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


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

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

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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 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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