habit shift: unshaven armpits.

May 6, 2019
unshaven armpits | reading my tea leaves

I shaved my armpits, more or less every few days, for the better part of twenty-two years. This winter, I stopped.

I was curious. I wanted to see, for the first time ever, what my un-groomed armpits looked liked. Since noticing the first brown sprouts as an awkward middle schooler, I’ve tried to keep my underarms hair-free. Despite a generally lax attitude toward any kind of complicated personal grooming, on this front I was always consistent. Every few days, I swiped at them with a razor blade so that nothing grew beyond a bit of stubble. I never left my armpits alone long enough to notice which way the hair pattern swirls, or how the color shifts the longer it grows. I didn’t know if it would be soft or spiky or somewhere in between.

Growing up, women who grew their armpit hair were either called hippies or French. There simply wasn’t room in the imagination for them to be anything else and there weren’t many—or maybe any—adult women in my everyday life choosing to go, as we might have said, au naturel.

Even now, I admit to sometimes being startled by my own reflection. It took a few months for the hair to really fill in and get to a place that sufficiently reminded me of my dad. (Turns out, I’d recognize this hair swirl anywhere.) With t-shirt season upon us, I’ve been debuting my personal grooming choices in public. It’s anyone’s guess how I might feel about my newfound hairiness come full-blown summertime, but for right this minute, I love my hairy armpits. Which, of course, is all that really matters.

What about all of you? Clean shaven armpits or happily hairy?

unshaven armpits | reading my tea leaves

For the curious:

I’m wearing my very favorite new t-shirt*in whitewash.

Also my very favorite jeans* in life’s work.

My lipstick is by Kosas, in phoenix.

My earrings are from the local shop, 21Tara.

My nail polish is by Zoya, in a color that I forget the name of, which might be Kylie but could very well be Heidi.

This post includes affiliate links. Reading My Tea Leaves might earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links.

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  • Reply Hilary Hunt May 6, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    I have inadvertently done this many winters and my husband is always a bit disappointed when I raze them come sleveless season.

  • Reply Kim May 6, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    Awesome! Love that you shared this!
    So I had a baby last June and a day or two prior to labor beginning, I decided I had to shave my armpits in order to save myself any embarrassment while birthing the babe.
    That was the last time I shaved my armpits! Almost a year ago. And yes….I agree….it does surprise me sometimes when I catch a glimpse in the mirror. But I’m OVER shaving my armpits. I was getting irritations and ingrown hairs so I decided, no more. And I don’t plan on shaving them any time soon.

  • Reply Charla May 6, 2019 at 2:17 pm

    You know, I tried the same thing this winter! I’m still on the fence, to be honest. I think I look sexy and “French” when I’m naked, and yet somehow I’m not entirely sure about it when I’m wearing sleeveless dresses? But it is so much more comfortable — no more angry red ingrowns, hallelujah!
    Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 6, 2019 at 2:34 pm

      Yes! So much more comfortable!

  • Reply Delia May 6, 2019 at 2:18 pm

    this post gave me a happy little zing! i also diligently shaved my armpits (and legs) more or less every day for over a decade, up until last winter, when i decided to just stop cold turkey for a few months. it went fine, but i chickened out once it got warmer, and i went back to shaving last summer. but once it got cold again i decided to really stop shaving my underarms (as well as my legs for weeks/months at a time, since my legs don’t get particularly hairy anyway), and have been hairy-pitted for the better part of a year now. i admit to still being a bit self-conscious as the weather warms up, but i figure i’ve done a lot of internal work of undoing all this patriarchal garbage in me, and this one thing shouldn’t be any harder.

    one thing i find fascinating is that a lot of the photo/art projects i’ve seen featuring unshaven armpits tends to feature conventionally attractive, thin and mostly white women–as if to compensate for the “grossness factor” of hairy pits. and i definitely feel the pressure to be “dressed up” if i’m flaunting my armpits. just goes to show that the male gaze is embedded deep!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 6, 2019 at 2:33 pm

      Sure is!

  • Reply Lexie May 6, 2019 at 2:21 pm

    I don’t really have armpit hair hangups, so I just do what I want. I shave about once a week or whenever I feel like it and I dont feel pressure either way. I think living in Portland helps, lol.

    My bigger hangup right now is unpainted toes. I keep my feet groomed but I am tired of painting my toenails. I feel so underdressed when they are bare though, especially with sandal season around the corner. This is the little gender battle I am fighting right now.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 6, 2019 at 2:32 pm

      So interesting! I’ve had friends who have this hangup about unpainted toes, too, but I’ve never been shy about unpainted toe nails (even if I do sometimes like to have them painted!).

  • Reply Natalie May 6, 2019 at 2:25 pm

    I go 9 months a year without touching my armpits but usually cave in the summer time. I succumb to socitital pressures to be “normal”, that’s the only reason I ever shave. I’m so grateful to see people with a platform being open about this!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 6, 2019 at 2:31 pm

      So interesting. I’m intrigued to see how I feel come the first time I need to really dress up for something!

    • Reply kristen May 17, 2019 at 3:47 pm

      Same! I don’t want to “make anyone uncomfortable” when I wear sleeveless shirts. Sadly, I’ve kinda stopped wearing sleeveless shirts (at least at work) bc I don’t want to shave.

  • Reply Ali May 6, 2019 at 2:38 pm

    Erin, I’ve been reading here for years, but haven’t commented. I very rarely shave my armpits in the winter, and this winter in particular – I was insanely busy, studying for my medical boards, and also raising my 1 and 4 year olds and it just didn’t happen. I took my boards, and the next day, on a whim, got on a plane to Hawaii with those two kids without a razor in my bag. 5 days on the beach with hairy legs and hairy armpits but an insane amount of fun with my kids really prompted me to think about how or if I want to handle body hair moving forward. This is just such a timely post, I haven’t ventured out with short sleeves/sleeveless around people we know, yet, because we live in Seattle and it hasn’t come up, but of course, today it’s nearing 80 degrees and all I want to wear are sleeveless dresses. So, I guess thank you! It’s always helpful to see someone else’s thoughts on topics we deal with.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 6, 2019 at 2:42 pm

      So great and so glad!

  • Reply Kellen Bevitori May 6, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    Haven’t shaved mine in over 10 years and I’ll never go back! I stopped shaving as a dare with a friend and we gave up after 6 months when both of us found ourselves not wanting to shave anyway. I like to shave my legs every so often but it’s not a big deal for me either way. Happy you’re sharing ❤️

  • Reply Annie May 6, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    I’m curious – have you noticed any difference in terms of armpit odor/sweatiness? I feel like whenever I let my underarm hair get long, my armpits smell more!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 6, 2019 at 2:41 pm

      I really haven’t noticed any increase in odor. I sometimes think it’s kinda decreased…but that might be solidly in my head!

    • Reply Elizabeth May 6, 2019 at 2:49 pm

      I shaved mine last fall after about 18 months unshaven, and my BO was off the charts! Granted, I was also about a month postpartum, but that was enough to convince me to leave well enough alone. 🙂

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 6, 2019 at 2:57 pm

        Ah, so interesting!

        • Reply Monique May 6, 2019 at 4:16 pm

          I have the opposite problem. I actually wax my pit hair, which I’ve been doing for ages, which ironically also means a fairly liberal grow-out period. I’m happy to have it long but also happy to have it gone? Mood-dependent (cold Canadian winters certainly play a seasonal role). But for some reason I’ve noticed an extra stink these last few months as my nursing relationship with my 21mo has been changing. I find the hair retains smell more and as such wanted it gone to see if that helps (and it has). But I am hoping this stink factor is just a phase… I like being able to not worry about it!

          I remember when Julia Roberts bared her underarms at the Oscars (I think?) and feeling so validated. Strange the role those celebs play!

    • Reply Hannah May 6, 2019 at 2:57 pm

      So I’m slightly unsure about this because I stopped shaving when I got pregnant and the hoermonal changes over the last almost-two years have been wild… but, I think it just took my body a little time to recalibrate. I also at some point got new deodorant from LuSa Organics and I haven’t had BO issues at all.

    • Reply Amy G. May 7, 2019 at 12:28 pm

      My odor INCREASES on the rare occasions I shave my pits. To be honest, I probably never will again, but that is something I had noticed when I did.

    • Reply Lindsey May 7, 2019 at 12:55 pm

      I also stopped shaving my armpits this winter. I’ve gone many winters without shaving, but usually shave in the summer due to not wanting to be smelly. However, I noticed that when my armpit hair is growing out, I tend to be smellier than when I shave it, but now that it is fully grown out, it seems to actually have less odor on a regular basis! hmmm!

  • Reply Christina May 6, 2019 at 2:42 pm

    I grew up with a mom who didn’t shave or pluck, and my choices of when and how much to do so were always on my own terms. I think this has always made it easier for me to have minimal hangups about body hair feel in charge of my own body. I tend to shave every week or two (sometimes more in the summer) whenever I feel like it and have the energy.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 6, 2019 at 2:45 pm

      Yeah, so interesting. I think there was a part of me that also wanted it to be clear to my kids that there’s more than one way of doing…everything!

  • Reply Lauren May 6, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    I stopped shaving when Trump was elected, the smallest of protests. I shaved them again for my wedding day but they are back to their natural state, most likely for good.

    • Reply Katie May 7, 2019 at 10:28 pm

      Omg. I did this little protest upon Trump’s election too, and am dying of delight that I found someone else who did so too!!!!! It was my first time not shaving and I’m most likely sticking with natural for good, too. 🙂

    • Reply Callie avis May 8, 2019 at 9:33 am

      Me too. It was a conscious decision. I just stopped! Almost like a quiet and personal protest.

      • Reply Callie Avis May 8, 2019 at 9:34 am

        I meant it wasn’t a conscious decision

  • Reply Carmen May 6, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    I’ve had mine lasered. I’m not really a fan of body hair, especially facial hair. I’ve always thought it was odd that it’s ‘expected’ of females only. In Europe I’m noticing more men removing body hair – legs and chest, as well as their armpits. It’s interesting that I think the US is going a different way.

    I’d be very self conscious with hairy armpits. I remember being so embarrassed about my legs when I was about 10! And then my bikini line, lip etc. I had it all lasered and have found it life changing. Incredibly liberating. Definitely feel much sexier and can go swimming at a moment’s notice! Italian genes made me very hairy naturally! But I think people should do what they want. It’s not a big deal, although I really found it affected my day to day life.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 6, 2019 at 2:57 pm

      Yes, for sure. Everyone should do whatever feels best! I admit that I’m more shy/concerned about my bikini line than anything, and it’s also the most likely place to get irritated! You never know: maybe I’ll be someone who has long armpit hair, shaven legs, and a lasered bikini line! We contain multitudes!

      • Reply Sarah May 6, 2019 at 6:20 pm

        Bikini line remains my biggest issue in my unshaven life. Occasionally I have to remind myself my armpits are fine, even in a sundress. But for my bikini line, I spent more money than usual on swim bottoms (skirts, shorts) that will cover it. I think because it makes me feel more exposed to have more dark hair showing, even if it’s definitely on my legs, and not on anywhere I consider private.

        • Reply Mihela August 1, 2019 at 3:04 pm

          I am so with you, Sarah… I wish I never touched my bikini line… It is so much work and I am at a point where I need to consider laser. Every swimming session needs planning. I truly hate body hair. I have dark, coarse hair and it grows fast… trimming and shaving once a week is a killer!!

    • Reply Amanda May 9, 2019 at 10:33 am

      i agree! i really dislike body hair on myself. i cannot handle the feel of unshaven legs or unshaven underarms. it’s funny because i’m not hairy at all (my arms look shaven even though i don’t, and my hair on my legs is incredibly fine and blonde — hard to see even when i’m weeks from shaving). i would absolutely laser.

  • Reply Elizabeth May 6, 2019 at 2:53 pm

    For most of my adult life, I was intermittently lazy about shaving my legs, but religious about shaving my armpits. Now, I couldn’t actually tell you the last time I shaved my legs – it’s been at least 2 years. I like the feel of smooth, hair-free skin, but frankly can’t be bothered to maintain it, particularly since waxing isn’t in the budget anymore. I stopped shaving my armpits about 2 years ago as well – at first, it was sort of an experiment – does this mesh with my sense of femininity? No. Does it work with my clothing and lifestyle? Mostly? I found armpit hair distracting that first summer when I switched to sundresses, but now it’s just normal. I sometimes wonder if I should be grooming it in some way, but most of the time, I just like that it’s there.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 6, 2019 at 2:54 pm

      Ha! Have definitely had a moment of thinking about whether I should be trying to tame or train it…but, you know: lazy.

      • Reply Holly May 15, 2019 at 10:39 pm

        Woo-hoo! Go Erin! So happy to see this post. I stopped shaving any and all body hair about 6 years ago. I feel so free. I enjoy short showers, healthy skin, and a mind free of body hair worries now. I no longer wear sleeveless anything and I have a skirt+shirt type bathing suit. Works for me!

  • Reply Hannah May 6, 2019 at 2:54 pm

    I love this! I’ve shaved in and off for many years, but after I got pregnant almost a year ago, I stopped. I love thinking that my now 10 month old daughter will know that shaving isn’t necessary. I also appreciate the time and water and irritation saved! My leg hair is pretty dark so sometimes I feel self-conscious, but- in the rural town where I lived until March I loved bucking stereotypes, and in the city where I am now I feel similarly and also see plenty of other women who don’t shave!

  • Reply SEM May 6, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    I’m embarrassed to admit, I’m always a little surprised when I see a femme presenting person with hairy pits. That initial surprise is always followed by, ‘they are so their own person’ and amazement…followed by a little tingle of shame that we are so programmed to think hairless is the default! —I am personally BO paranoid and feel like shaving keeps my odor tamer. I do hate the itchy bumps though. My husband shaves his armpits Bc he hates the way hair feels. He uses his trimmer so it doesn’t reach any kind of length.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 6, 2019 at 3