“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 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 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 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

    Julianne Popa. "Natural Beauty" research (2011)

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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

    I stopped shaving mostly because Ben asked but I was kind of excited to see what I looked like with body hair as I started removing it quite young. It felt like my armpits were very conspicuous to start with as I have quite dark growth but once it got past an inch or so it felt more controllable and less like I was smuggling wigs. Most people know me to be pretty open to new ideas and style choices so they pretty much didn't care or ask, but I did notice that sometimes in a pub or any large gathering of slightly drunk people that I would get more questions about it, or was assumed to be a staunch feminist. On the whole though most people either didn't notice or politely ignored it. I think overall the most obvious things I learnt doing this was that most people are grown up enough to not care, and if they do they're mostly polite enough to just pretend they don't see it. That once your hair grows past a certain point it gets kinda itchy again so I recommend a little trimming if you are going to have it permanently. And that ultimately if I do or don't have body hair it's no ones business but my own.” – Olivia Murphy, Fashion student, model. February 2017 (photographed April 2014).

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