DON’T FALL FOR THE NEW H&M CAMPAIGN

I came across this post by Gemma Clarke as it was shared a gazillion times on my facebook. It’s a great critical piece that considers the darker side to the body positive H&M advert. In case you haven’t read it, here it is for your consideration…

A new breed of feminism has been rearing its big, beautiful head. The fourth wave has swept in on the tides of the internet the last decade, and though it isn’t yet as defined or action-based as its older sisters, it is more inclusive than them in nature and diverse in its messages. As well as traditional feminist issues like unequal pay and domestic violence, fourth-wave feminism tackles a new host of problems, from online misogyny and slut shaming to campus rape and the rights of women in developing countries. It’s also marked by a strong emphasis on the body positive movement, particularly the reclaiming of female bodies, which is fucking awesome considering how much razor heads cost these days.

The movement is championed by Millennials who, thanks to the multitude of platforms the web has spewed forth, can communicate with and express themselves to a limitless following. Prominent artists likeFilthy Ratbag and Frances Cannon use their drawings to spread the message. Creatives like Big Dumb Pissbaby and social influencers like Adele Labo do it by exercising control over their bodies. In an even bigger spotlight, there’s Nakkiah Lui, Lena Dunham, Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj and Emma Watson– the list goes on.

Then there’s H&M.

About two weeks ago, the Swedish multinational brand released the video for its autumn 2016 Collection. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here. The ad is set to a (particularly glorious) Lion Babe cover of Tom Jones’ ‘She’s a Lady’ and features a wealth of phenomenal women challenging stereotypes of what it means to be ladylike. Muay Thai boxer Fatima Pinto admires herself in a little black dress, hairy-pitted model Arvida Bystrom reclines in a bed, musician Jillian Hervey picks her teeth in a restaurant, model Iselin Steiro sits spread-legged on a train and business mogul Pum Lefebure chairs a boardroom meeting. A shaven-haired Casja Wessberg, 72-year-old model Lauren Hutton, trans model and actress Hari Nef,  Gurls Talk founder Adwoa Aboah and plus-sized models Paloma Elsesser and Katy Syme also play a role.

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The media, of course, exploded.

Predictably, dunny-roll tabloid The Daily Mail wrote about the campaign video’s “wobbly bottoms” and “far from demure scenarios”, but the Sydney Morning Herald, TIME, the Huffington Post and Pedestrian TV applauded the clip, some going as far as to call it “stunning” and “awesome” and all giving the multinational corporation a wet-dream’s worth of free publicity. The Twitterverse was equally stoked.

But while the video is undeniably fabulous, there is one looming problem. It’s an ad. It’s an ad that, at its core, is designed to promote the idea that H&M stands for something great. By championing an empowering feminist ethos, the retailer hopes to sell the shit out of its latest range and make consumers feel good about themselves when they buy it.

According to a spokesperson for H&M, “The latest campaign celebrates diversity as well as inspirational women from various backgrounds, encouraging women around the world to embrace their personal style and take pride in who they truly are and what they stand for.”

But H&M doesn’t stand for women.

Earlier this year, a report compiled by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance found that the fashion giant was routinely exploiting its employees. Based on 251 interviews with garment workers, the report alleged that staff from 11 out of 12 Cambodian supplier factories claimed they had witnessed or experienced employment termination during pregnancy. It also claimed that every single one of the 50 staff surveyed in India said that women were often fired when they fell pregnant. In a predominately female industry, this is a colossal problem, particularly when coupled with the workplace sexual harassment that was also reported as commonplace.

Heck, H&M doesn’t stand for basic rights in general. Syrian refugee children were recently found working in its factories in Turkey, and last year’s Human Rights Watch report into Cambodia’s garment industry found factory staff were not allowed to refuse excessive overtime, but were not paid any overtime wages. Speaking of income, despite the Fair Wage Method project that H&M initiated in 2013 and rolled out to 20 of its factories in Cambodia, staff in the south-east Asian nation are still earning below the stipulated industry median of $178USD per month.

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As for its purported stance on diversity and body positivity, one look inside a H&M store will tell you that’s puffery at best. Plus-size models may have rocked their bods in the autumn vid, but most H&M stores don’t even stock a plus-size range. Sydney’s Pitt St store is one of many without a plus-size department, andthis month, every New York store pulled its plus-sized garments from its floors because, according to a H&M spokesperson, they don’t have room for it. Actually, come to think of it, maybe the plus-size models in the ad were only wearing underwear because they couldn’t find any H&M clothes that fitted.

So I guess what that H&M spokesperson really meant was We sat down with advertising agency Forsman & Bodenfors to discuss what would help us sell our latest range of cheaply-made, poor-quality clothing. We settled on feminism and body positivity, because we’ve noticed it’s trendy and popular at the moment.

H&M doesn’t care about women. They do not care to muddle the feminist message in their campaign with affirmative action in their garment factories. They just want to capitalise on the idea of empowering females in order to sell their clothes. But feminism isn’t a trend to be enjoyed for autumn 2016, nor is it a privilege that is only supposed to be accessible to women who can afford to shop. It’s a longstanding commitment to equality in both the developed and developing world.

And another thing. Though the reach of H&M’s campaign is incredible (the video has already clocked more than two million views) and the conversations it has spawned make it a welcome catalyst for female-centric dialogue, girls, come on: we don’t need an unethical multibillion-dollar apparel company to tell us that it’s okay grow our armpits out and order hot chips for dinner, just like we don’t need our soap telling us we’re beautiful a la Dove’s #choosebeautiful campaigns. Greatness of the video aside, H&M will exploit anythingto make a sale – just ask the women who work in its factories. I’m not buying it: the sentiment or the clothing.

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*So basically WE DON’T NEED CAPITALISM TELLING US WE ARE BEAUTIFUL. You already are and you don’t need to spend money to feel it.
For original article visit here — Don’t fall for the new H&M advert

Body Hair Don’t Care

Almost a year into my current long-term relationship, my boyfriend decided to study abroad for most of the summer. We had constructed a positive relationship and although we were both excited for his new adventure, I was sad to see him gone for so long. Without thinking about it, I stopped shaving my legs. As I was walking on Eastern Parkway to work one morning, I could feel my leg hairs blowing in the wind. It was then that I realized it had been about a month since I shaved, and how wonderful that sensation felt. I started to ask myself why I even shaved in the first place, and had no good answer. Honestly, I hate shaving and have incredibly sensitive skin, so special razors, creams, and lotions were a necessity that become quite expensive.

My boyfriend and I kept in good contact and he did not seem phased at all when I told him. We are both body positive and accepting of natural body characteristics, like hair, so I assumed he would not care. And if he did, it would be hypocritical because he is literally covered from head to toe in hair. Which I find quite attractive, by the way. When he returned to New York City and we were intimate again, he still did not care.

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It was about a year later when I finally stopped shaving my armpits. Antiperspirants do not work on me and I had a non-cancerous lump removed from my breast when I was a teenager, so I stopped using the products years ago. The only reason my armpits were kept smooth was because I thought it made me sweat less. On a whim, I started growing my pit hair out again to see what would happen. It turns out, it looks pretty badass and I sweat about the same amount. Again, with this new hair style, my boyfriend did not mind. He seemed to enjoy it.

While I changed the larger hair regions of my body, the hair on my head and my pubic hair style stayed the same. My head of hair is curly and fierce, so it is easier to keep it long and let it do it’s thing. The public hair surrounding my cunt is kept well trimmed to make penetration more comfortable. Bushy and cushiony, but at a not-to-long-length to prevent pulling. I absolutely hate when any of my hair is pulled so I keep all of it at particular lengths. This pubic hairstyle has never been a problem for my current or past partners and in fact has been very well accepted. I heard the same comment from various men, stating that they prefer women to have more pubic hair on their cunts. Women, on the other hand, are usually weirded out by this choice.

Negative criticism regarding my hairstyles, has come from mostly women. Surprisingly, when men are awkward about seeing, usually my armpit hair first, they just stare and do not say much. Women, on the other hand, have made unhygienic comments or disgusted faces. This surprised me into thinking that maybe women are more brainwashed than men about societal standards for body hair grooming.

My stance has always been to do what you want with your body, as long as you are happy with it and not just attempting to please someone else. It is your body and you should be happy living in it, hairless or not.

Sweet D

 

 

Aisha Mirza -Fuck me or Destroy Me

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Aisha Mirza is an artist, writer and activist who’s expansive work looks at issues around body hair, race, queerness and mental health. Her short film Fuck Me or Destroy Me follows the striking Harnaam Kaur as she walks around the streets of London.

Words about the short-film by creator and directer Aisha Mirza  “I suppose at the heart of this film is an exploration of western body hair norms – how strange and oppressive they are, particularly for queer and trans people of colour whose bodies are already targeted, examined and laid thick with expectation from so many places. I am interested in how we all find moments of agency in this mess and in the false liberation of Harnaam Kaur. How she works so hard to reject and restructure societal oppression, and is defined by her otherness. How her extraordinary personhood is so informed by something that never should have been extraordinary. How her story is imagined for the white gaze. How she feels when everyone is looking. How she feels when no-one is looking. How she looks back.”

Watch the  video here Fuck Me or Destroy Me feat Harnaam Kaur as unfortunately I could not embed the video.

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Sarah Hester – Naked in the Woods

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This incredible photography project by Sarah Hester brought women together in a raw and candid way to unleash their inner Goddess and be shot Naked in the Woods.
I came across some of her photographs and the brutally honest and heartfelt accounts spoken about the experience, and felt it had to be shared (with permission!)

The following extracts are copied from her blog —

“I approached a local group about doing a shoot naked in the woods. I made it clear that there wouldn’t be makeup or clothes or any editing done to their bodies.  The idea was well received. VERY well received. Within a few days I had a group of nearly 100 willing to participate in the project. My visions for the project was to show what people really look like. To show how beautiful our bodies are without help from cosmetics or photoshop. Real life. Gritty and raw.

As the days counted down to the event the group numbers dwindled. We ended up with 16 amazing mothers who gathered in the woods for an all naked shoot. What I witnessed that day was wonderful, inspiring and absolutely beautiful! Here are some of the images and a few quotes from the those that participated.” SH

 “Following along with a bit of my own reflections from yesterday. Body positivity didn’t become an active part of my life journey until motherhood. I wish I can say I implemented it successfully, but much of it has been trial and error met with pain and reluctant growth. In the last decade, my body has grown five little humans; endured the waves of fad diets, over exercising, and exhaustion; overcome the physical symptoms of mental, emotional, and sexual abuse; and, continues to adapt from the misconceptions of societal expectations and postpartum hormones. Being human is difficult, but raising humans is the most stressful, overwhelming, selfless yet equally rewarding part of existence. Somewhere along the path I realized that in all my effort to give my children a positive body image, I had forgotten how to love myself and provide the ultimate example. The thought of being naked in the woods with other women immediately spoke to my soul and brought much excitement, but on this day, life got hard. My ability to cope faded fast, and the day I had been looking forward to became an effort that I wasn’t sure I could acquire. In an emotional state of isolation, I could have easily stayed home but something pulled my spirit to my tribe; a place where social anxiety couldn’t survive and my soul was instantly recharged. It was an oddy natural experience that made me embrace who I am and give myself in ways that made me happy. My body has been put through the wringer, my mental and emotional health has been a battle, but I can truly say this experience affirms I’m happy and comfortable as I am, in my body. This life journey is a continuous strive for understanding and growth. Being amongst so many beautifully fierce and passionate women ignited hope that one day my physical appearance will not only be a positive representation of how I feel about myself, but my ability to care for myself as well as I care for others. Until then, thank you all for reminding me what it means to love and be raw without any inhibitions in every season of life.” – D

“Yesterday was the first time I’ve truly begun to love my postpartum body. I had come to be comfortable with self hatred which is why I was OK with doing this. (Doesn’t make sense, I know… But it was my reasoning.) While I know that I have room to improve my health, I am now pursuing health because I love my body and not because I hate it. Thank you all for sharing your vulnerability and making this happen. You all have inspired me with your confidence and the support you offer your fellow beings. Thanks especially to Sarah and her helpers for their time and effort to put this together for us. My life is changed because of you!” – A

“I love everyone, and I love all bodies. I am fairly comfortable with every body type! I have touched over 550 naked (or nearly naked) people in the last year because of my job. One thing that my job as a massage therapist has taught me is that: our bodies are all beautiful because they sustain our life, and house our souls. Even though we all look so very different we are all kinda the same! I hope this photoshoot goes insane viral, because I want all the people around the world to know what women look like. Real women, raw, untouched, and beautiful! I am so happy to have had this opportunity to do this with you all!” – B

“I’m a ball of emotions today. The photo shoot was lovely and everything I had hoped it would be. I’m so honored to have stood next to such sweet, loving, fierce, empowered people. And of course, Sarah has done an amazing job with the photos.
I’m going to be very honest and tell you that I’m so unhappy with how I look right now. Partially, I was unaware at how much weight I’ve gained. I’m actually shocked at what I look like. Having 2 babies in 2 years at 35&37 has taken a toll on me but I didn’t realize I allowed myself to gain so much weight. I don’t weigh myself and l haven’t had a full length mirror in over a year. I’m glad I did the shoot, but mad at myself for not taking better care of my body. I’ve given my kids and family all of myself and failed to save a piece for me.
Seeing all of this has made me sad, but also angry/determined to change things. I turn 40 in a few months and do not want to drag this weight into a new decade with me. So, thank you for the beauty of last night but also, the awareness to be healthy for myself again. 💜” – D

“All my life I was skinny, like I couldn’t even given blood in high school blood drives because I didn’t weigh enough and was a part of the itty bitty titty committee. Guys were always easier to talk to and hang out with cause I knew I wasn’t going to judged. I wanted to gain weight and have bigger boobs. I work at a pool during the summers and would literally eat snickers and Cheetos with nacho cheese all day long. Nothing.
When I got pregnant with my son, I gained over 40 pounds. I was bigger than I ever was and I don’t want to be. However, I gained 1 stretch mark on my tummy and all the rest on my boobs. They were huge! I went from a small B to a large DD. We struggled at the beginning of our breastfeeding journey but eventually made it to 15 months. I lost 30 pounds and was ok but not ok with my body. I learned to live with it.
Between the years of having my son and getting pregnant with my daughter, I lost a baby each year. The first was unsuspecting to us and I honestly wasn’t ready to have 2 under 2. Then I lost the baby and it hurt and hurt to have to re-tell everyone. There was no explanation as to why. That is when I very slowly started my journey to being healthier. The next year my husband and I took a motorcycle ride with friends. On our way home we had a wreck. He purposely threw me from the bike so I wouldn’t get hurt any worse. I ended up in a thorn bush and had blacked out. A week later I found out I was pregnant. This time we were ready, but because of the previous year we didn’t tell anyone. Two weeks later, I was going through a miscarriage. I literally hurt and my husband hurt worse than I because we both knew it was because of the motorcycle accident. I to ease my mind I trained and ran 2 5k runs. It helped so much. For the first time in my life I began to love to just run or walk.
The next year I became pregnant with my rainbow baby. I vowed to myself to not gain so much because I wanted to be healthier and more fit. I succeeded, I only gained 19.5 pounds. We were both happy and healthy. Through the next 2 years I was happy and learning to love that my body was ok and housed 4 humans even if for a short time. Then, I started to not feel like myself. I started gaining weight, I was tired, I was sad, I was depressed, i began hating how I looked again. I was nothing that was the normal for me. I finally went to a doctor and found out I had an autoimmune thyroid disease. It’s been a long year of healing and changing everything.
I am still not completely happy with my body and I was even more nervous for this photo shoot with a bunch of other women. Women scare me, because I know how judgey they can be. I was late getting to the location and when I walked up everyone was naked already. I thought I made a mistake, I was nervous but I pushed through it and quietly took my clothes off and sat down trying not to make a scene. My confidences was stripped with my clothes, but by the end of the shoot I had gained it back and was inspired to see how everyone was exuding confidence as if nothing was wrong. Thank you all!” – S

“I am not entirely sure how to start this out.. I have written, erased, and rewritten my words over and over and every time they still feel clumsy and rambling, but nevertheless- here we go!
When I saw Sarah post about this project I felt an immediate calling to be a part of it. I’m not sure where this urge came from because I am pretty much a hermit, my social anxiety makes me feel awkward and out of place in basically every situation, so I usually avoid group outings at any cost! In addition to that, I have not been at all happy or comfortable in my skin since I gave birth to my daughter in 2010. Before getting pregnant I was in decent shape, I danced ballet for many years as a child and into early adulthood. When I stopped dancing I had somewhat maintained my body- though I was completely unhealthy in my habits. These unhealthy habits, coupled with pregnancy depression caused a 100+ pound weight gain. My new body never felt right to me, I was completely uncomfortable with the marsupial pouch and pendulous breasts I developed. My body didn’t ‘bounce back’ because even after 6 years, and another baby, I never lost the original baby weight. Even before the weight gain I have never really had a positive body image so one can imagine what an extra 100 pounds did for my self esteem. Instead of looking at the miracles my body had created, and nourished, all I could see was the industry standard ‘fat, and ugly.’ I have started the slow and steady journey to get healthy in body- but most importantly in my mind. I think that is the main reason I wanted to do this project- I need to start being my loudest cheerleader, instead of my worst critic.
I’m not sure what I expected to get out of this experience. Half of me was filled with excitement, and the other half was completely terrified of the idea. I spoke with my family about it and received surprisingly positive feedback. I began to evaluate my insecurities. I worried about seeing the juxtaposition of my shape next to women way more beautiful.. I didn’t expect to feel like Cinderella, suddenly transformed into a beautiful butterfly.. But I hoped that seeing the differences and similarities might help me, and other women, stop being so critical. When I look at other women I always see their beauty- why can’t I look at myself in the same light?
Now having participated I can’t say that I am in love with my current form, but having interacted with so many women it has helped tremendously for me to see we all have essentially the same insecurities. Seeing women, who in my eyes are amazingly gorgeous, and hearing they are uncomfortable or unhappy with parts of themselves too has helped me realize that I am not alone and to come to terms with my own unrealistic and self depreciating feelings.
I’m a work in progress, and I am taking steps to be healthy, and lose weight in the process. I’m immensely proud of being able to push passed my insecurities, push passed my intense social anxiety, and let myself be completely vulnerable in front of so many strangers. This has helped me be able to see myself as (I hope) others might- not with criticism, but with love and appreciation.” – K

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This adventure has really inspired us at PN and we are so thrilled to share it with you. Please check out Sarah’s website to see her beautiful photography and more shots from this awe-inspiring series. A Body Positive Experience

Frances Cannon – illustrator and SELF LOVE CLUB innovator

Frances Cannon is shaking up Instagram with her illustrations that advocate positive vibes and self-love in a down to earth and relatable fashion. Her work looks at the female body and relationships with a strong message around our personal worth and respect.

Her simple and delicate drawings make the important and compelling point that we should love and respect ourselves, our bodies and each other – with messages such as “you are enough” and “I am complete” (things that we don’t always believe in and sometimes need reminding of!) It is so important that there are artists out there that create art that people can relate to and find solace in the fact that, yeah sometimes we feel shit but we are capable and we have a support network around us.

I particularly love her development of the SELF LOVE CLUB

CLUB RULES (words by Frances)

  • You must always show yourself respect, love, forgiveness and understanding
  • You must show each other respect, love, forgiveness and understanding
  • You must be kind to your body and you must take care of your mental health

I wholeheartedly agree with these simple yet potent rules and here at Project Naked we stand by her principles – a little bit of self-love goes a long way!

So here are some of her sweet as illustrations (shared with permission) and give her a follow on Instagram @frances_cannon for some daily positive vibes. Oh and P.S!!! You can get one of her designs as a tattoo !! —> http://francescannon.bigcartel.com/category/tattoo-ticket

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Radical Bodies

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The embroidery series Radical Bodies is taking up the issue of beauty ideal in modern society.

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I was struggling with my body image my whole life and whenever I saw pictures of the ideal women, that I will never be, I felt worthless and insecure. A few years ago I discovered the internet movement of bodypositivity. I felt so happy that some of my sisters* didn’t submit to the bodyshaming beauty standards of the modern world. They encouraged me to be proud of who I am. It’s not just about fat girls wearing plus size dresses and looking cute in it. It’s more like a selflove campaign. It’s for all human beings that feel excluded from the society because their bodies are different. For everybody who feels uncomfortable in their own skin. It’s about encouraging each other and stop hating on each other.

That’s a thing I want to work…

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How I Learned to See Myself as a Work of Art

Body image is not something I have had trouble with for a long time and I would love to share my story of how I learned to be at peace with the way I look. I’ve successfully helped a few of my girlfriends to like their bodies a little more and to stop over scrutinising themselves, so my goal is to impart this onto the wider internet community.

When I was at art school the most valuable thing I learned was how to mediate your own terrible self criticism and censorship. So many times artists create a piece of art, whether drawing or painting, or even a piece of writing, only to destroy it before anyone sees it because they have convinced themselves it is atrocious. I call it tortured artist syndrome, and I know it is rife. It prevents many a budding artist from even trying. When the thing you create is not as perfect as it appeared in your mind’s eye it leads to dissatisfaction, disappointment and, too often, destruction of the creative endeavour entirely.

As a tentative and youthful art student I was reminded that ability to draw is a talent you are lucky to possess, honed and improved usually over many many years. Most people can barely draw at all, so when they look at the work of an artist it looks incredible to them. They cannot fathom having such skill. When we critically examine our own work, it is difficult to remain objective for we have been so closely and intimately involved in each millimetre of pencil laid down on our sketchbooks. Any flaws stand out as if they are drawn in red pen and triple highlighted. But that is only because we are so closely involved with what we have made. A casual observer sees the whole picture, and is so awed by the incredible end product of a skill so coveted and envied that they do not see the flaws. Even if you insist on pointing them out, they will not see them. They will see the whole image and judge it based on this, not on the sum of its parts.

I have learned that the same seems to be true when people, especially us girls, are scrutinising a picture of themselves. How many times have you taken a nice photo of your friend only for her to declare “Oh no, my nose looks hideous in that, delete it immediately”. How many girls stand in front of the mirror trying to select an outfit that hides the cellulite only they see? For all the selfies taken, what proportion end up rejected? Have you ever taken a nice group photo for every participant to swear that some tiny imperfection in their expression ruins the entire tableau? But the fact is, nobody zooms in on your imperfections except yourself.

When I look at my body, I use my artist’s eyes. I use the skills of objectivity I acquired and applied at art school when critiquing my own art work when I look in the mirror. I look at the picture as a whole when I take a selfie. I imagine it was a stranger looking upon the photo. They would not pick fault with the angle of my chin or a blemish on my cheek. People look at eyes and smiles and if you post a genuine happy, radiant photo I guarantee it will be better received than any stiff duck face selfie. If you post a full body shot of yourself in that sun-dress with your legs bare, the sun shining and your hair falling sun bleached around your shoulders then nobody but you will notice that you need to touch up your roots. I know this is true because I test it all the time. I regularly post selfies where I can see hairy armpits, double chins and spots. But I am smiling and happy, and nobody has ever commented. I told my friends that I had started doing this and they all had to confess that they had never noticed. You should try it sometime. it’s very liberating.

As for selfie face, there really no need. Girls always have a go to face when a camera is thrust before them. I just pull a happy and genuine smile. All your friends know what your face looks like girls, we aren’t fooling anyone with that stiff, lips parted, eyes smokin’, chin down, vacant expression. We only use our selfie faces when taking selfies, you would never use that in any other situation. That is not what you look like. Do you want to look back on a lifetime of stilted selfies or a collection of photos where you look happy and natural?

My favourite photos are always the ones where the object was unaware that their photo was being taken. The non posed, natural photos of someone occupied by happiness, deep in conversation, or lost in contemplation. When we are unaware that our photograph is being taken we don’t have the opportunity to project awkwardness or self consciousness, and thus we are more beautiful for it.

This is the basis through which I maintain my positive body image. I know that I am beautiful, for I look at myself through my artist’s eyes. My friend’s are equally beautiful in the diversity and disparity, and I wish they could see themselves through my eyes instead of through their own harsh criticism. I hope that this blog might give anyone who reads it pause for thought. I hope they will look at themselves differently because of it. We are all beautiful but too many people cannot see it in themselves.

By Victoria Haswell. Visit her blog Nurse Vendetta here.

“Periods were imbued with the mystery of the adult world – a strange and slightly frightening thing which I both wanted to experience and was a little horrified by.”

I don’t remember when I first learned that menstruation was something shameful. Certainly it was before I bled for the first time at the age of 13. Periods were imbued with the mystery of the adult world – a strange and slightly frightening thing which I both wanted to experience and was a little horrified by.

I remember being about 9 or 10 years old and being at my friend Vanessa’s house the first time I found out what periods were. Her mum had bought her a book and we were reading it together. I distinctly remember saying, “You bleed from THERE?! It would be bad enough if it was from your thumb or something!” A week later my own mum bought me a book – it was called “Have You Started Yet?” and she had picked it up in the sale section at the library. The book itself was quite old fashioned, illustrated with bad pop art and containing references to the type of sanitary pad you had to clip onto a belt. I remember the awkward conversation which started with the words, “Have you heard any of the other girls at school talking about periods?” and my mortified silence. It was not my mother who instilled this shame in me, but somehow I already knew that this mysterious blood which would start coming out of me one day was something a little disgusting.

I remember being on a hillwalking trip with the Guides – I must have been about 12 – and, in the dorm of the basic SYHA hostel where we stayed, the slightly older girls talking about periods. One of the girls had unexpectedly got her period (although not her first) and Captain had had to take her to the chemist to get pads and painkillers. These girls, just a year or two older than I was, seemed part of an adult world which I was a little jealous of, but also a little scared. Their talk of cramps and pains and blood was alien to me, and while I was at that age where I so badly wanted to grow up, this whole business of being a woman sounded difficult.

When my own first period came, I didn’t tell my mum. I knew where she kept the pads and I knew how to use them, so I just put one on and went about my day. Strangely, I don’t really remember how it made me feel. Embarrassed, I think. I have often felt a little guilty about the fact I didn’t tell my mum right away, wondered if it made her sad that I didn’t tell her. I was always a child who didn’t like to cause a fuss. I remember even as a very young child not wanting to bother people with things, being kind of embarrassed to admit personal things about myself. I don’t know where that comes from. I have always been in some ways an anxious sort of person, who would rather sort things out for herself than ask for help.

I have always been quite lucky that my periods are not much of a trial. They were fairly predictable, from the days in my teens when I used to mark the dates in my diary with crosses, to this day when I record them in an app on my phone (aside: The app I use is called Clue and I love it – it lets you record all sorts of different data from your moods to the heaviness of your bleeding, and it doesn’t come in a twee pink colour scheme full of flowers and other dubious visual metaphors for vaginas. And it’s free!) My cramps have never been debilitating, or my bleeding inconveniently heavy. So although menstruation was something I, like most women, was a bit secretive about, a little ashamed of, at least my period wasn’t something I approached with dread each month. The dirty womanliness of it was something society taught me to hide, but at least the experience itself wasn’t too awful. I know that makes me lucky.

Period sex wasn’t something that really became a part of my life until I was an adult. Although I lost my virginity at 16, I never had a steady boyfriend as a teenager and had only had sex a handful of sporadic times until I went to uni. At 18 I went on the pill for the first time, and it gave me spotting for the first 28 days and then settled down into a clockwork-regular cycle. I’ve always liked this aspect of the pill; I find the bleed comforting. I have friends on forms of contraception which – in their cases at least – stop their periods entirely and they love it, but I’ve never liked that idea. I find something reassuring in the bleeding. Firstly, of course, was always the comforting knowledge that there was no foetus growing inside me. But I think it also just feels natural. Somehow it wouldn’t feel right to me not to bleed, even if it’s the artificial bleed during my break each month.

At 20 I got my first properly serious boyfriend. I was still awkward about the idea of period sex at this point, not because of any particular experience but just because of the idea that people found it disgusting. It has never been that I was disgusted by the idea myself, more the fear that the man I was with would be grossed out. As I’ve got older, I’ve realised they mostly don’t particularly care, but I’ll come to that more in a bit.

When I was with this first boyfriend, I decided to get the contraceptive implant. It seemed convenient – no pills to remember, for years. So I had it put in, watching in fascination as the doctor shoved the huge needle into my anaesthetised arm (I have never been squeamish about this stuff and I always like to watch when they take blood or give me a jag – weird, I know).

The implant made me bleed every day. Not a lot – it was like the very last day of my period, every day. The doctor had said it could take up to six months to settle down with my body, so I kept it in to see if anything would change. But it didn’t. For months and months, I didn’t have a proper period but had spotting every day. And I hated it. It felt so unnatural. I had the implant taken out, watching again as this time they sliced my arm open and pulled out this tiny wee stick which had had such an effect on my body. Having proper periods again was a relief, and I went on the pill again for contraceptive purposes. I could bleed every month again, in the way that felt right for me.

So, period sex. I said as I’ve got older I’ve found that men don’t care much, and that’s pretty much true. But it’s only half true. Every time I’ve got into a sexual situation with a new man for the first time on my period, there’s this awkward moment where I feel the need to say, “Just so you know, I have my period, and that doesn’t bother me, but I thought I should let you know…” And it really doesn’t bother me. I’m not grossed out by my period. I have enjoyed non-menstrual bloodplay during sex in the past, so the blood aspect is actually kind of sexy. There’s something extra animalistic about the blood smeared across sweaty skin, about being so caught up in the pleasure of sex that you don’t give a fuck about the mess.  So I’m more than happy not just to fuck on my period, but for them to go down on me, to kiss them after, to taste my own blood on their lips. It’s sexy in and of itself, but it’s also sexy because they have embraced my body in all its bloody glory.

I’ve found that, while most men are happy to fuck you while you’re on your period, most aren’t as enthusiastic about oral sex, even those who normally love it. And I’d never want a sexual partner to do something they weren’t comfortable with so I would never force it, but I wonder where that comes from. Men are socialised with the same disgust of menstruation as women, but stronger because they don’t usually have to live the reality of it in their own bodies. So I understand, but I wish more of them would be prepared to give it a go.

The first time I was with a man who truly didn’t give a fuck about it, it was a revelation. When I told him I was bleeding, and he still put his face between my legs – and I mean fully, joyously, not a genteel dipping of the tongue – and came up with my blood all over him, it was one of the sexiest things I’d ever experienced. He didn’t find this disgusting. He found it sexy and dirty and erotic, and he embraced this aspect of my womanhood. He didn’t just deign to put his dick in me even though I was bleeding; he fully immersed himself in sex as he would have at any other time of the month. I was 23 by this point and I genuinely hadn’t thought that was possible. It remains an example of what I expect from a truly fulfilling sex life with future partners.

At the moment I don’t have a steady sexual partner, and I decided to stop taking the pill. It had been years that I’d been on it and, not needing it for contraception, I thought I’d see what it was like without it. My first real period after stopping felt great. It was heavier and more painful than my bleeds on the pill, but – in a way I hadn’t expected – I enjoyed the feeling of my body actively doing that, not just letting down blood because of how my hormones were being regulated. I liked the sensation that this was all me.

Don’t get me wrong – I think hormonal contraception is one of the greatest inventions of all time. Giving women the power to control conception is probably the single biggest factor in allowing us all the other freedoms we have in the West today compared with even 50 years ago. I am so incredibly grateful to have the range of contraceptive choices that is available to me as a woman in Scotland in 2016. But I have also enjoyed not being on the pill any more. I’ve found my sex drive has increased (actually kind of an inconvenience sometimes when you’re single…) and I still like the feeling that a “real” period gives me. A sort of comforting feeling that all is as it should be.

I’m not sure what I’ll do the next time I’m in a sexual relationship where we’re going to stop using condoms. I know the implant isn’t for me, and I have doubts about the injection for the same reasons. I have realised that I think I prefer not being on hormonal contraception, but I don’t love condoms so if I’m in an exclusive relationship I prefer something else. I’ve been considering the coil, but a lot of women say it makes their periods more painful. I’m not sure how that would change my relationship to an aspect of my body which I’ve always quite enjoyed. But I’m happy to make compromises to not have to deal with an unwanted pregnancy, which would be the biggest of all possible inconveniences. So I suppose I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it and make whatever decision feels like the right one at that stage of my relationship with my body.

I think perhaps that is the thing I’ve always liked about my period – that it makes me feel a connection to my body. It makes me think of my body and consider what it will feel about something. It can make me present in my body. And the older I get, the more I try not to be ashamed of it. I try not to be coy about it. I try to present the fact confidently to men I’m about to have sex with. Because I don’t think it’s disgusting or shameful, so I shouldn’t bow to the fear that others will.

by Hannah, age 27

SINCE WHEN IS REMOVING YOUR BODY HAIR LINKED WITH RESPECTING YOUR BODY?

I came across AYQA through a buzzfeed post and felt it completely necessary to share her illustrations and her message.

We live in a society where woman are made to feel like they don’t have a choice on what to do with our body hair — we are expected to remove it all and if we don’t we are ‘weird’ ‘disgusting’ ‘dirty’ ‘smelly’ etc etc the negative words go on and on — we DO have a choice. And that choice should be normalised and respected.

Ayqa has illustrated these amazing drawings in an attempt to normalise body hair.

Let us wear our body hair with pride! Or not, if you choose to remove it. Do what you want with your body hair — it is YOUR CHOICE after all.

Find out more or purchase a print here — Ayqa’s Art

‘This is a call to accept all body hair’

I tried to grow my armpit hair a couple of years back and managed a week before I had a mini freak out and shaved. I felt guilty, then I tried to not think about it “i prefer them shaved anyway” I would tell myself.

Then about 6 weeks ago I joined a gym and my temperamental shower broke, which was good timing as I could just shower at the gym- but shower without all my products and razors… When the hair started coming in I thought, well at least it’s winter, I don’t get my pits out a lot… Now it’s been a few weeks and the hair is long and soft and I love them more and more each day. My usual sweat patches around my pit area, which would sometimes come through my coat (!), have stopped, I don’t smell as much (as far as I can tell/smell) and I’ve come to the realisation that FUCK IT. Why the fuck was I shaving anyways? Cos I thought it was prettier? To stop myself from feeling embarrassed or ashamed in a tank top? and who the fuck was I shaving for? Before I’d have said ‘me’ but now I feel I am the proud owner of two hairy underarms and I won’t shave them for anyone.

So having recently come to this realisation, today I came across this post “I just want to be a hairy girl and for that to be OK” and felt it really expresses how I feel (and more) and I want to share it because it’s powerful and an important message we all need to be aware of.

I just want to be a hairy girl and for that to be OK
Minahil Mahmood

Women – we all remember the first time it was brought to our attention that something wasn’t right about our body hair. Whether it was in the sixth grade when your crush was yelling, “Ewwww, you have so much arm hair!” in front of the entire class, or when you were at home watching hair removal ads, questioning why we had to have these products, or watching every female role model in your family get rid of theirs.

Disclaimer: It’s 100 per cent OK to remove your body hair if that’s what makes you happy (I would never say otherwise), but it’s hard to avoid questioning what society would be like if we weren’t forcefed this clean-shaven concept since childhood. What if every ten minutes you didn’t see a razor commercial with an unusually happy woman sporting a pair of clean-shaven legs? What if there wasn’t an alarming amount of products at every drugstore telling you to cut/shave/burn your body hair off regularly? Our perception of body hair on girls has been so twisted that it’s almost impossible to tell if it’s a personal choice that truly makes us happy, or another way we try to conform and fit in.

It’s difficult to tell if we actually want to get rid of our body hair or if we’re just trying to get by without shaking up the whole world’s view of us. From our lovers and partners to fellow women and random glares on the street, it’s hard to be carefree about your body hair while avoiding negative backlash.

Many myths about body hair have been used against women to make them feel dirty and inferior. It’s funny when people claim that having pubes is inherently dirtier than a clean shave, when in reality those hairs are there to protect and keep bacteria away. In fact, a huge reason why women became obsessed with a more clean pubic shave stems from the porn industry. Women with pubic hair were always seen as more mature which equated to sexiness. In 1974, a magazine calledBarely Legal (yikes!) was published, which popularised the fetishisation of young women, a major reason why women suddenly decided to go bald down there and appease the idea of what men may want.

There is virtually no health-related reason for women to have to remove body hair, only personal choice. What about society’s opinion of our anatomy makes body hair unhygienic on women but not men? In a perfect world, it would have been left at individual preference, but body hair on women has become something so taboo, that girls as young as ten years old old feel the need to get rid of it. I was 11 when I first shaved my arms, but it never just stops there. As soon as you realise that there’s something people hate about it, you hate it too and you hate your body for creating it at all. Suddenly your eyebrows look too bushy, your armpit hairs are too thick, the little hairs on your knuckles are ‘unfeminine’. It goes on.

“What if every ten minutes you didn’t see a razor commercial with an unusually happy woman sporting a pair of clean-shaven legs? What if there wasn’t an alarming amount of products at every drugstore telling you to cut/shave/burn your body hair off regularly?”

Over the past couple of years, the internet has given young women a platform to display their true selves and pictures of women with body hair have swept the net. Whether it’s self-love or memes mocking hairy girls in love with their bodies, the conversation started happening. This feminism-centred movement, pushing the normalisation of girls with body hair gained traction and was something young women born after the 80s could relate to. But the movement has gone in cycles. Another reason women started shaving was because body hair became a symbol of feminism, which was seen as ‘manly’ and intimidated the male ego. I found solace in this internet wave for a while before quickly realising that even in a community that accepted body hair on women, there were certain standards you had to meet.

My first issue was only ever seeing pictures of white women with very thin blonde pit hair. I didn’t find it very groundbreaking and found it hard to relate to. I felt that women of colour with thick, dark body hair were rarely ever seen as cute feminist babes making statements, as if the sight of thick, dark hair undoubtably made people even more uncomfortable, making girls of colour feel the need to hide away and continue conforming.

This is a call to stop hiding. This is a call to stop conforming. This is a call to make amends with ourselves. This is a call to accept all body hair. No matter where it is or who it’s on. Let’s start by giving a platform to women who refuse to conform, let’s give platforms to trans women who don’t give a fuck about gender norms. When you see a women sporting some leg hair, instead of thinking ‘Did she forget to shave?’, just assume she loves her body hair. Let’s change this narrative that women who don’t shave don’t care about their looks. Let’s look within ourselves and try to unlearn everything we have been conditioned to believe about body hair on girls. I love your bushy eyebrows, I love your sideburns, I love your happy trail and back hair.

first posted here -http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/28857/1/i-just-want-to-be-a-hairy-girl-and-that-be-ok