In recent weeks Xiao Meili, one of the leaders in China’s new generation of feminist activists, asked women around the country to submit pictures showing off their armpit hair as part of the first-ever “Women’s Armpit Hair Contest.”
“Is women’s armpit hair disgusting? Indecent? Why do we fear women having armpit hair?” Xiao asked in a social media post announcing the contest in late May. “Women’s armpit hair can also be cute, funny, sexy, serious, meaningful, ever changing.”
Xiao announced the winners this week on her microblog, including two of five feminist activists who were detained by Chinese authorities during International Women’s Day for planning a protest against sexual harassment. First prize went to a student from Hangzhou, who won a pack of 100 condoms. Second prize winners took home vibrators, and third prize received a device that allows women to pee while standing up.
The winners were chosen based on the number of likes and reposts that their pictures got on Weibo, a Chinese social media site comparable to Twitter.
“We didn’t choose them based on whether they were very hairy or very un-hairy,” Xiao told The New York Times. “Just the votes.”
Entries to the contest ranged from topless photos to close-up selfies of armpit hair.
“Who says armpit hair isn’t beautiful? I don’t shave if I don’t want to,” wrote one participant on her microblog. “Please like and repost — everybody help me win the second prize!”
The winning entry by a university student who goes by Zhu Xixi.
China has seen a wave of activism in recent years both on and offline by a new generation of media-savvy feminist leaders. In 2012 activist Li Tingting made headlines with her “Occupy the Men’s Bathroom” movement demanding more women’s toilets. Last year Xiao Meili walked the 1,350 miles from Beijing to Guangzhou in a bid to raise awareness about sexual abuse of children. Feminists have also organized online petitions criticizing what they describe as misogynist comedy sketches during major television events.
But with media attention came scrutiny from Chinese authorities, and this March five feminist activists were detained just before International Women’s Day. The activists had been planning a low-key event to raise awareness about sexual harassment on public transportation when they were apprehended by local police. After more than a month, the five were released on bail.
Posting photos of armpit hair proved less controversial, and Xiao received 46 entries to the contest.
The social media competition has received international media attention, but the actual numbers of participants and voters show how far this kind of feminism has to go before becoming truly mainstream in China. First prize went to a photo with a combined 202 likes and reposts, while third prize winners got between 50 and 70.
But for the women involved, the contest proved worthwhile. Li Tingting, one of the young activists detained earlier this year, wrote on her Weibo that she and her girlfriend took pictures at a local university wearing just bras on top.
“Lots of people gathered around to watch and looked at us funny,” Li wrote.“The armpit hair contest challenged the public’s understanding of women’s bodies. It also challenged me to see my own true body and thus made me braver.”