A Model on How Not Shaving Has Affected Her Life and Career

“SO WHAT?” — Man Repeller’s editorial mantra last month — is sometimes (ironically) easier said than done. It’s easier to act like you don’t care (or even admit that you shouldn’t) than it is to pick up your mental remote control and mute your critical inner-voice. When Kate Bowman decided to stop shaving her body hair at the age of 15, she didn’t just press the button on the remote, she took out the batteries entirely. Now a model, actress and student living in New York City, Kate spoke with me about making that decision and how it has affected her life and career. 

When I started getting body hair in middle school, I shaved up to my knees because that’s what my mom taught me to do. I remember sitting next to a girl in science class and being teased by her relentlessly for having hair on my thighs and my arms. She announced it to the entire class. I was mortified. That was the first time it dawned on me that visible female body hair was considered abnormal.

Middle school is such an awkward time to begin with. I had frizzy hair and braces, which only made things harder. I was terrified of standing out even more so I shaved all my body hair just to try to feel less weird. I was desperate to have friends and to have a boy to like me. All I wanted was to fit in.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when that started to change. Maybe it was as simple as kissing someone for the first time or being attracted to another person, but embracing my sexuality transformed the way I thought, not only about physical things like body hair, but also about the way I wanted to represent myself. It was a huge mental leap. Gradually, I started becoming more comfortable with my body, especially as I realized I didn’t have to change myself in order to feel beautiful.

I think I was 15 when I finally came to terms with the fact that I just don’t feel like myself when I shave my body hair, so I quit. I was the only girl at my high school with ANY visible, unconventional female body hair. Even having hair in between my eyebrows was considered weird. But I was already pretty unpopular, so there wasn’t a lot on the line for me. In a weird way, since I wasn’t part of the community, or any friend group, I was even more inclined to lean into my differences. I was already disliked for stuff like my taste in music and how I dressed, so I figured why not go all in and embrace every non-conforming aspect of myself?


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My parents were like, “Why are you doing this? What are you doing?” They thought my body hair was unhygienic and unprofessional. They were really nervous about me going in for my college interviews with visible armpit hair because it was too radical and too extreme, and it would draw attention away from my intellect, or my resume.

My classmates teased me incessantly. They said no one would ever like me romantically — no one would ever want to take my clothes off. At first I kind of believed them, because I was already unpopular, so I assumed my body hair would just exacerbate that. But the more I embraced my body’s natural appearance, the more I realized that I wouldn’t want to date anybody who had a problem with my choice.

If any man is trying to take control over anyone else’s body, especially a woman’s, they’re not forward-thinkers. They lack empathy. They’re stuck inside an old, boring, artificial beauty paradigm in which women are expected to look a certain way in order to be attractive. It’s outrageous and outdated, and I wouldn’t want to spend time with anyone who ascribes to that thinking, especially a romantic partner.

Now that I think about it, it’s actually a great way of vetting people, kind of like a test for whether I’d want to be around a person or not. If they object to something as superficial as body hair, they’re not worth my time or energy.

I started modeling when I was 18. I got my first big break modeling Gucci’s Fall/Winter 2015 collection for Purple Magazine’s Fall 2015 issue. The shoot was photographed by Olivier Zahm. My career took off shortly after that when Pat McGrath asked me to be a muse for her makeup line. That was three years ago. I’m 21 now, and I’ve been modeling on and off ever since, balancing it with my studies at The New School. Recently, I’ve been focusing on acting, and I have some projects I’m excited about premiering this fall.

It’s hard to say if my body hair affects whether or not I’m getting hired more or less as a model. I do think it’s really hard to find a place for it in the industry. So many jobs and castings expect you to show up “groomed”: brushed hair, a little concealer and mascara. They want you to look cute. They want you to have your legs and armpits shaved because you’re going to be trying on tons of clothes. At the end of the day you’re being hired as a mannequin, and mannequins are typically hairless. Female body hair is still too radical for most brands to endorse. It often creates a divisive image that stirs up controversy around a campaign or an editorial. I think brands are afraid of that because they want the focus to be on the clothes, or the shoes, or the product, and they don’t want anything to divert attention away from what they’re trying to sell.

I used to feel really guilty about shaving my armpits for a job, because I felt like I was taking away from what made me me. But now I feel like, when I show up on set and I model, I’m playing a character. I’m pretending to be someone completely different from myself. I’m wearing makeup I would never wear and clothes I wouldn’t necessarily pick out for myself, so shaving is just another part of creating an image of someone I’m not.


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When I’m not modeling, I just let my hair do its thing. I don’t shave or even trim. I use a spray deodorant because that’s what my boyfriend uses, and it smells like him.

I’ve always been really politically outspoken on social media. I want to use my voice to inspire other people to educate themselves, or feel more comfortable in their own skin, so that’s what I try to do, and the response has been really positive. It’s one of the main reasons I continue to post. I love having that communication, especially with people who can teach me more. But anytime I post a picture where body hair is displayed, I also get an outpouring of hate — from all genders, but usually from older men. They’ll make comments like, “just shave.” The idea that strangers feel like they have the right to censor somebody else’s body is baffling to me.

When I first started gaining a following on Instagram, I was confused about where all the hatred was coming from. I’m lucky to live in downtown New York where I’m surrounded by an enormously open, accepting and loving community. Now the mean comments are just funny to me. It’s my body. It’s my choice. I can choose what I do and how I look. And it’s not even permanent! Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and decide I like the way I look with shaved armpits better, and that would be perfectly fine if that’s how I felt. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. It’s never made sense to me that body hair is so gendered. I don’t judge anyone for shaving or altering their bodies in any way. If you’re doing something that makes you feel sexy, then nobody has a place to tell you that it’s not okay, or that it’s not sexy, because sexiness comes from within, as does confidence.

Growing out my body hair isn’t revolutionary by any means, and I’m not alone in doing it. Young people message me on Instagram every single day telling me how I’ve inspired them be more comfortable experimenting and taking charge of their own bodies.

It’s about more than just body hair, though. It’s about overall body positivity. Openly rejecting the patriarchal ideal of a hairless woman feels especially important given that there are so many other unrealistic expectations out there currently. If I can use my voice and body to show people that beauty comes from inside yourself, that’s a really powerful thing.

I’m aware of my privilege as a cisgender, white, able-bodied woman in being able to do that, though. It is much easier for me to make the choice to grow out my body hair than it is for a person of color, or a trans woman. I’m not a champion of the body hair movement. I’m not. I’m just being myself, and that’s the message I want to send: Be yourself, no matter what, in whatever way you feel most comfortable. Never let anyone else take your identity away from you.

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  • Ariri

    I used to be completely terrorized of what people might think of my facial and body hair, especially since I live in a country where it is utterly rare to meet women who have any visible body hair (including forearm). But I realized with time even if people think something, they will rarely say it…. maybe because it’s the ultimate taboo in terms of beauty?

    I work with children and they often grab my arm and say “why do you have hair here?” and I show them their own arm and say “You have hair here too, right?”. I had some answers like “yeah but you are a woman, you should shave like my mom does” and other more ‘aaaah’ answers, but I always add “anyway, I like it, my arm is beautiful”. I want them to know there are other ways to “be beautiful”.

    • Harling Ross

      “I want them to know there are other ways to “be beautiful”.” — love this

  • Millie Lammoreaux

    I’ve been a no-shave lady for a handful of years now and I love it. Here’s the thing: I feel like hairy armpits are pretty normalized at this point (I still get plenty of stares, yes, but most of my girlfriends don’t shave either), but damn LEG HAIR is soooo not. I still feel self-conscious about my weird, patchy, kind of pubescent looking leg hair, and I know many other women do, too. What can we do to normalize it? Because I want to love my hairy limbs just as much as I do my armpits.

    • old_inside

      I feel the same. I stopped shaving a decade ago and the only area I still struggle to accept is my legs. When I go to a formal wedding, for instance, I will sometimes cave and shave my legs but leave my armpits alone…

      I find one of the most helpful things for me is to think about how I feel when I see other women with hairy legs. It is a quiet but powerful act of resistance, isn’t it? It is inspiring! I know how it feels to get those weird looks and comments and still choose to push through the insecurity. I immediately feel a kinship and admiration for other women exploring that alternative.

      I also see little girls with their peach fuzz legs and want them to understand they have options. My sister stopped shaving and I can’t help but feel like maybe I helped that feel like a valid choice for her.

      Shaved legs are chill, unshaved legs are chill. Very fortunate to even have the option to consider this dilemma. Lots of other more important things to turn our attention to, after all.

      • Millie Lammoreaux

        Excellent response, thank you 🙂

        • old_inside

          Feels like we are in good company 🙂

    • stinevincent

      At least where I live or with my hair patterns, leg hair is much less noticeable. It’s actually pretty subtle. For brunettes, armpit hair stands out. I also have a large amount of armpit hair, and it gets quite long. I think rather than think about noticing leg hair, you might benefit to think about how often you might be seeing leg hair and not even notice it, or not be able to tell that’s what you’re seeing.

  • Perfumadelarosa

    Not shaving was considered revolutionary, even sexy back in the 70’s then it took different notions from being a “hippie” till it almost disappeared with the millennial generation (not coz it actually disappeared but the whole aesthetic approach changed and whom did not practice shaving didn’t get exposed or even expose themselves). Like Kate said, she ain’t a hero since its easier for her to manifest her own self image yet its also a cultural approach not even related to hygiene. In many societies shaving is related to pre-marital grooming protocol and a girl ain’t allowed to shave except before her wedding. I remember when I was in my 20’s, one of my boyfriends was shocked to see my pubic hair and was turned off immediately, even asked me straight in the face to shave as he found it less sexy opposite to how fashion magazines back then used to highligh how creating shapes in the pubic area to “stir your man’s fire”.

  • Abby

    This stuff is always fascinating to me since I never grew arm pit hair and have therefore never had the opportunity to decide on my arm pit grooming choices.

  • Alejandra

    I said yes too many times while reading this but YES!!!! This year I stopped shaving my legs and armpits during winter and it felt surprisingly good, doing that has helped me accept my body but I’m still too self-conscious to show it in public. I’m letting my hair grow again as well as my unibrow, which I’ve waxed for 10 years now and I hope I learn to embrace it.
    I know it takes time to stop caring about social norms and this article really makes me want to just say f it and stop shaving.

  • Hayley

    Does anyone else love feeling their leg hair blow in the wind? *Raises first hand shyly and looks around at crowd*

    • Ivana Ivanova

      I stopped shaving at the start of the summer simply bc I was over it. I’ve honestly never felt better about my body.

  • Susie Cambria

    Wait. People shave their arms? Do I need to get out more, or what?

    • Heina Dadabhoy

      LOL yes, plenty of people whose body hair isn’t blond and pale shave their arms.

  • Miss Crystal

    I love this! It’s so strange how not removing body hair is so “radical”. I shave, but not very often since I’m not particularly hairy. I absolutely refuse painful hair removal because that seems more… oppressive… Even though friends say sugaring isn’t *that* bad, it’s still needless pain, and if a guy can’t handle a fuzzy cha cha, then he’s not the right guy.

    I remember a few years ago it was en vogue for males to wax their chest hair and that was horrifying to me.

    But, I kind of liked how not too long ago, a good way to repel gross guys at the gym was to not shave my pits, wear a tank top, and shamelessly stretch. I feel like that doesn’t work as well anymore -_-

  • niga jael jal na ga

    I’m too lazy to shave in the winter, I’ll have bushes everywhere. my boyfriend asks me to shave and sometimes I feel guilty about but at the end of the day, I can’t be assed and he’s not gonna stop what he likes because of it lol

  • Kittybat

    I’m rocking unashamed armpits right now. Thanks for the positive affirmation.

  • I have light skin and dark hair and started shaving everything when I was young. I was especially self-conscious of my arm hair. Kids are really mean and love to point out difference. I was always torn because I’d be made fun of for having body hair, but then made fun of again if I shaved it off. Since I realized it was a no-win situation, I just started doing my own thing and never looked back.

    Darling Marcelle

  • Jeanie

    I don’t think I would ever not “shave” my armpits because it really helps with controlling BO. I put shave in quotes, because I actually use an epilator. I’m all for being you, and I think you’re lucky if you don’t have to worry about armpit hair making you smell worse.

    • stinevincent

      I’m a smelly-ass person, and growing my hair out has certainly made me adjust my deodorant, but it definitely doesn’t mean that I just smell all the time. I even use natural deodorant and avoid antiperspirants. If it’s something that intrigues you, I think you should go for it. You should also try out soapwalla (if you use natural deodorants or want to start. warning: the transition to natural makes you smellier for a week or two).

      • Jeanie

        Yes! I use natural too. I also like Bodymint a lot! The hair thing doesn’t work for me though.

    • Lorange E

      I’m a smelly person but I’ve found that having armpit hair actually cuts down on BO for me. My skin really hates shaving and something about less hair lets more bad-smelling stuff flourish. (Pro tip: scrub the deodorant in when applying to pit hair. Learned this from watching my boyfriend.)

      • Jeanie

        I’ve heard that from people. Doesn’t work for me though. Our bodies are all different, right? Also, I should have been clearer. Shaving doesn’t work for me either. I have to pull the hairs out at the root. It turns my thick dense hair softer and more fine.

  • KA

    So well put, and so wonderful to read an article on MR about female armpit hair (a strange sentence, but seriously it’s a thing that should be talked about) !!!

    I’ve cut my underarm shaving down to once or twice a week from EVERY SINGLE MORNING after 15 straight years. SO liberating to reduce the constant razor burn, countless ingrown hairs, and shame about prickly awkward stubble, and SO empowering to take ownership over what is natural to my body and incorporate it into my personal style without apology or shame.

    My older boyfriend however is not thrilled with my new habits, so thanks for publishing this MR to back a lady up !!!

    And THANK YOU Leandra for your, “why I don’t wear makeup” article – it started me down a path of appreciating what I actually look like, which has been a total game changer for me.

    So much love !! XOXO

  • Lil

    I love that she openly and casually acknowledged her white privilege. 👏🏼👏🏼

  • OffendedAsian

    “I’m aware of my privilege as a cisgender, white, able-bodied woman in being able to do that, though. It is much easier for me to make the choice to grow out my body hair than it is for a person of color, or a trans woman.”

    I have a problem with this way of thinking. Why would it be harder for a “person of color” (a term I already find heartbreaking that so many young people choose to use to divide races- a term white people use to categorize us as ‘other’-) to grow out their body hair? I enjoyed this article until the last paragraph. Kate comes off as an ignorant racist who uses her white guilt to talk about RACE when body hair has nothing to do with RACE. The focus on race that comes out of nowhere proves that this woman speaks without considering the way it affects people. I am a person of color and I am offended when a white person feels sympathy for me- especially for such a thing as body hair. What if I don’t have a struggle to make a choice to grow out my body hair? What if the people around me (other people of color) accept my body hair. I have body hair and I do not need your sympathy. Stop seeing us as OTHER- acknowledging your privilege is one thing…speaking on behalf of other humans based on race is deeply upsetting. What an awful thing to group “People of Color” into a narrative like this. WE DONT WANT YOUR SYMPATHY KATE. WAKE UP. “Never let anyone else take your identity away from you.” This is what I feel YOU have done. Heartbreaking.

    • sleepygirl

      I don’t think that is her intention; I believe she is acknowledging the fact that because she is a white cisgendered able-bodied woman, she will not receive the same amount of flack that women of color and/or transgender women will receive for their body hair. It would also be inappropriate of her to speak on the issue of body hair for people of color, when she obviously has not lived that experience.

    • Meghan Johnson

      I wonder why she said that.

    • lulu

      Well, jeez… look, I’m also someone who qualifies as a “Person of Colour”, and I really appreciate her saying that. I think it’s lovely to acknowledge other peoples’ (well documented- just ready any article like THIS http://www.youngcoloredandangry.com/womenofcolourbodyhair/ great one) struggles and how they differ from her own.
      Ignoring any issues with the term “People of Colour” itself and how it ignores diversity, and the fact that “race” doesn’t exist, YES, body hair is a race thing! As a light brown skinned person with black hair my body hair is much more prominent and probably perceived differently to someone like Petra Collins’ or Kate’s… Idk. I think this girl seems pretty inspiring. But I think your comment is interesting and I’d be really intrigued to know where you think she went wrong in acknowledging her privilege?

      • YNMD

        (there’s no way this woman is actually Asian – this is a troll comment, and a pretty flagrant one at that)

        • You have no way of knowing if she is Asian or not… I don’t agree with her either but I understand people can have different opinions

          • YNMD

            Surely. But this reads like the kind of screed I see frequently from white supremacists who enjoy trolling progressive sites and playing virtual blackface or similar (I have years of experience w them I can spot them a mile away). Their goal is to dismantle identity politics by falsely claiming marginalized people Online who then spout “racial sensitivity is the real racism” bullshit like this.

            Regardless, theres also no way of knowing she’s Asian. And given her comment I’m definitely not given her the benefit of the doubt.

    • YNMD

      if she’s not talking about you, then she’s not talking about you
      you certainly don’t speak for all asians or POC
      many many women who aren’t asian are considered POC; you assume you are entitled to speak for black women? indian women? native and first nations women?

      she also acknowledges the struggle of body hair on trans women who are under literal physical threat related to passing, which shows she’s capable of thinking of others besides herself. a sentiment your comment clearly lacks

    • Melissa

      I agree that the use of “people of color” is weird, but it’s useful. Maybe in this case it ends up being too broad, but it’s undeniable that there are some ethnicities with a lot visible thick hair do stand out more when they “go natural”, they are further from the norm

  • Arden Burtnik

    Does anyone know the brand of her top? because I am OBSESSED

  • Courtney

    i don’t shave my legs ever and my mom and dad are constantly telling me that it’s unhygienic and that no boy will ever like me, but if someone doesn’t like my body hair then that’s their opinion that they can keep to themselves because it won’t change my choice to not shave my legs. I have no problem with wearing a tank top and having hairy pits too. I hate that women are made to feel ugly and unwanted if they have body hair. They say that they have to shave their legs and I find that sad. You should shave because you want to not because you feel like you have to in order to fit in with society. It’s your body and your choice to shave or not to shave. And I choose not to shave.

    • Bo

      RE: the hygiene of having body hair – tell your parents that hair is actually one of our body’s best defences against disease and foreign bodies! That’s why your nose is full of hair, to physically stop pollen etc that blows up your nose travelling further into your respiratory system and causing infection. Our hair follicles are also instrumental in transporting natural oils from the sebaceous gland up to the skin’s surface, where it works to keep the skin lubricated, waterproof and protected – which is essential considering the skin is the body’s first line of defence against the world!

  • kforkarli

    I couldn’t care less what people do with their body hair. I am baffled as to why people want to talk about it so much. I imagine most people are influenced by their parents or their peers growing up but thankfully, we all get to grow up and decide what we want to do with our lives and our bodies.

  • Ally

    I don’t know. I feel like unshaved armpits is pretty common nowadays. I let mine grow for awhile and then shave it when I feel like it. When I clicked on this I was expecting to see a model with hairy legs and bikini line… I feel like that would be an interesting/bold thing for a model to actually “pull off”. I sometimes let my bikini line get a little out of control during the winter and then feel self conscious if I forget and pack a pair of shorts for hot yoga class that show it. I’m also self conscious of razor burn during the summer and not ready to consider something like laser removal. I guess deep down I’m just SO SICK of worrying about my bikini line that I’m waiting for someone to make it cool and edgy not to worry about it. Does anyone else feel like this?

    • Bo

      yep I’ll cosign

    • S

      I’ve stopped shaving my bikini line years ago, cause waxing was just too painful and the razor makes me itch uncontrollably. I was very worried about beach or pool outings, but honestly? Nobody’s gonna look at your crotch. And if they do, they’re sure as hell not going to admit it. The only comments I’ve received so far is teasing from my (girl) friends but we tease each other for just about everything to that’s fair ;D

  • Erica Kan

    My mom was actually the one who encouraged me not to conform with society’s view of shaving. When I do wear tank tops, I feel extra aware of the fact that I have hair on my armpits, but I try not to overthink it all. Will people notice? Are people looking?

    But to be honest, it’s my body. Whether I shave or not is my decision.

  • Nina

    I watched this not long ago and made me rethink the whole shaving thing.
    Great article! Quite inspiring.

  • Holly

    Interesting read, but I have just headed down the opposite path of having permanent hair removal via laser. After nearly 40 years of shaving my legs it is heaven to have them so smooth and not have to put up with prickles and the sheer effort of shaving. Growing my leg hair would take away the bristles and effort part, but I am so in love with the smoothness I can’t imagine it would be as good, and I admit I am just too gutless to face the world with my very hairy natural legs!

  • Neats

    If she feels not shaving is a political statement, then what political statements do coloring her hair and plucking her eyebrows make?

  • Melissa

    I know you mean well, but instead of just writing a paragraph about white privilege why not feature someone who does not have that white privilege?
    https://www.instagram.com/p/BV_FUnSAqYC/ (an example of actual controversial body hair)

    • Melissa

      Too bad I’m a few months late for the discussion