“Natural Beauty” Photo Series Challenges Restricting Female Body Hair Standards


London-based photographer, filmmaker, and artist Ben Hopper has caused quite a stir with his project, titled Natural Beauty. Challenging female beauty standards, the photo series aims to find out why women with body hair are labeled as ‘unsexy.’

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    artFido

    I stopped shaving my armpit hair about 5 years ago, and the rest of my body hair 4 years ago. I was tired of constantly getting rid of my body hair since the age of 11. I started wondering "Why?” - Why do we go through a painful process to get rid of something we were born with that keep growing? Why is being shaved considered to be more feminine? Why is body hair seen as something dirty? ...It’s all about these ideas society has put into our heads and it doesn't even make sense, so that was it for me, no more painful process to remove my natural hair. It made me feel more myself with body hair. I feel beautiful and it has helped me accepting and loving my body, feeling comfortable in my own skin. At the start, I was scared of what people would say and I found most of my friends being really supporting about it. I've had people telling me I look "dirty", "smelly" and that no one would have sex with me if I didn't shave... But I've also had people encouraging me and telling me it's natural and beautiful. I would like everyone to allow themselves to do what feels best for them instead of looking for someone else's approval.” – Sheila Santiago (October 2018)

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    artFido

    “I am mixed race and have quite fair sensitive skin and thick dark hair. This made shaving a very difficult and often painful process. Stubble would always grow back within 24 hours, and trying to shave the stubble would end in bleeding and rashes. My underarms were never ‘pretty’ or ‘feminine’. I hated it and was made miserable by it. I remember wearing t-shirts with sleeves when swimming and jumpers on hot days just to cover up my prickly, irritated pits. I certainly couldn’t afford regular waxing at the age when societal pressure kicked in. I desperately wanted to have skin and hair like my friends and be accepted – not only by them, but also by myself. When I was 15 I even asked my mum for laser hair removal for my birthday (luckily my mum is a badass feminist who has never really conformed to ‘beauty’ standards or bothered with non-essential grooming and firmly said ‘No. your body is beautiful, you don’t need to burn it with lasers’). When I was about 17 and in my first serious relationship with a boy who loved my body a lot more than I did, I decided to try something radical. I decided to stop putting myself through pain, to stop being angry with my body for not being the way I wanted it; I stopped shaving. I’d like to say I never looked back but I definitely have. I’ve shaved a few times since, normally because I’ve still been unable to shake the ridiculous feeling that I won’t be able to look feminine in a ball gown with armpit hair. I’ve been self-conscious when people glance or whisper or make a comment to me. I’m ashamed to say I’ve apologised to a few people about it, feeling embarrassed and nervous and wanting to make a point of excusing it before anyone else can comment. I have still sometimes covered them up in summer, and definitely made an effort to hide it during my year of working behind a bar. I didn’t think tipsy, overly forward folks (usually men) would withhold comments on them when I reached up to get a wine glass. However, during this year, I was contacted by Ben Hopper, and eventually and slightly cautiously agreed to let him photograph me for his Natural Beauty series. The experience completely changed my feelings towards my armpits and my overall confidence increased massively. The cat was out of the bag to all of my friends and a rather wider audience than I ever imagined (over half a million!!). After reading the comments on the Facebook post I felt proud to be an example of how beautiful women’s bodies are, no matter what they choose to do with them. I felt indignant about the nastier comments, and developed an ‘if you don’t like it, I don’t give a shit because it’s not for you, and your opinion on my or any woman’s body is irrelevant’ attitude. I’ve now realised that underarm hair acts as a really great asshole deterrent - just another reason to love and appreciate it. I do love it now. I may still shave from time to time, just as I may wear lipstick, or dye my hair – but like the latter two, it would be for the sake of personal choice and expression, rather than to conform to a standard I have no interest in upholding or contributing to in any way. I think everyone should try going without any non-essential grooming at some point in their life. It will shave (pun intended) lots of time off your routine, and it’s really interesting to see what your body naturally does. You may find it freeing and empowering. You may even find that you like the way it looks as I did, and if you don’t you can always just go back to shaving, no harm done.” – Maya Felix, December 2016 (photographed June 2014).

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    artFido

    “I stopped shaving my body hair as I realised that it is a choice, not a given. That it was unfair to have to spend so much extra time, sometimes money (if getting regular waxes) and energy in order to fulfil this conventional expectation to be hair free. This expectation seemed to be based entirely on my assigned biological gender, which was purely down to chance. Not choice. At first, my 17-year-old self was exceptionally proud and liberated. Flashing my underarms and legs with a zesty vigour for pushing social boundaries. I still feel such a way often. However getting older, and becoming more of a ‘grown up woman’, so to speak, I have been more challenged wondering how it could affect others perception of me, mainly professionally. Over the years I’ve had mixed responses. Some very gratifying, where other ‘women’ have expressed feeling inspired to stop removing their hair also. On several occasions ‘women’ have called me “so brave” and shared almost sorrowfully their personal inner conflict on the matter. I’ve had conversations with lovers and ‘male’ friends who claimed to find my body hair attractive, symbolic of freedom and nature; that they don’t even notice it/care. I mention this as I think that one of the biggest motivations to remove body hair is wanting to be considered sexually attractive. I’ve definitely also noticed what I think are looks of surprise in public places. But quite frankly I’m not surprised at that as despite becoming somewhat more acceptable, it is still pretty rare to see a ‘woman’ with hairy legs or a man with shaved armpits, for that matter. I too can find myself staring at unusual appearances.” Charlot Conway. Photographed May 2018, written July 2018

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    artFido

    I stopped shaving after reading Judith Butler and realising that I had no idea what my 'natural' body looked like, as I was convinced to perform my gender and shave by 15. I then continued not to because I felt the need to overcome the embarrassment I felt for not conforming. Not shaving shouldn't be a statement but it is. Eventually it became a really liberating experience and showers are so quick and easy now, I will never go back!” – Alexis Calvas, February 2015.

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    artFido

    ”Armpit hair grows naturally, so one would think people would ask, 'why do you shave?' not the opposite. The fact that in this society something natural like growing your armpit hair is almost a statement, or a political act, is weird – and that’s a reason to grow. People react differently; depending on what environment I am in. When I am very dressed up, people are more chocked and sometimes disturbed by it. Seems like jewels and armpit hair don’t match in high fashion. When I’m in jeans and t-shirt or wearing more punk or hippie style, people are more relaxed with it. It’s more socially accepted or anticipated. With the hair, sometimes I feel free and natural and sometimes like a freak (which can be fun or disturbing, depending on my mood). I like to colour my armpit hair in blue, pink or white. I think it’s beautiful.” – Emilia Bostedt, actress. December 2016 (photographed February 2014).

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    artFido

    From the age of 12, growing up with extremely sensitive skin, body hair was my worst nightmare. The fact that I'm a brunette with south European descent, living in a cold country without many sunny months was making it even harder. Body hair was my biggest complex and I just decided to face it and love myself the way I am. I was tired of the constant struggle. It made me feel at peace with myself. I realised that we are responsible for what we like and what we don't like. I realised that beauty is really just in the eye of the beholder, and that all of us have a choice. On a deeper level, it made me more connected to my feminine side and to mother nature too. There were many bitter comments and weird looks. People were making fun of me. I won't even say that it's unpopular where I live; there are just no women my age of whom I know that would not shave. I guess the situation is a bit different in Western Europe where people can more freely just be themselves. In Poland it's still considered a real taboo unless you're a really old woman from the countryside. But it's nice that encouragement came from people I really wouldn't think of in the first place. It's a good way to tell between open, understanding people and those who constantly judge without any deeper thought. Though as for the latter, for many of them there's still hope, it's mostly a matter of habit. I would love to encourage all the ladies who are tired with this shaving terror to ditch the razor! But I'd like to encourage all the ladies who love their skin super smooth to keep shaving too. I just don't want anyone to do things against themselves just to please society. It's history repeating itself. Once there were corsets to keep women "in check", now it's the constraint of being absolutely hairless. The good thing is we won't be needing such things anymore, people are getting more and more conscious, learning to love the truth instead of the programmed illusion.” – Martha Aurelia Gantner, musician. May 2017 (photographed June 2015)

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    artFido

    “I stopped shaving completely when I was a teenager because of two instances. The first? I got tired of all the time wasted on maintenance and the discomfort that came with it. The second was when I went on a few multiple week-long backpacking trips; it would have been extremely inconvenient to spend hours ripping my hair out, so I let things grow. Being so close to nature let me dive deeper into and re-examine the relationship with myself and the world, acting as a mirror. In nature, there is wild; it is as beautiful as it is untamed. How could it be anything other than that? I felt so relieved and free when I let it grow out. It felt like being able to breathe. It was incredibly comfortable too. I felt a confidence and boldness returning, like I was replenishing some kind of primal power. People respond to it differently all the time. There are very encouraging/positive reactions—women who have messaged me to thank me for changing their mind and pushing them to challenge their motives/experiment with growing their body hair. Then there are people that start to fetishize it, which can be strange. People revere my decision as a feminist and bold political statement, which is ironic, considering how almost everybody has some kind of body hair. It is also funny because I am lazy and keeping it is the path of least resistance. There are people who are exceptionally rude and who speak from fear. People who say it’s dirty and that I must be a man. The more important questions to ponder are rather why and how do we live in a culture/society that has deemed it acceptable for certain people to have body hair, and unacceptable for others? Isn’t it absurd that it is socially acceptable for humans to have lots of hair on their head, but not on other parts of their same body? Isn’t it ridiculous and ironic that what grows naturally on its own is seen as unnatural? How did we get here? I will say that a very pleasant side effect of having armpit hair is its ability to ward off rude people whom I wouldn’t care to interact or associate with anyway. Because the people that care about that sort of thing and make it a point to say how disgusted they are, are precisely the kind of people that I don’t want in my life. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference. If somebody wants to dye their hair, let them. If somebody wants to get a face tattoo, who cares? Whether a person decides to shave or not is completely up to them. It has nothing to do with you and your feelings of discomfort or your sexual desires. Everybody should have the ability to make personal choices about their bodies and not be criticized for them.” – Kyotocat, March 2018 (photographed June 2017).

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    artFido

    Julianne Popa. "Natural Beauty" research (2011)

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    artFido

    “I stopped shaving completely when I was a teenager because of two instances. The first? I got tired of all the time wasted on maintenance and the discomfort that came with it. The second was when I went on a few multiple week-long backpacking trips; it would have been extremely inconvenient to spend hours ripping my hair out, so I let things grow. Being so close to nature let me dive deeper into and re-examine the relationship with myself and the world, acting as a mirror. In nature, there is wild; it is as beautiful as it is untamed. How could it be anything other than that? I felt so relieved and free when I let it grow out. It felt like being able to breathe. It was incredibly comfortable too. I felt a confidence and boldness returning, like I was replenishing some kind of primal power. People respond to it differently all the time. There are very encouraging/positive reactions—women who have messaged me to thank me for changing their mind and pushing them to challenge their motives/experiment with growing their body hair. Then there are people that start to fetishize it, which can be strange. People revere my decision as a feminist and bold political statement, which is ironic, considering how almost everybody has some kind of body hair. It is also funny because I am lazy and keeping it is the path of least resistance. There are people who are exceptionally rude and who speak from fear. People who say it’s dirty and that I must be a man. The more important questions to ponder are rather why and how do we live in a culture/society that has deemed it acceptable for certain people to have body hair, and unacceptable for others? Isn’t it absurd that it is socially acceptable for humans to have lots of hair on their head, but not on other parts of their same body? Isn’t it ridiculous and ironic that what grows naturally on its own is seen as unnatural? How did we get here? I will say that a very pleasant side effect of having armpit hair is its ability to ward off rude people whom I wouldn’t care to interact or associate with anyway. Because the people that care about that sort of thing and make it a point to say how disgusted they are, are precisely the kind of people that I don’t want in my life. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference. If somebody wants to dye their hair, let them. If somebody wants to get a face tattoo, who cares? Whether a person decides to shave or not is completely up to them. It has nothing to do with you and your feelings of discomfort or your sexual desires. Everybody should have the ability to make personal choices about their bodies and not be criticized for them.” – Kyotocat, March 2018 (photographed June 2017).

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    artFido

    I stopped shaving because I have extremely sensitive skin and my hair grows quite fast. It began to get painful because of the spots and cuts from shaving so regularly and it didn’t even look nice because of how rashy my underarms were. I started to question why I had to put my skin through this every day, even though all the men that I knew weren’t expected to. I realised how ridiculous it was and from then on only shaved when I actually wanted to (which is very rare and has become less and less). At first I felt like I needed to hide my hair all the time in case someone saw and made a horrible comment. But after going out plenty of times without shaving I gained a lot more confidence. I feel more in tune with my body now that I’m not damaging my skin and taking more care of it. I also feel empowered by not shaving. For so long I had conformed to society’s expectations of what a woman should look like and I finally realised that I was beautiful regardless of whether I shave or not. I really inspired myself in a way, it can take a lot to go against what everyone sees as beautiful and normal, but I’m proud of myself for doing it. I’ve had a lot of different reactions to my armpit hair. Some laughed, some looked uncomfortable and some agreed that I should be allowed to treat my body the way I want to. I often feel sad for the people who make nasty comments because they do not see the beauty of everyone’s individuality and the natural body. The people that accept me for who I am and love me no matter how I look are the people who matter to me. I’m a strong believer that, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else, you should be allowed to do what you want with your body. Every individual has a preference for his or her own appearance. Some people wear make up and some don’t, some people have tattoos and others don’t and some people have underarm hair and others shave. I’m glad that I have realised that what I do with my body hair is my choice and no one has a right to tell me how to look. Being a part of the ‘Natural Beauty’ project has made me fall in love with my natural self and I hope that it opens people’s minds to becoming more accepting.” – JoJo Pearson, July (2017).

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