— I came across this project by artist Ben Hopper called Natural Beauty and loved what the women had to say about their choices around their body hair. Ben has captured their portraits in such a beautiful and striking way, and their words pack a real punch. Shared with permission from Ben. Here are a couple of the photographs, check out the rest at Natural Beauty or his facebook page here ❤
*Maya Felix photographed in London as part of Ben Hopper’s “Natural Beauty” project. June 19, 2014.*
“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.
*Amanda Palmer originally photographed in London as part of Ben Hopper’s research phase of “Natural Beauty” project. April 25, 2010.*
“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 WOMANHOOD! 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 behaviour 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 judgements 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, December 2016