Eline van der Velden is a braver woman than I am, she’s also far more qualified, with a degree in nuclear fusion physics, awards and, eurgh, she’s just very, very accomplished. The comedian came to my attention with her social experiment in kissing strangers for BBC Three in order to compare the different mediums of swapping spit. This time she’s offering free hugs to see if people will shudder at the thought of getting close to a woman with hairy armpits, asking ‘are we too hung up about women’s body hair’. There’s a short answer to this, and it’s not short and curly.
Eline thinks it is a learned behaviour to find a hairy armpit unattractive on a woman, in fact she cites 1915 as the first time it was suggested women should remove their armpit hair. It seems from my own brief research that shaving your armpits took a while to take off as a fashion, Dolly Wilde (Oscar Wilde’s dipsomaniac niece) was a shaving pioneer who suffered for her smoothness with rashes created by putting an early and seemingly stringent deodorant.
When asked if it was a strange experiment to embark on as she herself shaved her pits Eline said: “I wish it wasn’t culturally unacceptable to not shave your armpits.” This problem is easily solved with some pit-wigs stuck to her oxters. First of all Eline takes to the streets with a sign offering free hugs with her bald underarms and then with her be-wigged pits.
My first thought was this woman must be suffering in the name of social experiments as she is in a lovely, summery red dress and the general public all seem to be very bundled up. However perhaps the free hugs kept her warm. My second though is more self-involved because, reader, I have hairy armpits after a taking part in Armpits for August a few years ago and I worried how this experiment was going to go down.
I won’t tell you the result because you should watch it yourself. But what was interesting to me is the idea of women using their own bodies for comedy. Be it French and Saunders with their catchphrase “I’ve taken the padding off…”, Lena Dunham’s nude scenes, Sofie Hagen talking plain sense or Luisa Omielan revealing her Spanx to the audience, it seems comedy has been sneaking in body-acceptance under the radar.
Luisa told the Daily Record: “They [the men] don’t know where to look. The women in the audience are cheering like you wouldn’t believe and having a really good time. But men are surprised how much they like the show. It’s the one place they are in the minority for a change. It’s their chance to see things from the other side.
“Women are always judged on our body image and what we look like and how much we weigh… By taking my clothes off, I’m saying this is what I weigh, these are my boobs, I’m a woman doing comedy, let’s get over it and talk about something a bit more relevant and important. Please.”
It might be mistaken for just self deprecation but it’s not. It is women owning their bodies, choosing how they are presented and ridiculing expectations of them.