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Freeze Frame: The truth about Julia Roberts' iconic appearance at the 1999 Notting Hill premiere
2023/07/03

Female celebrities proudly sporting hairy armpits or legs isn't exactly the taboo act it was 20 years ago.

However, in 1999, Julia Roberts' decision to arrive on a red carpet with unshaven armpits was a status quo-shattering style move we still remember to this day.

Roberts was an icon and trendsetter in the '90s, her breakout roles in Pretty Woman and My Best Friend's Wedding cementing her as one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood.

Julia Roberts at the 1999 premiere of Notting Hill. (UK Press via Getty Images)



On the cusp of the noughties in 1999, Roberts, then aged 31, was cast as Anna Scott in the wildly-popular rom-com Notting Hill alongside Hugh Grant.

Her performance was still lauded today. But it was her appearance at the London premiere of this movie that really captured the world's attention.

Roberts arrived in a red sequin Vivienne Tam dress and, as she waved to adoring fans and photographers, bystanders noticed she had hair on her armpits.

Now, nobody would have batted an eyelid if Roberts were a man. But as a glamorous female celebrity, the prolific actress' decision to leave her armpits au naturel made headlines.

Tabloids and newspapers speculated Roberts was perhaps making a defiant feminist statement. Some particularly cruel articles mused whether her then-boyfriend Benjamin Bratt preferred it that way.

Roberts certainly wasn't the first woman in the world to proudly have armpit hair. 

Roberts caused a stir after deciding not to shave her armpits. Pictured here in the film Notting Hill. (Universal Pictures via IMDb)

Screen siren Sophia Loren was filmed and photographed many times with unshaven pits. She even had armpit hair in a few of her films and happily flaunted it in photoshoots.

But Roberts was probably the most famous actress on the planet in 1999 and her decision, conscious or unconscious, caused a stir.

At the time, Roberts decided not to comment or make a statement about her body hair.

It wasn't until 2018, nearly two decades later, that the Eat, Pray, Love star finally addressed the 1999 red carpet moment.

During an appearance on the talk show Busy Tonight, actress and host Busy Phillips asked Roberts if she was actually making some sort of statement.

"You rocked the hairy armpit at the Notting Hill premiere, and you never really said if that was like a statement," Phillips began.

"I just was wondering if you at the time were feeling like it was a punk rock statement or if you literally were like, 'I can't. I can't shave my armpits this month.'"

The actress finally addressed the 1999 red carpet moment in 2018. (Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

Roberts said she was well-aware of the commentary her grooming choice triggered in the media.

But as she revealed, the reason really wasn't that deep at all.

"The picture is vivid in my mind, actually, from that moment," Roberts explained. "I think 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. 

"So it wasn't so much a statement as it's just part of the statement I make as a human on the planet for myself."

Thankfully, times have changed and plenty of mega-famous women have de-stigmatised armpit hair.

The likes of Drew Barrymore, Madonna, Halsey and Miley Cyrus have been photographed with their body hair.

But they can thank Roberts for helping pave the way for normalising a woman's natural body.

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