An Update on Januhairy with Laura Jackson

With end of term deadline stress taking hold, January might seem like it was an age away. Unless you were living under a rock, you probably know that the new year also meant the start of Januhairy, a body positivity movement started by Laura Jackson and Her Campus's very own Ruby Jones, both students at the University of Exeter.

The campaign was a huge success worldwide, but it didn't stop when the month ended. We sat down with Laura to get an update on all things Januhairy. 

 

Hi, Laura! For those who missed it, can you give us a little introduction to Januhairy and how you and Ruby went about setting it up?

For me, I first started growing out my hair for a one woman show about gender norms. I actually surprised myself with how uncomfortable I felt about it at the start - I was mentally uncomfortable and self conscious about how it looked. Through that and through covering it up and apologising to people about it I thought, you know what, this is actually something that really needs to be tackled. So I just kept being hairy after that and I enjoyed it - loved it!

Then I went to the Women of the World Festival with Ruby. We went to a talk called ‘The Politics of Body Hair’ - at some point a lady mentioned Movember and how there should be a month for women to do something similar - and I shouted out ‘You could call it Januhairy!’. A few months later I realised it would be a really good idea and that we should make it happen – January is a good time to do it with the whole New Year’s Resolutions thing, so Ruby and I set it up!

 

Obviously Januhairy was massively successful and covered in the media worldwide. In hindsight, what would you say was the biggest achievement for you personally with Januhairy? What made you think 'I’m really proud we did that'?

I think it was when I had a 13 year old girl message me who said she was basically in tears after she saw the campaign. She sent me this whole story about how she grows a lot of body hair and that she hates leaving the house with it showing and that she always tries to remove it and struggles with it a lot. She saw the campaign and thought 'Hey, body hair is normal, I don’t need to be so horrified by this'. I asked if I could share her story and she was so happy that I wanted to do that. That just filled my heart, because that's the age its where it all starts. It was lovely to hear from so many different women and their experiences.

So you and Ruby did a Q&A video, and you mentioned about your family not quite understanding the whole body hair thing. What do they think now? Have their minds changed?

Completely. When I first started growing my hair before, we had a conversation in the car. My brother said ‘Oh, that’s disgusting’, my sister agreed like ‘Yeah, I don’t get it, I don’t like it either’ and my mum said ‘Are you just being lazy or are you trying to prove a point?’. I explained that it was neither and asked why couldn’t I just be hairy? Everyone stayed kinda quiet because they just didn’t really understand. 

But that’s changed a lot. I invited both my parents to that show I did - it had a lot of conversations on gender norms, and it was autobiographical, so it was a lot of my own stories. Everyone really appreciates it now and they’ve been very supportive of the whole movement.

Watch the video here - JANUHAIRY: Introductions, Aims and Q&A! 

 

When I was doing Januhairy, girls my age understood it pretty much straight away. With others it often took a little more explaining -  did you have any people that just did not get it? You mentioned that you got a lot of hate online, too.

Yeah I have. Some people literally said ‘hey you can do what you want but I don’t like it, it’s gross’. And you have to just take that as someone’s opinion, but there have been some where people really, really wanted to have an argument or have really strong views that they force onto everybody else. A lot of people wrongly think that this is what Januhairy is about – forcing an opinion and making everyone be hairy! But that’s not it at all.

Hopefully, just talking about it will normalise body hair for those people who think it shouldn’t be seen on a woman or spoken about. I think reading about it helps too – there’s been some great articles, a lot of them from students actually, and they’re super informative. As for the hate on social media, a lot of it is just people that see a picture and immediately think it's gross – but the stories and articles help people to educate themselves more, and that’s what it’s about.

 

That’s the whole point, isn't it? Promoting the ability to choose. 

Absolutely. We got a lot of questions about whether we would continue growing our body hair after the official month had ended. In that Q&A video, I said that I would be continuing to grow it out and Ruby said she wouldn't. Both are valid.

 

Last time we spoke you said that you plan on doing Januhairy next year too, which is great! I know its 10 months from now, but do you have any plans for that?

Yeah, hopefully it takes off again next year! I’m a bit disappointed in myself for the last few months because it’s hard to keep super on it with the social media posting and keeping that continually moving. The official month was over and a lot of people messaged saying like ‘Well now Januhairy is over does that mean the whole campaign is over?’ - but I wanted to keep it going. We’ve obviously had less stories coming in, but I don’t want to stop sharing stuff because I want to keep the discussion going. The whole thing took off and it's now so big I’m always thinking of what to post, what needs to be posted, that sort of thing. But with feedback, we’re always trying to improve. So hopefully it can be bigger and better next year. 

Me and Ruby are also going to the BodyKind Festival in Totnes in May as Januhairy to go and talk about it.

 

Is there anything you wish you’d known before it all took off this year?

Yeah. We had a lot of comments during and after about trying to include all kinds of women, and the lack of diversity. We really tried to include all the stories that were sent to us from a range of women, but there has been a lot of talk about how it's very different for a white cis-gender woman to do this compared to so many other women who are not in that place of privilege.

I can’t speak for all women but we tried to include everybody and I think this is why Januhairy should move on in the future. We are just scraping the surface of the conversation about beauty standards. I think we need to educate each other – so for women of all different races and identities, we need to keep sharing our stories and let each other see and hear what needs to be spoken about.

At the start we had planned on leaving all the negativity in the comments because it helps us and everybody else see why we’re doing this campaign and what it’s for. But of course that was mainly general hate on women and body hair. When it came to transphobic and racist comments that was a bit different. It was about trying to keep track of those and get rid of them - after the month was over we sat down and thought okay we need to get rid of all negative comments so this is actually a safe space to upload and talk about things even though the month is over. We want the social media to be a safe place for people to share things, so yeah, people get blocked if there’s serious negativity.

So the money raised by Januhairy sponsorship went to Body Gossip and your target was £1000, which you reached so congratulations! What impact is that money going to be making? 

The charity goes into schools, universities and other communities and they do writing and theatre workshops about body image and how we view ourselves and each other. I think it’s so great to be going into schools and doing that, especially because that’s the age where it all starts to kick in and you start to recognise your body and things you want to change about it and you start to compare yourself. The money raised will help that charity do that work for schools for free, for schools that can’t afford it.

 

Final thoughts on Januhairy?

That’s a tough question, I haven’t had an interview for a while now! It was such a crazy month, I really enjoyed it and enjoyed talking about it.

I remember having a radio interview at the very beginning of the month and the interviewer's introduction - before I even came on - was basically laughing at the campaign and at me. I really wasn't sure about it, but this was right at the start when I wasn’t really used to doing the interviews yet. The questions were not the sort of questions you want to answer, especially as we only had about 2 minutes, and it was quite rude. It was the first awful one I had and I was so affected by it. I was thinking 'Well crap a lot of people would have heard that - has that made the campaign sound really shit?'

At the end of the month he called again to do another show. He apologised for his behaviour and said that after that show he had had conversations with a few female colleagues and they saw that Januhairy was something quite big and relevant and important. In the second interview he asked the right questions! It’s nice to see that by the end of the month some people’s views had changed.

Even now the month is done, we’re still having people following and messaging and chatting about it. I’ve felt about lost for the past month because it’s like 'Well what do I do now?!' It was such a big thing. 

I think a final note would be that this has started a conversation that really needed to be had, and I hope it continues to grow and develop. At the end of the day, we should all just listen to each other more and accept each other more. No matter how hairy.

Keep up to date with Januhairy here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Januhairyy/

Instagram: @janu_hairy

Twitter: @janu_hairy