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
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..."
“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)
Julianne Popa. "Natural Beauty" research (2011)
“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).
“I wanted to see what my body hair looked like. There's something empowering about not hiding your body hair. You feel stronger for not giving in to the way you've been told to be. I really enjoyed people recoiling in disgust, it was funny. I would think, "you poor sensitive thing, so disturbed by something so natural". When I see a woman with armpit hair, I think she looks sexy, powerful and strong.” – Sophie Rose, tattooer. January 1, 2014.
”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).
“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
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)