But the reason why this baby picture of Leonardo DiCaprio with his parents has provoked a big reaction has nothing to do with the actor himself. Although it was posted online two days after this year’s Oscars, the focus of the majority of comments has not been on DiCaprio’s long-awaited Best Actor win. Instead the attention has been on his mother Irmelin and more specifically, her unshaved armpits.
The photo, taken in 1976, was posted by the History in Pictures Facebook page and shows young Leo held aloft by Irmelin and George Dicaprio. It has been shared more than 12,000 times and has amassed more than 100,000 likes and other reactions. There have also been more than 6,000 comments, and many have expressed their disgust at what they regard as Irmelin’s unacceptable underarm hair.
However, this has produced a furious counter response from people who think the only shameful things on display were an ignorant prejudice against a woman’s natural body hair and an oppressive attempt to police what women do with their bodies.
Many accused Irmelin’s critics of misplaced priorities and being ignorant to the fact that unshaven armpits were more commonplace at the time the photo was taken.
Some have even posted pictures of their unshaven armpits in solidarity.
Irmelin’s reaction to the controversy is unknown. However, both she and her ex-husband – the DiCaprios divorced years ago – were both at the Oscars to see their son win for his performance in The Revenant.
It’s not the first time the topic of women’s body hair has stirred a strong online reaction. In 2015, Chinese women’s rights activist Xiao Meili launched an ‘Armpit Hair Competition’ encouraging women to take ownership of their bodies and challenging preconceived beauty stereotypes.
So why is female body hair such a divisive issue?
According to Emer O’Toole, author of the book ‘Girls will be Girls’ which deals extensively with the subject, and a self-declared ‘hairy feminist’ herself: “We’ve been socially conditioned since birth to believe that women should not have visible body hair and that female body hair, as opposed to male body hair, is unhygienic and disgusting.”
O’Toole contends that, before World War One, fashions covered the underarms in public, which meant it wasn’t a cosmetic consideration. She blames capitalism; specifically advertising campaigns by more than a dozen companies – after Gillette released the first women’s razor in 1915 – which aimed to convince women that body hair was “unsightly”.