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Erykah Badu/Instagram

Team No Shave: Erykah Badu & Her Armpit Hair Is A Revolution For What Defines Femininity

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I remember the first time I noticed hair on my body. Instead of the pride one should feel when reaching a new level of growth, I felt a sense of aversion. I had seen all of these commercials, heard all this talk, and I didn't realize it yet, but I had been programmed to believe that I had to shave. I couldn't be a girl and have hair on her legs, even if they were barely there, and I definitely couldn't be a girl if I had an inch of armpit hair. That was a trait deemed masculine by default. So while it was cool for Hakeem and 'em to play ball in their tanks and their taco meat catching beads of sweat effortlessly amid hair and deodorant residue, me walking around in my bathing suit with hair under there couldn't be a thing.

So I succumbed to the pressure and the beliefs of what was beautiful and what wasn't, what was feminine and what was believed to be innately masculine. Despite the discomfort of the razor blade's scrape or the stinging that Nair would create, it was fine, I was hairless.

Fast forward to yesterday, Erykah Badu reignited whatever empowerment in me that at one time felt silent. The neosoul singer took to Instagram to share a photo of herself, with her arm held high above her head. What was particularly notable about the picture was how unabashedly she showed off the tuft of hair in her armpit. "Today's meditation," she captioned, "Use the Funk, Star Children."

And we shall use that funk indeed.

There is a soulfulness and a wokeness about Erykah that doesn't make the fact that she doesn't shave the least bit surprising. Her eccentricism are woven into her threads, the jewels that adorn her fingers, and the headwraps on her head. However, it's her platform and her power as a woman that makes her voice on the subject of keeping things natural with body hair was particularly impactful. Perhaps that's why I felt so empowered by her revolutionary truth. It's natural. And the carpet matches the drapes.

Following her post, Erykah received a lot of backlash, but louder than any of that noise, were echoes of support.

We are quite possibly the only society that aligns femininity with hairlessness.

From our armpits to our bellies to our legs and our vaginas - it is societally expected that if you are a woman, you can't have hair in those places. Despite the fact that's the way growth goes. So, at an early age, we begin to take the arguably unnecessary step of grooming, which means we shave every one-two days, or we wax every four to six weeks, or we use our depillatory cream of choice on a week to week basis. Whatever the means, we must whip our forms into shape to be the way society views and heralds as femininity - not realizing that the divine feminine was always something we possessed - body hair and all.

Puberty sets the stage for adulthood to stand front and center, and our bodies quite literally and physically become temples for reproduction. We start to bleed once a month, our hormones change, our hips and lips and bellies become fuller - and surely enough, our body evolves from a hairless prepubescent canvas to its true post-pubescent self.

Hair not only grows from our heads, it sprouts from our legs, our vaginas, and yes, our armpits. That growth represents a woman coming into her own, it represents sex, and it represents the capability of producing life that a woman is birthed to in turn create.

Who told you your hair isn't beautiful? Who told you that having hair makes you the poster child for bad hygiene?

The hair on your body is there for a reason, and according to studies, more and more women are realizing that. In one study, it showed that 95% of women shaved and waxed their armpits in 2013. But in 2016, that percentage dropped down to 77%.

Writer Lisa Miller from The Cut broke down her understanding of why she feels society might feel so repulsed by women who rock armpit hair and she believes it has everything to do with the repression of sexual expression:

"Armpit hair signals sex because it grows during puberty and is one of the first signs of maturity (and fertility). And it signals sex because it transmits the scents that lead to mating. It triggers disgust because it reminds humans how dangerous sex can be. And that's why we shave it off. Because armpit hair betrays the western fantasy about sex, which is that sex is fun, pleasurable, innocent, and inconsequential, a fantasy that elides the evolutionary truth. The revulsion at armpit hair might be evolution's way of saying "proceed with caution," and its removal one less barrier to cross."

The thing about femininity is that it is a woman's work. As such, a woman should be able to define what is feminine and what is sexy to her – not men or societal rules. All I know is, you won't find me picking up that razor any time soon. Not unless I want to.

And that's my prerogative as a woman.

Last year, Meagan Good experienced two major transformations in her life. She returned to the small screen starring in the Amazon Prime series Harlem, which has been renewed for a second season and she announced her divorce from her longtime partner DeVon Franklin.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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