Why Doesn’t Wonder Woman Have Armpit Hair, and Why Does Anyone Care?
Recently, Warner Brothers has been releasing more advertisements to promote their upcoming Wonder Woman movie, which will be the first time Wonder Woman has received her own super hero movie. It’s unfortunate that her film has to be the fourth installment of the excruciatingly bad DC Extended Universe, but I’ll take what I can get.
The latest trailer, which debuted last weekend, gave viewers a first look into Wonder Woman’s origins, growing up as a warrior on the all-female island of Themyscira. I loved the scenes of Diana training and fighting with other warrior women; I have to admit, this trailer actually made me pretty excited to see the movie. But there was one detail that puzzled me: Diana had clean-shaven armpits. And apparently, I’m not the only one this bothered.
Many articles talking about this frame the issue as “feminist outrage,” although the only evidence to substantiate the existence of this outrage they seem to be able to find amounts to a handful of mildly annoyed tweets. Nevertheless, in the wake of these tweets, I saw some comics fans who seemed to be enraged that anyone would object to Gal Godot’s perfectly smooth armpits (yes, of course they were all men).
It’s true that Wonder Woman has generally always been portrayed in comics as having clean-shaven armpits, as well as legs. Some might argue that this is because she chooses to do so, or perhaps that this is evidence of Themysciran women having been ahead of the rest of the world in “hygiene,” despite the fact that shaving one’s armpit hair is neither more nor less hygienic than not shaving it. The idea that she “chooses” to shave her armpit hair is also flawed, because it is based on the supposition that Diana is a real human being with her own feelings and agency, when in reality, she is a fictional character being written by a person who can choose to give or not give her the desire to do anything.
Women have not always shaved their armpits; the practice reportedly gained popularity in America after a 1915 advertisement in the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar urged women to have clean-shaven armpits in order to “be unembarrassed.” This inspired more anti-armpit hair advertisements, which influenced culture to the point that now, women shaving their armpits is just another of the many ridiculous beauty standards women continue to be held to. The stigma against armpit hair is so severe, in fact, that it almost appears as if the hair follicles have been airbrushed from Gal Gadot’s skin.
Despite having always been drawn with hairless armpits, it actually doesn’t make a lot of sense that an island populated solely by women and isolated from society at large since the times of ancient Greece would adopt the practice of shaving armpits, considering it wouldn’t have even gotten popular if women hadn’t been initially made to feel bad about their body hair by businesses trying to sell them something.
It may seem petty to complain about the lack of realistic body hair in a movie that features bullet-reflecting gauntlets and demi-gods, but to boil the issue down to one of “realism” ignores the history behind modern standards of beauty for women. It wouldn’t really be a big deal that one woman in one movie doesn’t have armpit hair, but this standard is so pervasive that women are seemingly not allowed to appear onscreen without first shaving, even in the wake of an apocalypse.
Nobody “makes” women shave their armpits, and many women even profess to prefer shaved armpits, myself included. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that many women feel pressured to do so, and a lot of that pressure comes from misinformation that characterizes unshaven armpits as “gross” or “unclean,” as well as the insistence on solely depicting women as having perpetually clean-shaven armpits. Of course it’s not the worst problem women have, but its relative lack of severity doesn’t make it any less of a problem, because it’s only one of the many absurd beauty standards society has imposed on women.
No one is trying to “shame” Wonder Woman for not having armpit hair, as some have alleged; rather, people are asking why her armpits need to be clean-shaven in the first place. It’s certainly as worthy of discussion as, say, whether or not Rey from Star Wars is unrealistically competent.