Women are conventionally expected to keep their armpits perfectly shaven at all times. This societal law doesn’t apply to men, but it does to women, hence the saying, “All girls shave their pits.” Women don’t usually wear sleeveless shirts without shaving their armpit hair first. It’s literally a taboo.

But… it wasn’t written in any constitution or amended onto any acts of parliament that women would be breaking laws if they don’t shave their armpits.

37-year-old London-based photographer, Ben Hopper decided to do a shoot to create awareness on the beauty of hairy women. The Hackney studio owner began the project officially in 2016, and he named it ‘Natural Beauty’. He’s captured a lot of women showing off their full-grown armpit hairs with pride and boldness. He shares his work with the world on Instagram.

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style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> 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 on therealbenhopper.com (link in my bio).

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Speaking to Mail Online, he said [1]: “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.”

He says he strongly admires women who couldn’t care less about the criticism they would receive when they step out with their armpit hair in full glare. Shaving and waxing are sometimes turn-offs for him.

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,” he said.

According to him, a lot of people can’t stand the sight of armpit hair on a woman, and in his opinion, it’s a brilliant marketing strategy.

“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 said.

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style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> @charliexbarker for Natural Beauty (2014) – still as relevant #januhairy

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A growing community

Since 2007, long before showing his work to the world, Hopper had been capturing women who have chosen not to shave their armpit hair. His work isn’t always accepted or praised, but that’s beside the point. He initially began by recruiting models, designers, and performers for his work, and the criticisms were flying left, right, and center. Now, women from every nook and cranny of life reach out to be photographed by him.

“For this project specifically, I get a lot of people complaining about the models who are too skinny or have makeup or pluck their eyebrows, too young, aren’t real women and so on,” he explained. “I’d like people to understand that my reasoning to choose these specific subjects was exactly because of that; this way the project is much more effective. The contrast is stronger.”

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style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> 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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Since the inception of his pet project, Hopper has photographed 45 women who aren’t afraid to rock their armpit hair. From all over the United Kingdom, he’s had eager participants pose in the Hackney studio, East London, to make a statement to the world.

“If I asked people, ‘who would you expect to have armpit hair?’ You would never imagine a fashion model or a very beautiful ‘hygienic’ looking female,” he said. “That’s the stereotype and I’m trying to use it to intrigue a stronger reaction.”

References

  1. Women who choose not to shave their armpits are featured in a stunning black and white photo series celebrating ‘beautiful’ body hair. Sarah Finley. Daily Mail Online. April 23, 2019.
  2. Ben Hopper. Instagram.
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