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


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    I never stopped shaving because I never started. I do remember my mother shaving when I was younger and I thought that was pretty unnecessary since she was a strict muslim. I later realised it's a thing women do to look more desirable to men. It really irritated me that the people who reacted negatively to my natural armpit hair were men. Like it was the most disgusting thing in the world. It really gets on my tits. This is just one more reason that I don't shave it off. It belongs to me and I don't make noise about the "ugly"; hair on men which are sometimes pretty painful in the eye... But you've got to get over it and don't let these idiots get under it. I did do a special "birthday-shave" recently and it reminded me why I don't go through the tedious chore of shaving hair off my beautiful body. I would recommend growing it to any women. A trim here and there doesn't hurt, but it is so beautiful - even my boyfriend has changed his opinion about it now. #lovethecavewomenlook” – Ayan Mohamed, graduate architecture student. December 2016 (photographed April 2014).

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    I first stopped out of, I guess my “laziness”, and later realising I was just actively allowing myself to be more comfortable. So I let it grow, curious to what it would feel like au natural in an area so taboo and visible to the rest of the world. It made me feel good! Like myself, like I couldn’t care what others felt, sort of empowered and comfortable in what my body naturally decided to look like. People’s reactions were surprisingly very positive. It attracted partners; curiosity and questions that were enquiring and appreciative in fairly equal measure. There was of course some confusion, but I didn’t really feel any response that was actually directed at me in reality to be negative. Through the project with Ben, I did receive some rather alarmingly nasty comments from Internet trolls on my photo, but I thought in a round about way they were even more empowering than the compliments. These people were commenting this way almost unanimously, out of ignorance, and perhaps their own insecurity. In the face of something so natural, this reminded me that I’m lucky as hell not to have that narrow mind holding me down. The people complaining have a lot more to deal with than their own body hair growth. They feel they have to conform to a societal pressure I really don't adhere to. So negativity equalled empowerment and much hilarity for how small minded some very unfortunate souls could be in the face of natural physicality. Having body hair is kind of in contrast to my job sometimes, and I don’t always have a full set of underarm lady hair or a generous lady garden! In fact sometimes I have the exact opposite. For me what it’s about is pro choice. If I choose to grow it, it’s because I feel like it, equally if I choose to take it all off. This isn’t for me a professional pressure either; as a performer I don’t adhere to a anyone’s rules and a lot of the time actively enjoy challenging my audiences views on aesthetics with my own body as well as my costumes. However, in saying that sometimes I like to feel all smooth and bald. Through this whole practice of liberated body image, I just wish to promote my own choice and to be conscious about what makes me happy in my skin.” – Ruby Bird, producer, performer and costumier. December 2016 (photographed April 2014). Disclaimer from Ruby: "..dyslexia isn't always a virtue, so please be understanding on my jumbled sentence structure..."

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    Justyna Neryng. Artist. "Natural Beauty” research (2009).

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    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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    “I stopped shaving at the age of 18. I was suffering from PTSD as the result of rape and was trying to regain autonomy over my body in any way I knew how. I had also reached a breaking point with the amount of catcalling and sexual advances I was experiencing and was willing to go to any extreme to protect myself from that. It didn’t take long for my body hair to become obvious, and within the space of about a month, I was already noticing the shift in attitude from men towards me, which reinforced the importance of continuing this. It also awoke deep anger and frustration that shaving was an expectancy for women and our beauty was dependant on it. It made me feel simultaneously embarrassed and empowered. I struggled with wearing clothing that exposed my armpits unless I was at queer events or around other creatives. I wasn’t yet resilient enough to ignore people whispering about it in public or the double takes from people at the gym. Within my first year of growing my body hair, I shaved several times out of awkwardness, and it has been known to rarely happen even now. The like-minded women around me celebrated it and embraced my armpits. It took longer for family and friends to be on board with it (with moments of encouraging me to shave for family events or holidays) but they too came around. Men took no effort in hiding their disgust, they called me ‘dirty, unclean, smelly, feminist(!), gross’ or other things along those lines. They fetishized me in a way that made me feel incredibly uneasy. I had to privatise my social media as fetish accounts were taking photos of my armpits, sharing them and consequently my inboxes were getting clogged up with ‘dick pics’. About a year and a half down the line of this journey, I started regaining my sexuality and began dating again. I felt a bizarre need to warn partners in advance that I had body hair, as though it was necessary to be apologetic prior to them deciding if they wanted to sleep with me. Nearly everyone was okay with it and those that weren’t I stopped seeing as I was not going to shave for anyone. Weirdly enough, my hair taught me to take control and not take anyone’s shit!” In the times I have shaved I have felt weirdly naked and vulnerable with discomfort at seeing the empty spaces where my hair should be. Luckily, the pain of regrowth has quickly reminded me that my natural state is hairy and how my body feels best! I find my body hair incredibly feminine and powerful, it has connected me to a strong and sexy woman within me, even if sometimes certain settings make me awkward and overly aware of it. I’m so glad that not shaving is becoming normal and acceptable. I always look back at when I was a teenager and the thought of even having pubes was a crime and laugh at how far I have come in rejecting what is expected of me. Whilst I have no issue in how people choose to groom themselves (especially because I occasionally remove my body hair) I have always been bewildered by the embarrassment a tuft of armpit hair can bring upon a room of rational people.” – Jess Cummin (January, 2019)

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    “For an understanding of why a person won't shave I believe it's important to understand what compels them to do so in the first place. I became aesthetically aware of my body at a much earlier age than many expect one to. Having begun puberty aged at around 8 or 9, I found myself painfully conscious of the myriad changes to my body; most notably the weight gain, menstruation and of course, hair. What ensued were many humiliating (and sometimes aborted) school visits to the pool and haunting horrorshow P.E. changing room experiences in my teens. Bullying occurs inwardly as well as outwardly, and the cruelty from others accompanies that which we inflict upon ourselves. Much of this derives from enforced expectations from/of others and of the self, both of which can skew our ability to see either kindly or rightly. Within the spheres of sexual, societal and educational pressures and tensions that imbue adolescence (and our adult lives), there are multitudinous opportunities to doubt oneself. These are bred and fed by external expectations of who you are meant to be; this is manifested, manipulated and milked through imposed ideas of what you are meant to look like. What ensues for many are torrid years of obsessive attempts to alter one's body and situation, in some ways wholly destructive and others which are apparently insignificant. For many and myself this was led by a desire for appeal and belonging; the inward necessity for these feelings being supplanted by an obsessive outward focus. Whilst healing and growth ultimately come from within, body shaming is an ever-rife phenomenon which impairs our ability to do so. Ideals of image are vitriolically and violently imposed to such a variant of degrees that the gravity of many instances are often overlooked. The expectations from our culture regarding body hair seemingly determines the body’s beauty on being almost or even entirely hairless. Whereas I support that for some this may be their own enjoyed preference for many others removing their hair occurs from conformity to expectation and from fears of rejection. Whilst I wrote this I was reminded of pressures in my high school which insisted that girls should shave their arms; not just the armpits but every hair from every inch of our arms. Many times, myself and others were ridiculed for not doing so. For reasons relating to depression and anorexia, I didn’t last long in my high school and because of those reasons there are many years where I have little recollection of my attitude towards body hair. Shaving didn’t often occur as a matter of importance, lest for the seldom visits to the world outside my house where I would shave if my underarms or legs were to be on show. Ultimately there were few occasions which necessitated the need in my mind to shave at all. However, shaving was always required if in company of others, romantically or platonically, if I were to avoid feeling akin to the Mexican wolf boys or Victorian Freak show attractions. Older and somewhat less riddled by issues of eating I began to let my underarm grow, partly due to the opinion of a partner at the time who preferred it. Realising the falsity in the prevailing message that everyone is repulsed by body hair, I began to take delight in not shaving. When I did shave again, generally for modelling jobs, I was irate at the discomfort it caused me. I also began to think about it more, realising that if hair is growing there that there is more than likely a bloody good reason for it. The underarm is a sensitive place and a vital area for the release of toxins. The axillary lymph nodes can become irritated and even infected from frequent shaving and use of harsh deodorising products. On a more superficial level, I would sometimes get rashes and pimples from shaving and regrowth which looked to me a lot worse than some hair. I’m sure some of you will recall the Veet adverts which came out not so long ago. These represent women with hair under their arms or on their legs as being wholly repulsive, deterring as well as shameful to themselves and others. More so than this, they are represented as inherently male attributes as shown by the morphing of the woman into an apologetic and shamefaced man. I wholeheartedly feel that the only people who ought to feel ashamed or embarrassed are those that brandish cruel ridicule and admonish women like myself who choose not to shave. I feel those who fall into this category need to stop, take a moment and honestly ask themselves; why? Why do you feel so affronted? Why do you care SO much that you feel like you are justified in making your hateful comments? Why do you believe you have the right to dictate what another person chooses to do with their body? Why let it concern you so deeply? Why bother? Ben is a dear friend of mine and I am so proud of him and all the spectacularly beautiful women that make up this series of photographs. Braving the ignorance of others and choosing to be yourself despite the bullying you may face is one of the most admirable qualities to uphold. Sharing the idea of being confident in who you are and how you are -even when it does not conform to what you are told is the ‘right’ way to be- is an idea which must continue to be perpetuated. Those who seek to harm others are ultimately only serving themselves a disfavour. Be yourself and be the beauty you wish to see in others. Remember that your skin is just the carrier for the true beauty which lies within.” – Emily Cripps, February 2017 (photographed July 2014).

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    “It came alongside the realisation that the desire to wear makeup, shave or alter myself was born out of the notion that beauty can be sold. That beauty can, and must be bought; a concept not surprisingly enforced by the ’beauty' industry that have the most to profit. That we are not innately beautiful, that beauty is a product. This is quite obviously delusional. As if people were not attracted to each other in all of human history before the first female razor blade was sold - only one hundred years ago. It was the obscure concept that I had to change myself to be beautiful. An idea enforced upon any female from childhood, that you simply would pluck, rip, cut at and mask your skin. It was the makeup I cut first, it was easier. Because you see, ditching makeup would leave people questioning your beauty, where ditching a razor would leave people questioning your womanhood. Which is clearly ironic given that growth of hair is a sign of womanhood, fertility, and maturity. The modern woman is made to feel as if her own body is unnatural; we're uncomfortable with our skin. I remember a dance class at the age of around 10 and I became conscious of my leg hair for the first time. I was ashamed, embarrassed. I wanted to hide away; I hated my body for it. Why should a child develop such an enveloping fear and resentment of the natural processes of their own body? …Where going through a process that causes dry skin, rashes, wrinkles, over-stimulation of glands and general discomfort is what is required to be a woman …and that’s of course unless you buy yet another product to counteract these side effects. I don't want to live in or harbour that society, where letting your body just be is a social and political act. I know fully well that I was conditioned, and learning to love oneself took a certain amount of mental hacking and de-conditioning. It was tough at first. I was an alien in my own body. The mad thing is, this entire psychological burden, this complex so many women go through, was invented and perpetuated for one thing, money. It was power over the female form, female sexuality, transforming this power in to child like vulnerability. Putting barriers between a woman and her beauty, her sexuality. You must do this, buy that, and then you'll be beautiful - as if beauty could ever be that shallow. Observing the harmful nature of advertisements, choosing the quality of information that will enter and shape my mind, rather than what a company, whose intentions are unknown to me, intends me to see, is a vital step in the process. Spending time in bathhouses in traditional cultures or at open-minded festivals, one eventually gets used to the natural form of woman, a form we are so detached from in the West – all of that really helps too. This openness is healing and vital, and indeed a feature of less neurotic societies. Seeing nude women and children together, the beauty in that, and recognising hairlessness is a feature of prepubescent girls, not women. I've finally reached the stage where I'm happy with my hair, and actually, I love my hair. I find a little hair truly very beautiful and the altered form just appears somewhat absurd and uncomfortable. Now I see hair as something soft and feminine, indeed really quite pretty, the opposite of how modern media portrays female body hair. I've come to trust the natural processes of my body. It knows what's best for my health and me. Look at art history or just look around you. You see the beauty of the human mind is so temporal - it doesn't last. But the beauty of nature is timeless and unchanging. From this I take strength and I hope to inspire other men and women to do the same.” – Cassia Chloe, artist and performer. December 2016 (photographed April 2014).

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    ”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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