For all of our progress as women, we are al­lowed less hair in fewer places on our bod­ies than ever be­fore. Angela Bar­nett asks, what’s with that?

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I’ll never for­get the toe in­ci­dent. A flat­mate went home with a woman he’d met in a bar and woke up for­get­ting ex­actly whom he’d man­aged to bed. After clock­ing she was brunette he glanced down and emerg­ing from a white du­vet was a big toe with black hairs stick­ing out.

Not the big hairy toe! He didn’t wait to dis­cover her name – that hir­sute hal­lux so re­pulsed him he sprung out of bed, into his clothes and scur­ried back to our flat. It made all the fe­males of the house sur­rep­ti­tiously check their own toes, hav­ing not re­alised that such a faux pas – or toe pas – re­pulsed lovers.

But that was 1997. It was the lull be­tween sec­on­dand third-wave fem­i­nism dur­ing which breast im­plants took off, Pamela An­der­son ruled and the seeds of in­ter­net porn were be­ing sewn.

Twenty years later, we sup­pos­edly live in a much more fem­i­nist era. Shame for hav­ing hair in places we’ve de­cided it shouldn’t grow (even though it does) is surely get­ting kicked in the shaggy shins. But that’s not the case – at least in the main­stream, women are al­lowed less hair on their bod­ies than ever.

Of course there are al­ways celebrity rebels. Ju­lia Roberts, Madonna, Juli­ette Lewis, Drew Bar­ry­more, Mi­ley Cyrus, Ta­tiana Maslany and re­cently Lola and Jemima Kirke have all rocked un­der­arm hair on the red car­pet. Ben Hop­per, a Lon­don pho­tog­ra­pher cap­tures stun­ning por­traits of women ex­pos­ing nat­u­ral, hairy pits in provoca­tive poses.

Har­naam Kaur, the 26-year-old Bri­tish model who wears a beard, has turned beauty on its hairy head, and in­spired a bearded pseudo Bar­bie who holds a mid­dle fin­ger up beau­ti­fully to stereo­types.

“Hairy Legs” has sprouted a hash tag; you can find hun­dreds of pic­tures of furry fe­male legs on sites like WANG: Women Against Non-es­sen­tial Groom­ing.

Face­book pages have emerged en­cour­ag­ing body au­ton­omy, cry­ing free­dom from the ra­zor – or hot wax, thread, tweezers, de­pila­tory cream or that most fright­en­ing con­trap­tion, the Epi­lady.

Would Frida Kahlo – who painted an el­e­gant ’tash on her self-por­traits – be proud of our progress? Not quite. While Madonna can ex­pose hairy pits as the do-what­ever-I-like-ma­te­rial-girl, her daugh­ter Lour­des was crit­i­cised on In­sta­gram this year for re­veal­ing nat­u­ral pits in her bikini. The [mostly men] sham­ing her as a “gross fem­i­nist” seem to have missed the ut­terly fem­i­nine body at­tached to those pits.

When the Won­der Woman trailer came out, Gal Gadot’s raised arms cre­ated a tor­nado of tweet­ing that the Ama­zo­nian wouldn’t have had time to pack a ra­zor pre­par­ing for World War I. Es­pe­cially as she came from

a man-free paradise, The­myscira, where Gil­lette ad­ver­tis­ing was yet to reach. But if she had sported nat­u­rally hairy pits, a more prob­a­ble The­myscira style, would the tweet­ing have been louder, turn­ing Won­der Woman into Woolly Gross Fem­i­nist Woman?

An­dro­genic (body) hair has been used for many things. Con­trol. Ridicule. Hu­mil­i­a­tion.

That Spice of a girl, Vic­to­ria Beck­ham, once sug­gested Brazil­ians should be com­pul­sory for any­one over 15. She said that be­fore she had a daugh­ter, be­fore the in­fan­tali­sa­tion of women was ubiq­ui­tous.

Such gob-smack­ing com­ments – and porn – have led to sta­tis­tics such as 75 per cent of US col­lege girls wax­ing or shav­ing their pu­bic hair. The most com­mon rea­son cited is fear of re­jec­tion.

It’s amaz­ing how quickly this hap­pened. Even in the slick 80s when the nat­u­ral look was swapped for hair gel and elec­tric blue eye-liner, women were al­lowed their pu­bic hair. Just check out Hel­mut New­ton’s fa­mous pho­to­graphs of naked mod­els. They are toned, taut, heav­ily made-up, groomed and pow­er­ful – any­thing but hip­pie flower chil­dren – and yet their stream­lined bod­ies still sport what has come to be known with dis­taste as a bush.

These days women are al­lowed to sprout big hair on their heads and fash­ion­ably enor­mous eye­brows, but not much else. And those who go against these rules get in trou­ble.

Har­naam Kaur may be in­vited onto cat­walks around the world but she’s also re­ceived death threats. Pho­tog­ra­pher Ben Hop­per has started good bristly di­a­logue around sen­su­al­ity and armpit hair but his Nat­u­ral Beauty cam­paign gets trolled. Gadot from Won­der Woman was crit­i­cised for wrongly de­pict­ing The­mysci­ran pits and she also got flack for hav­ing white, pig­mented un­der­arm skin, a dead give­away for laser hair re­moval. She can’t win, with or with­out hair. If you have to spend hours film­ing in a leather bodice, kick­ing ass and sav­ing the world then maybe you can’t be both­ered shav­ing ev­ery morn­ing. Maybe there are more im­por­tant things to dis­cuss.

If the world gagged about a tiny tummy roll over Lady Gaga’s hot­pants, what would it say about some freak hairs sneak­ing out of her top leg or – sacré bleu – down to her an­kles? Maybe if we saw more fe­male body hair we wouldn’t all sprint back to our flats.

And maybe if hair cat­a­pults a lover out of the bed, then they’re not the right lover.

Frida Kahlo didn’t shy away from fa­cial hair in self-por­traits .

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