Nur Janti (The Jakarta Post)
Mon, June 21, 2021
If you’re a woman from Indonesia or anywhere else, you’ve certainly come across more than a few advertisements promoting ways to eliminate body hair – a way to become “beautiful” in the eyes of others. One recent ad featuring an actress showing off her immaculately smooth armpit promotes a technology that is said to permanently eliminate body hair. Waxing and shaving services are more ubiquitous than ever, and many other hair removal brands with taglines that promote “beautiful skin” absent of hair, make the message abundantly clear; women must be smooth as silk to be considered beautiful.
But some Indonesian women are not having it. They’ve opted to let their hair grow as nature intended.
Dhianita Kusuma Pertiwi, a writer based in Jakarta, says her value as a woman has nothing to do with whether or not she is hairless.
“I choose not to shave or wax not because I want to break the standard of beauty, but simply because I personally don’t believe there is such a standard,” she said on Sunday.
As a child, Dhianita felt at odds with the hairlessness of the models she saw in her mother’s women magazines. In high school, the conversation around body hair standards became even more clear as friends started to make fun of the hair on Dhianita’s legs. But she never paid heed. Since high school, she’s kept the hair on her legs, arms and underarms growing naturally.
In university, Dhianita witnessed even more friends attempting to rid themselves of body hair. One of her classmates even concocted her own hair-removal formula using shallots and chilies.
“It was obviously hot, and her skin looked burnt. It made me think, ‘Why does it have to be this way?’” Dhianita recalled.
In late 2018, Dhianita came across posts by celebrities and internet personalities showing off unshaven body hair – mostly in the armpits. It was a global campaign that was unnamed until January 2019, when YouTubers Laura Jackson and Ruby Jones started calling it Januhairy.
Jackson, who now has more than 40,000 followers on her Instagram account, @Januariy, was a student at Exeter University in the United Kingdom. In May 2018, she began growing out her armpit hair for a theater performance. She felt uncomfortable at first but grew to like her natural hair, even as those around her, including her mother, questioned her choice.
“That really opened my eyes to the taboo of body hair on a woman,” Jackson posted on Instagram.
Agnes Deno, a young mother based in Malang, East Java, has also declined to conform to hairless beauty standards. Agnes started to recognize the standards when she was in high school. One of her friends pointed out her hairy legs, said they were “dirty” and suggested that Agnes shave them.
“At first I didn’t recognize body hair as a problem. Afterwards, I thought there was something wrong with it,” she said on Friday.
From then on, Agnes shaved her legs and armpits regularly, even though she hated the burning feeling after shaving.
In her final year at university, Agnes began to see that each body part had its own function, including body hair.
“So why should I remove it?” she said.
Her choice to stop shaving amazed her friends, especially the male ones, who nicknamed her DKI, for Deno Ketek Item (Black armpit Deno).
Deno took it in stride and said she felt sorry for the boys’ lack of awareness. “Maybe they had never seen a girl with armpit hair before.”
Popular indie singer Danilla Riyadi is also into letting her underarm hair grow. In an interview with YouTuber and musician Onadio Leonardo on his Youtube channel on July 24, 2020, Danilla said she had never seen her mother removing her body hair.
“My mom thinks that [our hair] is there to keep our armpits [clean], so just let it grow,” she said during the interview. After spending a few years routinely shaving her armpit hair, Danilla began to follow her mother’s lead. Her fellow musicians in the folk-pop trio Daramuda, Rara Sekar and Sandrayati Fay, also let their body hair grow naturally.
“In every period, certain sociocultural contexts have had different standards of beauty,” Dewi Candraningrum, former editor-in-chief of Jurnal Perempuan, told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
“In the past, it was quite normal to see women with body hair, for instance, actress Eva Arnaz, who was the most iconic actress with armpit hair in the 1980s. However, the trend has changed. I think it’s also influenced by the popularity of Korean culture, which has hairless, clean skin.”
Dewi added that besides the cultural factor, technological developments had also taken part in the definition of beauty. It had become easier for people to obtain their ideal appearances, including by removing body hair.
Despite the various means of pursuing an idealized body, the campaign about beauty diversity continues to resound, with the emergence of models of various body types. Dewi said awareness about the diverse types of beauty continued to grow and spread.
“I think maybe later there will be a turning point where being unshaved is considered normal again,” she said.