Beauty standards for women have always been a doubled-edged sword. We are always categorised into one sect or another which means one is not skinny enough, meaty enough, fair enough, tall enough, too hairy, the list could go on and on. This deep rooted demand for women to belong to a category of one beauty standard is challenged by a photographer, Ben Hopper from London in an attempt to upturn the stagnant female beauty standards. Capturing images of raw, natural state of women to make a point that nature is beautiful, ‘hairy is beautiful’, Hopper's images are simply captivating.
For this photo series taken between 2016 and 2018 which is fittingly called “Natural Beauty,” Hopper asked models and actresses to grow out their body hair and challenge the idea that hairy women are in any way unattractive or unhygienic. His project heightens the natural look on women challenging the modern-day beauty standards by showcasing a series of beautiful women proudly showing off their armpit hair.
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“As a teenager, I remember trying to stuff myself into a box of what a girl should be like. It always felt uncomfortable; padded bras, shoes that hurt and shaving rash. Running, swimming and climbing have helped me to see the strength and resilience in my body and to love it for what it is. Growing my armpit hair has been a recent experiment and the longer it gets, the more I like it! I like the way it looks & feels. It has given me a new respect for myself. So I say, embrace growth & if it pleases you, let it all grow!” ⠀ – Jess Waldman for ‘Natural Beauty’ (October 2018)
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Kyotocat for ‘Natural Beauty’. June 2017. Words continue in comments due to IG character limit. ⠀ (1/2) “I stopped shaving completely when I was a teenager because of two instances. The first? I got tired of all the time wasted on maintenance and the discomfort that came with it. The second was when I went on a few multiple week-long backpacking trips; it would have been extremely inconvenient to spend hours ripping my hair out, so I let things grow. Being so close to nature let me dive deeper into and re-examine the relationship with myself and the world, acting as a mirror. In nature, there is wild; it is as beautiful as it is untamed. How could it be anything other than that? ⠀ I felt so relieved and free when I let it grow out. It felt like being able to breathe. It was incredibly comfortable too. I felt a confidence and boldness returning, like I was replenishing some kind of primal power. ⠀ People respond to it differently all the time. There are very encouraging/positive reactions—women who have messaged me to thank me for changing their mind and pushing them to challenge their motives/experiment with growing their body hair. Then there are people that start to fetishize it, which can be strange. ⠀ People revere my decision as a feminist and bold political statement, which is ironic, considering how almost everybody has some kind of body hair. It is also funny because I am lazy and keeping it is the path of least resistance. There are people who are exceptionally rude and who speak from fear. People who say it’s dirty and that I must be a man. The more important questions to ponder are rather why and how do we live in a culture/society that has deemed it acceptable for certain people to have body hair, and unacceptable for others? Isn’t it absurd that it is socially acceptable for humans to have lots of hair on their head, but not on other parts of their same body? Isn’t it ridiculous and ironic that what grows naturally on its own is seen as unnatural? How did we get here?”
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Jessica Hargreaves for ‘Natural Beauty’. October 2018. ⠀ “I originally stopped shaving maybe five or six years ago, really for physical reasons at first – my skin has Keratosis pilaris (those little bumps, like ‘chicken skin’) and so shaving was a nightmare, particularly on my legs. I would get the most terrible ingrown hairs, to the point that most of the hairs on my legs would have to be picked out with tweezers or they’d turn into painful spots. The same would happen on my vulva if I ever dared to shave, and eventually started on my underarms too. I tried a few different hair removal methods but nothing really worked, and eventually, I started to feel that my body was protesting, so I just stopped. ⠀ When I stopped shaving I finally felt free of my body’s reaction to hair removal and all the pain and hours spent exfoliating, just for my skin to look terrible anyway. At first, I wasn’t sure about how it looked but I’ve really grown to love my body hair, and I’ve never had any complaints from people whose opinion I care about. ⠀ I worked in a bar when I first stopped shaving, so I had some shocked reactions from some of the (male) customers and regulars, I think it was just a bit before hairy armpits (on women) became more common to see, so some of them were disgusted reactions, but honestly I felt like it was a pretty good misogyny filter. Most people don’t even notice, some people like it. ⠀ I did start to feel like it was a feminist action too — men have body hair and don’t tend to have any issues with it from others, or themselves. But really I think a lot of it was just that I’ve always been pretty boyish, never had much of a skincare routine and never really worn makeup (not that those things are bad or unfeminist!) just because those things don’t interest me much and aren’t on my radar – I’m not ‘feminine’ in that way, so hair removal just became another one of those things that I just didn’t feel made sense to me. I can’t be bothered.”
'I like natural beauty on a woman. I think it can be very beautiful and under the circumstances empowering and sexy. You need an attitude to be a female with hairy armpits nowadays.' Hopper tells the Daily Mail UK.
'Anyone who is willing to take c**p from a lot of people for it is to me, an attractive strong confident person. I don't find waxing or shaving that sexy most of the times.
'From the reading I've done about the subject, I learned that women's societal pressure to shave has to do with beauty brands such as Gillette who needed to extend their razors clientele and created one for women about a century ago.
'Most people now can't even stand the look of a hairy female armpit. Now that is brilliant marketing.
'I don't want to say that I want women to start growing their armpit hair, I just think that it's a possibility and people shouldn't dismiss it. I'd like people to just question the whole thing’, he adds.
Hopper have photographed all 45 of his subjects in 'Natural Beauty' from his studio in Hackney Wick, East London.