By Katy-Rose Meaney
Meet the young woman who grows and dyes her armpit and leg hair to promote body choice.
Emily Ross is proud of her body hair and says it’s her decision to keep it natural or remove it.
The 30-year-old who lives in Oxford has been leaving her body hair at its natural length for nearly three years and isn’t fazed by the online abuse she receives.
Originally from Bermuda, the PhD student and yoga teacher moved to the UK 12 years ago to study and has been growing her body hair since 2018 after forgetting to pack her razor when she returned from a visit home.
Emily said: “It started off as a combination of curiosity and procrastination. I kept forgetting to buy a new razor, the hair naturally grew and as it continued, I wanted to explore my feelings around it.”
She was amazed at how comfortable she felt.
She said: “I admit, at first it didn’t come completely naturally to me. I had to learn to love my own body hair because we are programmed from such a young age that body hair is unsightly and unattractive.
“Now I love it, it feels really soft.”
Emily says she refuses to be pressurised to look a certain way.
She said: “Women are working against a century of societal messages and advertising urging us shave. Even – the ancient Roman poet Ovid advised women to shave their leg hair in Ars Amatoria.
“Hair removal is a multi-billion pound industry based on the long held belief that hair on women is wrong and that nobody will find you attractive with it.”
Emily’s main message to other women is to do what makes you happy and says she will and does shave when the mood takes her.
She said: “All I have done is remove the pressure on myself to look a certain way at all times. I will shave when I wan to, not because I feel like I have to.
“I am happy to just be hairy on the beach and remove that pressure from my life. I want to normalise natural.”
And Emily believes her skin is much softer without shaving daily.
She said: “Not constantly shaving is so much better for your skin, it gives it some breathing room. Rashes from waxing or shaving can be so uncomfortable, and it really doesn’t have to be that way.”
Emily has also experimented with dyeing her arm pit hair too.
She said: “I always wanted to dye the hair on my head blue but I was worried about damaging my hair by bleaching it.
“So I decided to try it out on my arm pit hair and I loved it.”
Emily has dyed her arm pit hair electric blue, bright pink and purple.
She has also grown her leg hair but says it took her longer to grow accustomed to it.
“I found it more challenging to become comfortable with my leg hair. I have had visible hair on my legs from age 10 and was aware from an early age that it was something to feel embarrassed about and ‘get rid of’.
“I initially felt quite self-conscious about the hair on my legs. Then Spring rolled around, and I actually loved feeling the wind blowing through my leg hair! I’d never experienced that sensation before.”
Emily said she expected negative comments, but she wasn’t prepared for the fetishised attention that she receives online from men.
She said: “I get a lot of fetish messages and a lot of abuse but there is a great community of women online who jump in to defend me.”
She said: “I recognise that so many people have it far worse – as a white, cis, thin woman the abuse and fetishisation I experience is only the tip of the iceberg.”
Despite the criticism, Emily continues to share her photos to encourage women to stop feeling pressured to present their body in a particular way.
She said: “It is scary to put yourself out there. I have struggled with my own body image and this began as an internal journey towards feeling comfortable in my own skin. It’s empowering to get to know and appreciate your body.
“I decided to give myself permission to be hairy for a while and that really is ok. At the same time I sometimes like having smooth legs and that is ok too.
“My body does not have to be a battlefield. I feel comfortable either way – and that’s what is important.”
“I have chosen to be visibly hairy in public so I am prepared for the hate but I don’t need to explain myself to anyone really, it is such a non issue.
“There is no shame in having hair.”
Emily often gets called unhygienic but she laughs off these comments.
She said: “I invite anyone who thinks natural body hair would make me unhygienic or smelly, to actually research the biological function of body hair.
“I can assure you, I am clean person. Being hairy and being unhygienic are not the same thing.”
“Lots of women tell me that they wish they could do it, and I remind them that they can. It’s not against the law for women to grow their body hair. There isn’t anything real in your way.
“We all have a choice. Your body is your own, your choice is your own – they don’t belong to anybody else. That is my message.”