How One Photographer Is Trying To Glamorize Body Hair

Instagram/@benhopper

Though we seem to have grown more comfortable with it, women’s body hair is still stigmatized. Often viewed as unhygienic, unkempt, and unfeminine, the conversations around it cause many who choose to let their hair grow naturally feel ashamed. But one photographer is on a mission to not only normalize body hair, but to romanticize it. London-based photographer Ben Hopper embarked on a photo series entitled “Natural Beauty,” in which he captures women embracing their armpit hair with confidence.

The project initially launched in 2014, but regained recognition earlier this year when Hopper shared some of the stunning images to his Instagram, writing that it’s nice to see natural beauty going viral. The black and white portraits show body hair in a way that’s rarely attempted — as a sexy, beautiful part of the female body. Along with the images, the subjects also share a bit about their journey with body hair.

“My underarms were never ‘pretty’ or ‘feminine,'” subject Maya Felix wrote along with her picture. “I hated it and was made miserable by it… I certainly couldn’t afford regular waxing at the age when societal pressure kicked in.” She finished with a message to others: “Your body is beautiful, you don’t need to burn it with lasers.”

 

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Daily Mail made a new feature on my ‘Natural Beauty’ project yesterday (link in my stories).

I’ve posted 2 photos from the project, and archived them. I wasn’t happy with their Engagement. This is the 3rd one I post. It’s one of the ‘strongest’ photos from my ‘Natural Beauty’ project, probably the most viral one. It does make me wonder; Instagram doesn’t represent ‘my work’, it represents ‘my work on Instagram’. It’s the highlights, the viral content, the punchy stuff, the images that look good as a thumb, and will likely to attract more likes. Being on Instagram has been a very interesting learning experience for me. What am I doing here? Am I trying to go viral? Am I trying to share the work that I like? The latter has defiantly proved to be a pointless thing to do; each time I tried to share something I really loved, the engagement fell through. It’s a miserable feeling. No dopamine, no sympathy.
I am trying to be mindful when I post on here, I am trying to be present. I am trying to honest with myself, truthful. It’s hard. It’s very hard and I think it’s a bit of a shame.
I would love to hear from you; what are YOUR thoughts & experience about it?

Anyway, it’s nice to see ‘Natural Beauty’ going viral again. It’s the 3rd time it’s happening since 2014. It’s a beautiful reminder how this subject and the format of the project is ever so relevant, still. It inspires me and reminds me the power of photography, the impact art has.

“…Your body is beautiful, you don’t need to burn it with lasers” – Maya Felix, in photograph (2014) See the rest of the project + words by the models on therealbenhopper.com (link in my bio).

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Another woman shared her experience after Hopper asked her to stop shaving for the purposes of the series: “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,” subject Olivia Murphy wrote. “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.”

 

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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 for ‘Natural Beauty’ (2014) See the full project on therealbenhopper.com.

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The images are beautiful and empowering. But, of course, they are being met with both praise and uncalled-for criticism. Hopefully soon, with the help of projects like this, women will feel comfortable in making such personal decisions only for themselves — whether that be to wear their body hair with pride or to remove it. Take a look at a few more shots from the stunning collection below, then click on over to Hopper’s website to see the full project.

 

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On perseverance: I was working on my project Natural Beauty long before I first published it in 2014. To be precise, I was working on it since 2007. I did a total of 21 photo-shoots before I figured out how to photograph it. They were shoots of different models, different locations and mostly natural light. The photos looked nice but they didn’t work together, they just felt too disconnected from each other. In early 2014 I suddenly caved in to the old original ideas of photographing everyone in a studio, with same background, same lighting…and tried out few shoots with my actress friend Emilia Bostedt. I initially thought this idea was dumb and boring. Same background? Same light? Same poses? BORING! Little I knew this would become my most successful project using that same approach. The first official studio shoot for the project took place in February 2014 with Emilia. I did 2 more with different models and got in touch with HuffPost, asking if they want to publish my work. I sent them different things I was working on. They liked Natural Beauty and wanted to publish it straight away, with some pre-studio shoots. I explained to them I only have 3 ‘official’ project photos and asked for more time. I somehow managed to find and photograph 5 more models in a period of 2 weeks and we published the project in April that year. ⠀ This picture of Emily Carey, was taken at Preston Park in Brighton (UK) on July 2011. I thought the solution might be black and white photos, taken outdoors using on camera flash. That way the images will all look quite the same. It was the first time I was starting to figure out the final aesthetics of the project. It took nearly 3 extra years to complete.

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Mental Health Awareness Week ended yesterday here in the UK. The theme this year was Body Image – how we think and feel about our bodies. When I created my project ‘Natural Beauty’, I specifically chose fashion look-alike models so the project will reach a larger mainstream audience. ⠀ I took the popular mainstream fashionable female beauty and mixed it with the uncommon look of armpit hair, something most people perceive as unhygienic and unattractive. ⠀ The result was a powerful body of work that successfully communicated to people who wouldn’t normally be ok with the look of female armpit hair, it sparked a global discussion and made a lot of people more accepting. ⠀ Besides female armpit hair, the message was obviously larger than that, it was all about body acceptance. As we sift through oodles of photos of perfect Instagram models, I encourage all of you to remember two things: 1) Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but also, beauty on Instagram is an illusion. I could make ANYONE ‘beautiful’ with my camera if I wanted to. 2) Your body is fucking beautiful. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. Embrace your body, cherish your body, love your body. ⠀ We all struggle with these things, including me. We’re all in this. Let’s be kinder to one another. Let’s be kinder to ourselves. #BeBodyKind. ⠀ Photo: Anne-Florence Neveu photographed for ‘Natural Beauty’ (2017). See the full project on therealbenhopper.com (link in my bio).

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Dea Lundström (circus artist & actress) for ‘Natural Beauty’, June 2019. (Including a complimentary sarcastic ‘Nipple Censorship Protest’). Words continue in comments due to IG character limit. ⠀ (1/2) “I started shaving my armpits as soon as my armpit hair appeared for the first time. I did it because I had been taught by society that in order to be beautiful, a woman should be hairless everywhere except for on her head. For the longest time, I bought into that idea and told myself that the painful process of shaving one’s armpits was worth it …and it really was painful – I’d get the worst shaving rashes no matter what I did and I could never wear anything with a tight sleeve. Oh and don’t get me started on the horrible, horrible feeling of the hair growing back, the stubble. (Spoiler alert – it wasn’t worth it!). Eventually, as I grew older, I had a “feminist awakening” and I realised I’d been fed an idea of what a beautiful woman looks like based on a capitalist and patriarchal structure. This ideal is impossible to live up to and women are constantly tricked into buying more products we don’t need – and for what?! So that ya’ll boys can get a stiffy?? Thanks but no thanks, I’d rather look like a woman than a little girl, and your stiffies don’t mean shit to me. I want to break the trend of shaming women if we’re not hairless everywhere but the head. It’s a small but important way of saying “fuck off” to beauty standards that I feel are obsolete. Having hair for the first time felt so fun and empowering. It made me feel more beautiful than I’ve ever felt before, contrary to what I first believed I’d feel (when I first stopped shaving I was afraid I’d feel like a gorilla but boy was I wrong).”

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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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