous: that the requirement for women’s bodies to be as hairless as naked mole rats surpasses all global chaos.

The Huffington Post’s Olivia Cole, for example, noted how The Walking Dead’s male cast can essentially track the passage of time through the growth of their facial hair – yet the women here have all conveniently found the opportunity to keep their armpits bald, somewhere in between all the zombie culling.

Truly, Hollywood would rather disregard all logic than inflict on the world the sight of a woman’s unshaven armpit. It’s a unicorn of American filmmaking: so rarely seen that entire generations of men treat it with an almost mythical sense of disbelief.

When it does emerge, it’s almost always the signifier of a woman who deliberately disregards societal norms – see Penélope Cruz in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan – while off screen, the sight usually causes a minor scandal, as it did with Julia Roberts on the Notting Hill red carpet, or on Miley Cyrus’s Instagram page.

Enter a surprising kick in the balls to that brand of restrictive beauty standards: Deadpool 2, a follow-up to the surprise superpowered hit, here to deliver even more visceral action and anarchic cultural references. A sequel which also introduces the X-Force, the X-Men’s edgier compatriots.

Amongst them, Zazie Beetz’s Domino: a mercenary blessed with all the powers of blind luck. And a woman who just so happens to sport unshaven armpits, a detail never mentioned; not a target of one of Deadpool’s quips and only briefly glimpsed during the multiple instances of her kicking ass.

Domino, as a character, is certainly confident and self-assured, but the fact her armpits aren’t shaved isn’t painted as some kind of rebellious character trait. She’s simply a woman living in 2018, and sometimes women don’t feel like shaving their armpits. It’s not intended as a statement.

Yet the funny thing is, that in itself makes it a pretty big statement. The armpit isn’t exactly the frontline in the battle for gender equality, but it’s still a stigma that adds to the whole lineup of ways women can be made to feel ashamed of their own bodies. And to see that rejected is, honestly, refreshing.

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Beetz’s decision to keep her armpits unshaven is accompanied by a nicely low-key story, as she remarks: “Before we started shooting I actually hadn’t shaved in a bit, just out of… not even having gotten to it. And my boyfriend, if I remember correctly, he was like, ‘Maybe you should keep it’. And I was like, ‘You know what?’ That’s kind of a good idea.’ So I just kept it. And then I sort of tentatively brought it up. Well, not really tentatively, I brought it up.”

She did inevitably face some initial hesitation over the decision, largely in fear of the “internet reaction” hovering over every creative move with the character. “It’s interesting how strongly people really do feel about armpit hair on women,” she adds. “They have very, very strong opinions about that. But I felt, you know, like that’s not about me, right?”

“That’s about social conditioning and about people’s perception of what women should look like. And, you know, I felt if people got offended by that, that’s not something I really have to worry about.”

However, Beetz’s portrayal of Domino now stands amongst a growing movement of younger women making strides to embrace (and learn to love) their own body hair: celebrity proponents include Jemima and Lola Kirke, Paris Jackson and Lourdes Leon.

In 2015, Miley Cyrus famously snapped a photo of herself not only with unshaven armpits, but with them dyed hot pink to boot; she was just one many women dyeing their armpit hair bright colours as a vibrant form of personal statement.

It’s these kinds of shifts in perspective that Beetz wanted to embrace for Deadpool 2, motivated partially by a simple desire to reflect the world around her. “It was something I really wanted to do, also because I just have a lot of friends now who are feeling sexy in their body hair and I wanted to embody that,” she says. “And it’s not something that is gross or shameful.”

She’s also keenly aware of how much we internalise societal expectations: that personal choices over body hair are never straightforward, but are always wrapped up in the complex layers of how we see ourselves. “It depends on how I am, but I feel very sexy when my legs are shaven, right? Where does that comes from?” she questions. “So I, sometimes intentionally, will let my body hair grow out so I don’t feel beholden to that.”

She strikes an analogy here with her own relationship with makeup: “I will also intentionally go weeks without wearing it, in my personal life, if I’m not on set or something like that. Because I never want to get used to seeing my face with things blotted out. I want to always feel comfortable with me just being naked in front of a mirror.”

“But that takes also intention for myself and I have to practice that,” she adds. “And so, it comes from the outside, and then because it came so strongly from the outside, it starts coming from the inside. And I think it’s something you also have to be aware of.” Indeed, Beetz nails the heart of the dilemma: that the things that can make us feel confident might also be the things the world made us ashamed of for no good reason.

But what’s far more important, at the end of the day, is choice. Not to passively consume messages that restrict how we see ourselves, but to have control over our own identities. And that’s true across many spectrums. Which is why it matters when Domino flashes her unshaven armpits in a film which will be so widely consumed as Deadpool 2. It’s taking control of those messages. Taking down those walls of expectation, brick by brick.

Deadpool 2 is out now.

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