Armpit hair to stay, some women say

Hundreds of Chinese women have joined a recent armpit selfies competition on micro-blogging service Sina Weibo, proudly displaying their unshaven armpits.

Started by a popular Sina Weibo public account, the contest is called "girls not plucking armpit hair". It encourages Chinese females to post a photo of their armpit hair to demonstrate their natural beauty, to echo similar events overseas.

These selfies of pretty young Chinese women, with their underarm hair exposed, have stirred hot debate online. Some netizens said it's gross to see such photos, some believe the pictures show the confidence and courage of Chinese women who want to challenge social norms.

Of the more than 6,400 respondents who participated in a survey on Sina Weibo, more than 70 per cent said it's better to shave armpit hair because it will make one more beautiful, while others argued that it's natural and healthy to keep the hair.

Many people think that personal hygiene or etiquette dictate that women should shave their leg hair and underarm hair. Men, however, are considered to be manly if they have hairy armpits, legs, arms and even chests - while women turn to epilators, shaving creams and razor blades, to keep their legs and underarms "feminine" and hairless, just like a newborn baby.

Coco, a young woman who doesn't want to reveal her name, posted a photo of her armpit covered with a piece of gauze. She said her armpit had been infected because of plucking, and she had to have it cut open and treated. "What a lesson! I suffer a lot. I dare not pluck armpit hair again in my life," Coco posted on her Sina Weibo.

Another young participant, Alice (not her real name), says she's proud of her armpit hair and thinks it's sexy, so she never shaves it.

"It's healthy for young women to not shave underarm hair. I think such point of view should be promoted via the contest," she says.

Netizens in other countries have expressed similar views.

Since 2012, an event in the United Kingdom called Armpits 4 August has urged women to grow their armpit hair for a month to raise money for the charity organisation Verity, which does research and helps women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome. One of its symptoms is excessive body hair growth.

In March, American pop singer Madonna posted a photo showing her underarm hair on the photo-sharing social platform Instagram. Her photo caption referred to freedom and revolution of love. "It's easier to hold an armpit hair contest in China due to the cultural differences between China and the United States," says Lyu Pin, a Beijing-based women's rights activist.

Lyu says that women in China only began shaving their underarm hair around 20 years ago. Even nowadays, it's not as popular as many people think. But in the US, it's something of a taboo for women to have leg or underarm hair.

"If people think you are not beautiful or have no etiquette, just because you don't shave your underarm hair, I don't think they are doing the right thing," she says.

"The decision whether or not to shave your underarm hair is restricted by social norms," she adds. "I don't think Chinese have to learn from the Westerners to shave their underarm hair."