Armpit hair contest in China spurs debate on perception of women's beauty

An online competition inviting women in China to post photos of their armpit hair has ignited a debate over the public perception of female beauty.

The contest, started on the country's popular microblogging site Weibo on May 26, ends on Thursday. While low on entries - just over 40 at last count - it has received close to 1.3 million hits as netizens weigh in with their views on the topic.

Xiao Meili, the women's rights activist who launched the contest, stressed in a telephone interview with the New York Times that she was not encouraging women to grow the hair on their underarms.

Instead, she wants society to avoid judging those who prefer not to shave.

"Men have more freedom in terms of what to do with their bodies. The rest of us should not think females with underam hair are disgusting, unhygienic, uncivil or not feminine enough," she added.

Ms Xiao claimed that shaving armpit air is a relatively novel concept in China that only gained popularity in the 1990s.

An example cited by the contest was the 2007 film Lust, Caution, set in 1930s Shanghai. For authenticity, Taiwan-born American director Ang Lee had his lead actress Tang Wei not shave her armpits for eight months to prepare for her role.

Contest participants include feminist activists Wei Tingting and Zheng Churan, who were detained by police earlier this year while campaigning against sexual harassment on public transport.

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