One of Yasmin Gasimova’s most prominent memories growing up is of a boy at her local swimming pool asking why she had a beard.
“He meant mustache. I corrected him,” the Liverpool University student clarified.
That was nine years ago. Now, at 19, the philosophy and computer science student still finds herself having to correct others when it comes to her prominent body hair. Because she’s from Azerbaijan, she’s always had a lot of it.
“I told my friend a fun fact, that people have as many hairs on their bodies as gorillas,” she told the Daily Dot. “She said to me ‘I can tell by looking at you.’”
Gasimova said that she started noticing how much more prominent her dark body hair was a year after she and her family moved to the UK. After some painful experimentation with various hair-removal techniques — “my mum did let me try waxing, but I cried a lot,” — eventually she decided to try something completely different: she just stopped caring.
“In a society where women are expected to shave, I’m not ashamed to admit I don’t,” she wrote, along with photos displaying her hirsute bod (not to mention her killer mod ‘do).
Gasimova’s story went viral, which isn’t too surprising: Body hair (and armpit hair in particular) have been enjoying a cultural moment as of late. Chinese women have been posting their armpit hair selfies on the social media platform Weibo, and stars like Jemima Kirke and Miley Cyrus have been photographed flaunting their armpit hair on the red carpet.
The reactions to Gasimova’s post have mostly been positive. Within two or three days of her op-ed being published, she said, she racked up around 600 Facebook requests — “before I realized I could change my settings.” She estimated that around 85 percent of the requests have come from men.
“I’ve actually had almost no negative messages sent to me personally,” Gasimova told the Daily Dot, adding that even some of her mother’s friends were inspired to go au naturale after reading her op-ed.
But as with all things on the Internet, Gasimova’s story has generated its fair share of misunderstanding and negative feedback. When her story was covered by online publications like the Daily Mail, for instance, Gasimova found that her original message of body acceptance and support had largely been forgotten.
“All the papers…completely failed to mention any of the actual issues I wanted to deal with,” she says. “By sensationalizing me as this weird person who does this weird thing, they completely forgot to make clear the idea that I’m not drawing this attention just for me — I’m telling people that [body hair] needs to be seen as normal.”
Things have also gotten a little weird for Gasimova on Twitter, where she was dragged into something of a minor flame war with a hair removal company that posted a photo of beloved Star Wars character Chewbacca in a bikini, with a message that read “@yasim0 some horny prehistoric or present day men might find this attractive until the alcohol wears off.”
Though the tweets have since been deleted, Gasimova was able to snap some screenshots, which she shared with the Daily Dot.
“It was funny at first but it started stressing me out by the end,” she says of her back-and-forth with the company.
Gasimova says that she’s not the first to have been trolled by the account over body hair, but that it’s nothing compared to the media’s repeated efforts insisting she be seen as anything but normal.
“I was actually more upset about the way the papers treated me like a freak than anything else,” she says. “And it’s only part of how much society tries to police women’s appearance. The Mirror put at the end of their article a poll, letting people choose between ‘it’s her choice’ and ‘no, its disgusting.’ It’s like, ‘Wow.’ It’s my choice regardless of it being disgusting for them or not, let alone their perception of disgusting in this case being entirely socially conditioned.”
“It’s my choice regardless of it being disgusting for them or not.”
Gasimova may not have to wait long for the day when female armpit hair is an everyday occurrence. Though she said she’s hesitant to try on the rainbow-hued trend (“I’d do it but I’m scared of the dye rubbing off on my clothes and stuff”), Gasimova supports women like Cyrus who view armpit hair as an opportunity to own and be unapologetic about body image.
“It’s funny because some media outlet pointed [Cyrus’s] armpit hair out in a concert as ‘a wardrobe malfunction’ as if it wasn’t deliberate,” she added. “Clearly [they’re] so out of touch.”
Photo via Yasmin Gasimova