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Swedish model and artist, Arvida Byström, received rape and death threats after participating in Adidas campaign with unshaved legs.

 

 

The Adidas Campaign

In the wake of participating in a video for Adidas Superstar campaign that exposed her hairy legs, Arvida Byström has faced a widespread backlash from the social media community. Among other bullying comments, the Swedish model and artist, famous for confronting gender biases, got a number of rape and death threats.

 

Instead of ignoring the comments, she decided to speak up in a powerful post on her Instagram account. “Me being such an abled, white, cis body with it’s only nonconforming feature being a lil leg hair,” she wrote in a statement on Instagram. “I can’t imagine what it’s like not possess all these privileges and try to exist in the world. Sending love and try to remember that not everyone has the same experiences being a person.”

Against Social Norms 

The reaction of social media users raises questions over the women’s control over their bodies and freedom in expressing themselves. The point at issue here is not whether women should definitively stop shaving or waxing their body hair, but rather whether women are critical about subjecting themselves to social norms.


Previous art projects of Byström, who was portrayed by Adidas as “known for her photography, which questions femininity and gender standards using so-called ‘girly’ aesthetics”, include co-curating a book Pics Or It Didn’t Happen, composed of photographs censored by Instagram. The book intended to highlight the patterns of discriminating against women who are open about their body and its physiology.

The Debate That Followed

Paradoxically, though, the commotion around the misogynistic responses over the taboo hair has brought this issue to the spotlight of the social media world, mobilizing women to speak up about digital abuse and women empowerment. In addition, it lends support to those who claim that social media have become an important space to voice opinions and engage in a public debate.

 

“I’m disgusted that something so trivial as leg hair would get a reaction like that. Your reaction to it is brave and beautiful,” commented one of the Instagram users.

“THANK YOU!!! My beautiful 18year old daughter refuses to shave her legs. I told her I was worried she would be bullied. She told me that she shouldn’t have to conform to what is considered socially acceptable. She also refuses to wear makeup or nail polish. I’m glad she knows that she alone owns her body,” said another user.

 

At the end of the day, Arvida Byström, by challenging mainstream understanding of femininity, shows that it is an individual choice how we want to express our gender identity. In the video in question, she says, “I think femininity is usually created from our culture so I think everybody can do feminine things, can be feminine. I feel like in today’s society we are very scared of that.” And this is an important lesson for everyone – to not let social expectations to determine who we are.  

 

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