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A nod to personal choice and a wave to a generation: Why Julia Roberts' 1999 red-carpet look is still discussed

What a moment.

WHEN THE ENTERTAINMENT industry depicted coming of age moments through a female lens back in the 90s, it tended to focus on the purchase of the first bra or the arrival of the first period.

bras Source: Giphy

As an adolescent in the late 90s, I recall very little attention being given to the development of body hair in the shows and films I watched, so as a result, its presence in real life was often treated with something akin to wariness.

And given the fact that commercials which promoted razors featured smooth, hair-free skin, it was hardly surprising that the vast majority of us didn’t know how to feel about the emergence of body hair.

Downy shins, bristly underarms and spiky bikini lines were not spoken about as readily as the merits of underwired bras over their wire-free cousin, or pads over tampons.

And that is why Julia Roberts’ decision to wave at photographers while attending the Notting Hill premiere in 1999 was such a pivotal moment in the lives of many young girls, who would see their entry into the teen years coincide with the dawn of the new millennium.

Showbiz/Julia Roberts Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Raising her arm on the red carpet, the actress revealed an armpit unlike any I had seen at a ‘Hollywood event’, in the pages of my magazines, depicted on shows I watched or, indeed, in any of the films I hoped would illuminate me on the wonder of womanhood.

It wasn’t smooth; in fact it wasn’t even bristly. It was hairy and completely natural.

And whether Julia realised it or not, this moment was of critical importance when it came to many young girls’ understanding of their own bodies and the varied approaches they could take to presenting that same body to the wider world, if they so wished.

While the media had a field day over Julia’s armpit – Was it a mistake? Was it a statement? – the actress hadn’t anticipated the furore that would follow a personal decision to leave her underarms au natural.

Speaking to Busy Phillips on Busy Tonight this week, the actress said:

I just hadn’t really calculated my sleeve length and the waving and how those two things would go together and reveal personal things about me.

Dismissing the notion that it was calculated move on her part, Julia simply said:

It wasn’t so much a statement… just part of the statement I make as a human on the planet, for myself.

And that in itself was enough for a generation of young girls back in 1999.

You can watch the interview in full here.

Source: Busy Tonight/YouTube

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About the author:

Niamh McClelland

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