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


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    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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    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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    Suraya. "Natural Beauty" research (2011).

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    “I realized at one point, when I was about 18, that I was shaving because I’d been doing that told what to do. I can’t remember being ordered to shave my body, but the message was singular and omnipotent when I was 10 years old - YOU WILL SHAVE, IT IS A SIGN OF MATURITY AND WOMANHODD! It came from my sister, from her friends, from television, from teen magazines, from every corner. And there was no voice, from any corner, telling me NOT to shave (expect maybe my mother, who was horrified that I wanted to shave so early because my sister was doing it). But: I hate being told what to do. So I decided to grow it out and see what happened if I stopped doing what people were telling me to do. And nothing bad happened. So I left it. I felt like I was back in control of my body without having realized I’d lost control. Interestingly, very few people ever made comments about my armpit hair. Children would sometimes stare, and I found myself thinking “How interesting! They have a sense elf what’s ‘normal’ gendered behavior by the time they’re three years old!” And in the relationship department, it probably attracted more men than it deterred. I was emanating a power and a self-confidence that lots of men (and women, I’m bisexual) found really attractive. I remember my friend Emily, who also didn’t shave her legs, always defending herself against anyone who commented that her leg hair was “gross” by throwing her hands up and saying “I’m still getting laid!!” The most fascinating thing to notice in retrospect is that negative comments and judgments from adults almost always came from women. Men, or at least the kind of interesting, intellectual, hip guys I like to attract, never really seemed to care whether there was hair under my arms or not. But women would sometimes take my armpit hair as a personal insult, like a breaking of an agreement that we are all supposed to groom ourselves according to a standard. Obviously, fuck that.” – Amanda Palmer, musician. December 2016 (photographed April 2010 as part of the research phase for Natural Beauty).

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    “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.

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    “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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    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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    Julianne Popa. "Natural Beauty" research (2011)

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    I first stopped shaving because it was irritating my skin and I wanted to give it a rest. After that, I decided to just let it grow and see what happens. I then stopped shaving altogether and let it alter my perception as it went. Previously I felt like I had to shave every last hair from my armpits and legs, as it's what you're 'supposed to do'. People were picked on at school for being more hairy than other people, even before it became time for some hair to grow in. People are pointed out in the street for any difference anyone seem to find, and it seems okay for people to laugh and stare. I have had it pointed out to me negatively several times over my life, that my arms are slightly hairier than some other people’s, as if that's somehow important or they didn't think I could judge that for myself. Hair just seems to be a bad thing for women, unless it's straight, bleach blonde and perfect, and on your head - where it's supposed to be... When my hair had grown back, I still felt this pressure going out, I was happy with it, but I felt other people might not be, and I was sure they'd let me know about it. It's taken a while to get more comfortable with it, and I'm still not always confident about it, because my aim is not to offend or make anyone feel uncomfortable. At the same time, the people that do judge you so highly perhaps need to be offended and feel a little uncomfortable. The only real negative response came from the people confronted by this picture on Ben's social media. And the hate wasn't limited to the underarm hair. Strangely, despite my insecurity, I just found those comments funny. If I had felt any need to respond, I didn't need to, because several other people I didn't know had already done it for me.” – Louise Raines, February 2017 (photographed May 2014).


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