“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 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 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 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 let my hair grow for the Natural Beauty project. It really intrigued me to see my whole body in its natural state. I wanted to know what it would feel like and how I would feel. I wanted to witness people's judgment on my body first-hand. I wanted to see how that impact would affect myself. It made me feel natural and vulnerable at first, and eventually empowered. I've grown accustomed to my armpit hair, and it makes me feel beautiful. If I removed it now, I’d feel a little bare. I like the colour of my hair against my skin. People’s reactions are mixed, as it's not mainstream. I feel it’s extremely important to feel cushty in your own skin no matter what's on the outside. The stronger I get from being in a vulnerable place, the less people's reactions hurt me. Some even humour me now. As my hair grew, I grew stronger with it.” – Gabriela Eva, musician. January 2017 (photographed January 2015).

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    artFido
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    artFido

    At this point in life, I feel that the real question shouldn’t be ‘why did you let your armpit hair grow?’ But actually, ‘why did you shave in the first place?’ I’ve always been very hairy, as a child, teenager and now woman. I always felt very insecure about this as a teenager, thanks to the stigma perpetuated by society that it was not feminine to display the hair on your arms, legs and armpits. I used to spend many hours shaving and also spent a lot of money on razors, creams and sticking plasters only to end up with skin irritations and unnecessary infectious spots that take an age to heal until the next time I had to start the cycle all over again. One day my physical and mental irritation got so intense that I realised that shaving was not healthy for my skin. I did feel slightly unsure at first, however, it felt really good afterwards as I knew that by not shaving was making my skin healthier and what I was doing was in some way liberating me from the stigmas and layers of society that I’d been put upon as a child. I come from Venezuela, where the beauty industry for women has become a national pastime for some and an obsession for others. In the last three decades, Venezuela has won more beauty titles than any other country; Miss World, Miss Universe and Miss Wherever… Many Venezuelan mothers impose the rules of the beauty industry almost as soon as you are born, babies getting their ears pierced a week after they’ve come out of the hospital. As soon as a camera appears at any social gathering, young girls immediately strike a fashion model pose with arms on the hips. To appear ‘perfect’, many families go into debt to pay for their daughter’s plastic surgery from the age of 13, in the hope that their princess will be talent spotted at the mall and be the next Miss Venezuela. So in the decision to stop shaving also came the decision to take ownership of my body and start making decision about my body not just because of societies rules but because of my own body rules. I wanted to break that mental barrier I had with myself and society. I am not one to try and dictate the rules of beauty because I believe that beauty is very subjective and that the beauty that many see in my country will be considered different and out of place to many people in other countries and vice versa. Don’t get me wrong, I fully respect the decisions and changes that humans make to their own body, but I must make a big remark to this point as in my country there is a high rate of young girls that die from bad medical practice trying to get cheap plastic surgery done because they are being bullied and shamed in schools and in their local community. If anything, these simple words are to try and create awareness of how much pressure we put in young women throughout society. We’ve spent so many years dictating how people should look, but we don’t consider the damages and the consequences of what these rules of beauty might bring upon people. It is true that at the end of the day everyone is the sole owner of their body and is able to make decision for themselves without having to account to anyone but we must do so with much awareness and care of our people and ourselves and not to please the rules of society. All these aspects made my decision to let my armpit hair grow, personally more important. I know that the beauty industry in Venezuela has now become a big part of the culture and a way of pride I respect that. However, I feel that as the rules of beauty might be important to be placed upon young women at an early stage in life, alongside that, we should also make it of great importance to let the same young girls, teenagers and women know that it is ok to make decisions to our own bodies without following the rules of beauty and to let them know that they should not feel powerless of who they are or what they wish to be. In the same way that having plastic surgery at a very early age is acceptable, we should be able to accept girl’s decisions to leave their body hair grow. This I feel will create a much open-minded attitude towards beauty and will hopefully stop many mental health problems that with total disregard we start to show up at a very young age. I’ve had the opportunity to have friends that have no specific concept of how and what the rules of beauty should come about. To me, they are the most beautiful beings I’ve ever met. They are true to their own body and shameless of who they are. If they decide to shave or not, it is because of their own choice. In moments of doubt, when I thought that not shaving was not “feminine" enough, I looked up to my two closest friends Anne and Emily. Both also didn't shave their armpits and reassured myself that what makes me feminine is not if I do or don’t shave, but actually being able to own myself and make decisions for my own body and not for the rules of beauty in society. The response I got from others was not that stressful personally. I have not encountered many who have given a shit whether I let my armpit hair grow or not. If there were some weird looks, I was not really aware of it as I knew that there is a general understanding that everyone is getting on with their life and that everyone has their own thing to worry about. At the same time, I know that we are all creatures of judgement and we all have an opinion of something as we’ve been raised in society to have judgement in almost every aspect of live – I respect that. I also understood that we as humans are more self-conscious about ourselves than what the person next to us thinks of us. I mainly had the empowering feeling that my friends and family gave me by not really making a big deal out of it. Thanks to the rapid changes in society we’ve evolved into communities that have learned not to follow all those fashion statements that the beauty industry, the consumerist society and famous magazines like Vogue or Cosmopolitan place upon women. We’ve been able to own ourselves and not really make a big deal out of it and I feel that this statement needs to be strengthened. For those who asked kindly I answered and for those who had a mean thing to say I was very patient and never let it get to me as I knew that they just needed a bit more education and understanding on the matter. However, for many women that choose to leave their body hair grow there is still a lot of bullying done for a simple personal decision. Which is why I feel that projects like Ben’s “Natural Beauty” is important and is helping create a much better understanding of these issues. This project creates a dialog for understanding and educate those that had no idea what’s going on. In Venezuela, like in many places of the world, there’s so much pressure put upon women to try and impress men with a specific dictatorial way of how women should look but I had a moment of realisation 5 months ago and it is the only reaction I keep in mind about my body hair. It was with my partner at the time and very good friend Chris. We started to observe our body and talk about how much hair we both had. He had barely any hair on his back and on the rest of his body where I had much more hair on my back than he did. He then told me that he loved that I had loads of hair in my armpits, my back and the rest of my body because it reminded him how beautiful and different we can all be in our very own way. By then, I was still a bit insecure about my body and myself but this realisation gave more strength to the believe that beauty is subjective in every manner and that it comes in all shapes, sizes, and even amounts of hair… I have to give Ben a personal thank you for involving me in this precious project he’s been working on to appreciate women’s natural beauty and I would like to celebrate and congratulate all the gorgeous women involved in this project specially my two good friends Anne and Emily, as in many ways they have inspired and given me so much strength in making me proud of who I am as a women, it takes courage to reach a point where you are proud of your body in the society that we live in, well done to those who have reached that and keep going to who is still trying as it will be a very rewarding personal moment in the end. I feel that all women should try going without shaving for a time and experience their natural beauty with their body and if it’s not something that you like or enjoy about your body then you can always shave anytime. Please celebrate your body! Own who you are and be that! At the end of the day we are all trying to figure out who we are everyday of the year as much as we are all changing and learning about ourselves every other day. Those who celebrate who and what they are, are creating a much open and safer space for those who are struggling to understand who and what they want to be in life. It might be easier said than done but give it a try. We’ll then help create a healthier and understanding society with less bullshit than there already is…” Alex Wellburn, July 2017 (photographed May 2017).

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    artFido

    I stopped shaving because I quickly came to realise the absurdity that a lack of body hair equated with femininity. The first time I removed body hair, I was around 11 years old. I stole my older sisters razor and attempted to remove all of the hair from my body, not that I had much at the time. I assumed you needed to use a lot of pressure with the blade against my skin and ended up removing strips of flesh from my legs, which caused profuse bleeding. I still remember going to school wrapped in bandages and claiming that I had fallen down a tree. Looking back now, I think of how horrified my mother must’ve been that I had already been conditioned to remove the early signs of puberty that had only just arisen. Without recognising it back then, I had already equated body hair with something monstrous and unnatural that had to be eradicated in order to keep my body effeminate and ‘pure’. As I grew older, I reflected on this instance a lot and the meaning behind it, and eventually just stopped removing my hair all together. Most women will be all too familiar with the sharp knick of a razor blade against their leg or the spine tingling rip of wax on their labia. I simply chose to no longer bother enduring the pain, let alone the expense. I feel entirely comfortable not conforming. If people find me unattractive because of it, great! I then know that they’re the kind of people I don’t want to interact with. It didn’t necessarily make me feel empowered, just comfortable. I don’t think women refusing to shave should necessarily be considered a radical act. Of course it’s a way in which women can refuse to conform to patriarchal beauty standards, but I don’t want my body to consistently be read as a political space. I hope that eventually our society will reach a stage where we are mature enough to no longer be shocked by women with body hair, that it will no longer be read as a form of feminist backlash or political statement, but just a normal human body existing within the world. No one has ever really said that much about it. I think my mother and grandmother have dropped a few comments or jokes about it here and there, which is reflective of their generations’ expectations of ‘proper feminine grooming’, but I’ve never been ashamed for it. The most compelling reaction I’ve had has been from children. I worked as a nanny for a few years and the kids I cared for were always pretty shocked by my armpit hair. I’ve had kids ask me why I have hair under my arms like their daddy, and they’re always confounded when I tell them that their mummies also have hair under their arms, they just choose to remove it. I think it’s pretty important for them to learn that hair is natural on all bodies so that they don’t make the same mistakes I did when they eventually reach puberty.” Sienna for ‘Natural Beauty’. Photographed and written August 2018

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    artFido

    “I originally stopped shaving maybe five or six years ago, really for physical reasons at first – my skin has Keratosis pilaris (those little bumps, like ‘chicken skin’) and so shaving was a nightmare, particularly on my legs. I would get the most terrible ingrown hairs, to the point that most of the hairs on my legs would have to be picked out with tweezers or they’d turn into painful spots. The same would happen on my vulva if I ever dared to shave, and eventually started on my underarms too. I tried a few different hair removal methods but nothing really worked, and eventually, I started to feel that my body was protesting, so I just stopped. When I stopped shaving I finally felt free of my body’s reaction to hair removal and all the pain and hours spent exfoliating, just for my skin to look terrible anyway. At first, I wasn’t sure about how it looked but I’ve really grown to love my body hair, and I’ve never had any complaints from people whose opinion I care about. I worked in a bar when I first stopped shaving, so I had some shocked reactions from some of the (male) customers and regulars, I think it was just a bit before hairy armpits (on women) became more common to see, so some of them were disgusted reactions, but honestly I felt like it was a pretty good misogyny filter. Most people don’t even notice, some people like it. I did start to feel like it was a feminist action too — men have body hair and don’t tend to have any issues with it from others, or themselves. But really I think a lot of it was just that I’ve always been pretty boyish, never had much of a skincare routine and never really worn makeup (not that those things are bad or unfeminist!) just because those things don’t interest me much and aren’t on my radar – I’m not ‘feminine’ in that way, so hair removal just became another one of those things that I just didn’t feel made sense to me. I can’t be bothered.” – Jessica Hargreaves (October 2018)

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    artFido

    “I stopped shaving firstly because I was inspired by the Natural Beauty project. I am a firm believer in natural beauty. Learning to love and accept yourself for who you are. I know this isn't always easy but I would still never get any cosmetic work done. Working in the modelling, dancing, and acting industries can make you question the way you look, and you constantly compare yourself to other women. It can be tiring. It was also a personal challenge and social experiment. I was curious how I would feel and how others around me would react. At first it I felt a little bit physically uncomfortable because the hair was a bit itchy, but I was excited. I had shaved everyday since the moment I started to grow hair. My mum is a beauty therapist so I had tried every method of hair removal by the time I was 14. The hair took ages to grow, as my underarms aren't particularly hairy. When it started to get longer I found myself often stroking the hair, I couldn't resist playing with it. It felt quite erotic. I got mixed reactions; my best friend already had long underarm hair so she knew how liberating and sexy it made you feel. My boyfriend at the time didn't like it very much, which made me want to rebel even more ha ha. I would totally recommend trying it at least once.” – Stephanie Tripp, actress. December 2016 (photographed August 2014)

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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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