Up In Arms: An interview with the founder of 'Januhairy'
I can vividly remember the first time I shaved my legs. The year: 2010. The reason: Capital VIP. If you aren’t familiar with Capital VIP (and may I add, lucky you), it was, I suppose, in its simplest form, an organised party designed specifically for private school children to go and get their first kiss over and done with. Naturally I, at the tender age of 13, unkissed, was absolutely desperate to attend. ‘MY ENTIRE LIFE DEPENDS ON GOING TO THIS PARTY MUM’ I wrote in an email entitled ‘25 reasons why you should let me go to capital xx’ . (This email may as well have been called ’25 big fat lies’, because the only real reason anyone wanted to go to capital was to snog, but I quite rightly knew this was not parent-friendly rationale).
I’m rambling, but the bottom line was: I was going to Capital, I was going to be wearing my stripy bodycon dress from Primark (feat. gold embellishment on the shoulders), my legs were going to be out, and I was in drastic need of hair removal. Ignoring my mum’s suggestions that I get a wax (always have had an exceptionally low pain threshold), I grabbed the razor and got to work. What followed was nothing short of a massacre. I don’t want to trivialise genuine historical bloodbaths, but add this one to your history books: it was a crime scene. The left leg was fine, but by the time I got to the right I think I must have got cocky with the razor, resulting in an enormous cut around my kneecap. Blood was absolutely everywhere. My bubble bath turned scarlet. ‘Just wear jeans?’ my mum sagely offered, upon finding her 13-year-old daughter manically putting foundation over an open razor wound. ‘ARE YOU MAD I CANNOT WEAR JEANS TO CAPITAL MUM, IT IS SUMMER, EVERYONE ELSE WILL BE IN BODYCONS, I WILL LOOK SO STUPID’ came the hysterical response. My fate was sealed. The foundation didn’t help. I wore plasters. I didn’t snog anyone. I religiously began shaving my legs.
So I wonder what 13-year-old me would have made of ‘Januhairy’, the campaign started by 22-year-old Exeter student Laura Jackson. Januhairy, in Laura’s words is ‘an experiment for women to come together, encourage one another, and be sponsored to grow out our body hair for the month of January. All to raise money for the charity Body Gossip’. Created in her student flat, Laura’s project had humble beginnings. She grew out her body hair for a role in a play and after a few weeks started to like her natural hair. The idea for Januhairy was born from the confusion and criticism with which her decision was met as she realised ‘that there is still so much more for us to do to be able to accept one another fully and truly’. A few Instagram posts later and Januhairy was a fully-fledged viral sensation. The Guardian, Telegraph and Independent were all writing pieces on the movement. Laura was interviewed by the BBC, and, the most highly esteemed honour of all, Piers Morgan was unsurprisingly scathing about it on a Good Morning Britain segment (Piers Morgan opposing women just minding their own business and doing what they want?! Shock!!!).
Speaking to Laura is, in many ways, somewhat of a peculiar experience. We are both the same age, both in our final year of uni, but only one of us is running an internationally viral body positivity fundraiser, whilst the other recently spent the last £7 in her bank account on a pair of novelty Jane Austen socks. And yet, talking to Laura, it becomes instantly clear how much she truly didn’t anticipate this level of recognition. ‘It’s absolutely crazy’ she tells me on the phone ‘I in no way thought it would get this sort of attention around the world. I mean, it would be fine if I didn’t have deadlines, which I have very much not been prioritising!’.
To raise money for a great cause (Body Gossip's 'Performance Project', whereby the charity goes into schools, universities and communities to teach lessons on body positivity), whilst also promoting mainstream acceptance of female body hair, seems to me, an idea as smooth as a freshly shaved left leg (sorry, had to squeeze one tenuous hair removal simile in here). When Laura and I chat, she stresses the overriding importance of empowerment and choice in her campaign. This is not a movement that seeks to polarise. If you choose to shave, you aren’t suddenly stripped of both your hair and feminist credentials. Equally, if you choose not to shave, you should not face Piers Morgan-esque scrutiny and criticism. ‘The whole campaign is about choice. How we should have that freedom of choice without feeling judged, and how we should feel accepted for that’, Laura calmly explains. So it’s not all or nothing? I could still shave my armpits but grow out my legs? ‘Yes! I’ve said this to a lot of people: you don’t have to go all or nothing. Choose to grow out what you want to grow out. You’re still challenging yourself and you’re still breaking those boundaries. It’s still about choice.’
It’s hard, when speaking to Laura (who at exactly my age, offers the sort of effortlessly measured responses I know I won’t achieve for years), to find any sort of fault with her campaign. She is not forcing Januhairy upon other people, merely trying to normalise and empower the women who decide to ditch their razors. Something as harmless as a stray armpit hair should not provoke any sort of furore. Yet the comments underneath Laura’s Instagram are littered with accusations of laziness, a lack of hygiene and ‘can’t think you’ll get a boyfriend looking like this!’. Of these Laura is, typically, cool. ‘To be honest, it’s helping the campaign, all these negative comments. It’s making us understand why we’re doing it and who we’re doing it for. Which opinions we need to change.’ Yeah, I say, I agree, but I’d just want to tell them that they’re all idiots. ‘I want to be very careful about how I approach people who disagree with it’ she replies, ‘when you listen to them you realise that they just want to be heard. If you get angry they’re not going to want to understand. Ultimately it is about helping people to understand rather than getting angry at them.’
Laura’s right of course. And, as yet another unpleasantly heated family dispute erupts later at dinner about Brexit, I can’t help but think about her message of understanding and acceptance. I worry it may be slightly flimsy to link body hair to European politics, but I suppose what I am trying to say is this: Januhairy is a lesson in listening, and as Laura puts it much better than I ever will: ‘It’s just about making people understand really, and if I have an open mind and listen to them, then maybe they will listen to me too’. Now that is a message that can really grow on you (sorry final hair gag, end of the article, I promise).
P.S. Please do visit Body Gossip's website for more information on the brilliant cause. Similarly, to support Januhairy you can donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/bodygossip?utm_medium=email&utm_source=ExactTarget&utm_campaign=20190105_114718
- Maddy Fletcher