On a hot day, a woman boards a crowded bus. With no seats available, she reaches for a pole to steady herself. Beneath her arms lies something so terrifying, so hideous and frankly unhygienic that some passengers of a weaker temperament faint.
Others simply recoil. Teenagers stop playing tinny Rihanna songs on their camera phones to surreptitiously take photos. People start hammering at the windows, dinging the bell: "Let us off!" they cry as their panic rises. Doesn't this lady know hairy armpits are a health hazard?!
Allowing hair to roam free across the body is not unhygienic. But over the past 10 years or so the idea of the "bald below" has gone from a curiosity to a norm. Long before that, the womanly hairy armpit was reserved only for the militantly feminist or "arty."
Over this month of August, I shall be joining the ranks of women who choose not to shave, out of political belief, aesthetics or plain laziness. Armpits4August, which works along the same lines as Movember, is a campaign in which women grow their armpit hair for a month to raise money for the charity Verity. The charity provides support for women who suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
1 in 10 women in the UK have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). As you might expect, PCOS is diagnosed when a number of cysts can be seen on the ovaries. This can interfere with ovulation and heighten the levels of male hormones in the body. The cause is unknown but it is believed to run in families.
Symptoms can include oily skin and acne, weight problems, irregular periods, excess body hair and thinning hair on the head. Symptoms you might not feel you can go to your doctor with. It is important you do go to your doctor if you suspect you might be suffering from PCOS because, whilst it cannot be cured, it can be treated. If PCOS is left untreated, it can lead to complications.
Armpits4August is the brainchild of a small group of women who identify themselves as “full-, part- and no-time hairies” and is open to cis and trans women. A4A member and PCOS sufferer Sarah found that the PCOS symptom that had the most impact on her daily life was hirsutism, thus A4A was born: “We wanted to raise awareness of the condition whilst simultaneously questioning narrow beauty standards which dictate that female body hair is disgusting, unhygienic or unfeminine, when in fact it is completely natural!”
When the women from Armpits4August took the streets of London in July, a woman retched at them and man helpfully advised against this show of solidarity by shouting “Yuck, no!”
In addition to raising money for Verity and being told how brave I am (to which I shall nod beatifically, I'm just a stubbly giver) another reason I'm giving up the razor is because I'm just plain curious. My armpit hair started to grow when I was about 11 and, thinking it unsuitable for a child of my age to display signs of puberty, I used my mum's razor. I've never seen these kittens get beyond a cm. Since then, shaving my armpits and legs regularly has seemed like no big deal to me, apart from the severe ankle nick.
The Women of Armpits4August hope those taking part and their sponsors will readdress their attitude to body hair. While I have always been pretty indifferent about other people's body hair (apart from toe hair -- I judge toe hair) I never thought it was for me. Now I'm not sure if, come September, I won't be hesitant to shave.
Will my armpit hair be soft and springy, coarse and wiry or disappointingly stunted? I have no idea! Of course what I'm hoping for is something I can style into a moustache shape, or possibly stroke as I ponder the meaning of life.
You can sponsor Squeamish Kate's armpits at justgiving.com/Squeamish-Kate and follow her on Twitter twitter.com/SqueamishBikini for armpit updates and complaints about how effing hard it is to photograph your own armpit.