These days, your average CW-approved teen heartthrob is bound to have more followers scanning his Instagram selfie than viewers watching his subpar vampire drama. In order to stay current, stars now need to have the social media savvy of a young Mark Zuckerberg in order to compete for headlines, YouTube views, and concert sales. Celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, and Justin Bieber have clearly internalized the importance of the sensationalist selfie, posing with blunts, booze, and even nearly nude. But refusing to Instagram even a single boring shot comes at a price, as these stars have to consistently up their selfie game in order to garner likes and hold our attention.
To create a truly newsworthy selfie demands a break with convention—to boldly selfie where no celeb has selfie’d before. This week, Madonna beat the kids at their own game, effortlessly raising the bar of social media sensationalism. Madonna’s selfie features the pop icon in a black bra and bow tie, raising her arm to reveal a thick patch of armpit hair. The image is captioned “Long hair...... Don't Care!!!!!! #artforfreedom #rebelheart #revolutionoflove.”
The artificial policing of female body hair has long been considered a feminist issue. After all, body hair is natural—a whole lot more natural than grown women who have been waxed to look like Barbie dolls. Images from porn, advertising, and celebrity culture all teach us that body hair just isn’t sexy. A picture of a glamorous woman like Madonna sporting a swathe of pit fuzz is more than just a shock to the system—it’s a deliberate challenge to an artificial standard of beauty. The language that Madonna uses in her caption shows that she is tapping into this feminist movement— her invocation of revolution, rebellion, and freedom makes it clear that she didn’t just accidentally skip her morning shave. But the issue of whether Madonna is truly advocating for women’s liberation or merely courting a TMZ headline is, for lack of a better term, hairy.
Madonna isn’t the only celebrity currently campaigning for a return to the au naturel. Recently, Cameron Diaz announced that she believes that body hair, and pubic hair in particular, is there for a reason. Diaz thinks that agreeing to be waxed, shaved, or trimmed is like saying “I don’t need my nose.”
Diaz and Madonna are both making sane, exciting points about female body hair, arguments that are all the more compelling and intriguing when voiced by traditionally beautiful celebrities. However, it’s hard to believe that they organically came upon these beliefs through media scrutiny, self-reflection, or by auditing an Intro Women’s and Gender Studies seminar. It’s more likely that they’re tapping into a trendy, pro-body hair cultural movement. This year, American Apparel debuted merkin-sporting mannequins in their New York store windows, in a stated exploration of different forms of feminine beauty. Additionally, Gaby Hoffmann showed off a natural below the belt look during her multi-episode arc on the super trendy Girls. And where Bushwick goes, hipster-point hungry celebrities inevitably follow.
All of these anti-depilatory developments have contributed to a cultural climate in which female body hair is actually becoming sort of cool. But its important to remember that natural topiary hasn’t always been so on trend. As The Guardian noted, Cameron Diaz was telling adorable anecdotes about forcibly grooming a hairy friend just under a year ago. Similarly, Madonna has spent her entire career capitalizing on her sexuality—and she’s never shown off her hairy armpits before. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily make Madonna and Diaz hypocrites. People’s opinions can obviously change and evolve; still, it’s easy to interpret Madonna’s selfie as an effort to garner social media attention through breaking the standard beauty mold, while simultaneously attempting to cash in on a feminist movement that’s clearly hitting its stride. It’s hard to say if Madonna’s selfie is a true call for body positivity, or simply the grown-up version of Miley sticking out her tongue and posing with a sex toy.