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Underarm Selfies Trending In China

Girls Getting Up Close And Personal On Social Media

Falling somewhere between the latest quirky trend and a case of online third wave feminism, Chinese girls are flooding the country’s largest social media network, Weibo, with images of their unshaven armpits. Why? No one’s quite sure, but hipster Australian fashion mag Oyster is getting on board with the underarm selfies.

The movement, if we can call it that for now, is not only bang on trend – body hair is pretty haute at the moment, with American Apparel’s risqué pubic-haired mannequins raising a few eyebrows on the high streets last year – it is also being seen by many as a thoughtful and necessary step for young girls in China. Dubbed ‘progress photos’ (presumably because raising an unshaven pit is like raising the metaphorical middle finger to state-controlled Chinese internet and media), the images are trending around the nation.

It’s called 女生腋毛不拔大赛 (translating to 'girls not plucking their armpit hair'), but many of the young girls seem only to be able to muster a few wispy strands; give it a few more weeks and we’ll be seeing some pics really worthy of an underarm selfie.

Since the age of ‘peace and love, man’, adventurous hair growing females have questioned why it is deemed so socially unacceptable for women to grow out their hair.  Whilst most of these girls in China are jumping on the long-haired trend train for fun or a zany new profile pic, the progress photos are causing something of a chain reaction on Weibo as the images extend across the network to international publishers and artists.

There is very little explanation accompanying the arm hair snaps, which echoes the attitude of fashion magazines – the very thought of female body hair is shooed under the carpet and editors aren’t keen to broach the subject of pubic hair when there’s beautifully preened Adonis-like models to be shot.

Whether it comes down to a matter of personal preference, bodily hygiene or social conventions surrounding notions of what is ‘manly’ and ‘girly’, body hair is something of a taboo issue. No doubt this latest trend will disappear as quickly as it emerged, but it is nevertheless one of the more interesting and thoughtful social media fads.

Girl crush and photographer-artist-activist-curator extraordinaire, Petra Collins, has long been blazing the trail for more natural and hairily expressive female bodies. She created an incendiary tee for American Apparel’s online store, which depicted a bleeding vagina but was deemed inappropriate for TV ads. Similarly, her Instagram account was deleted in October last year for being too provocative (she’s back on Instagram now @petrafcollins, and for the record her pictures are always shot with impeccable artistic taste).

Images on social media of what Collins calls ‘unaltered women’ are too often seen as unacceptable. Her Instagram account broke none of the network’s terms of use, there was no nudity, violence, pornography or hateful and unlawful imagery, yet Collins said that a single shot of her own body ‘that didn’t meet society’s standard of “femininity”’ was the reason her account was deleted – unlike the nearly six million images under the #bikini label on Instagram, Collins simply depicted herself, in a bathing suit from waist down, in her unaltered state: an unshaven bikini line.

Images of women being suppressed or abused are quick to go viral on social media (think of Rihanna’s beaten up face or the more recent #IAmJada campaign), which supposedly raise awareness of female rights, but it does seem incongruous that images that celebrate the female body in its natural state are deemed unacceptable for the online community.

It used to be that life mimicked art; now it seems that life mimics social media. If accounts can be shut down and images of the female body censored online, the implications of this hold true for real life too. It is sad that the concept of revenge porn even exists and that nude images of girls too often spread around messaging groups; the internet and technology should be a liberating and democratising tool, so perhaps the Chinese armpit selfie trend (as bizarre and whimsical as it is) may be in some small way representative of the way that social media can be used in the interests of more positive personal expression.


Recent graduate and now interning as content editor, when she's not writing articles Katie can quite likely be found festival-ing, holiday-ing or reading a book (dedicated English student that she is). Follow her @KatieAtSMF.

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Underarm Selfies Trending In China Reviewed by Anonymous on Wednesday, August 13, 2014 Rating: 5
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