Isabel for 'Natural Beauty' by Ben Hopper (2019)
"I stopped shaving my hair for the first time around 8 years ago when I was living in Argentina. I think that living abroad as an 'expat', out of your usual bubble, you discover new freedom and boldness.
My navel hair was the last thing I stopped removing, probably because the images of women I'd seen for so long had influenced me and made me feel that having hair there was totally weird and unnatural. When I realised that a lot of women have this too, I felt less pressure to conform and let it be.
Years ago I did think about getting laser hair removal for my navel hair, but then I realised I'd be paying a couple of hundred pounds just to conform to expectations that I don't even care about– I'd much rather use the money for a holiday or circus lessons!
I think that's one of the things which annoys me so much about society and the media's expectation for women to be basically hairless– they're pressuring us to invest serious time and money and endure pain. It's a double standard and it's unfair.
Being able to accept your body– hair, scars and all– is freeing. I remember seeing my Aunt Glynis dancing to reggae in the 90s with her armpit hair showing– she looked so confident, happy and free. As a child, I couldn't put my finger on 'why', but I can now.
On a practical level, it feels pretty darn good when I consider how much time, money and pain I've saved by accepting my body as it is.
Accepting body hair is also a lesson in not sweating the small stuff and learning to not give a flying biscuit about what others think of you. That has been a valuable lesson for me over these last weeks. A month before these photos were taken I woke up in resuscitation in hospital, to be told I'd sleepwalked into the path of an oncoming train. Not news anyone wants to hear! Nonetheless, I was extremely lucky to survive with just a broken leg and head injury. Unlike body hair, the scars on my body from the injuries and operation will always be there and can't be removed. Learning to leave body hair despite judgement has stood me in good stead for accepting my scars and my accident."
About others' reactions, I find that people aren't that bothered! It's really not that big a deal to leave body hair– though maybe that's the bubble I live in east London's Hackney Wick!”
I like to think that that memory of my aunt being free and totally comfortable in her own skin is one that I can emulate and pass onto other girls and women.
It hasn't always been received well though. At Lambeth County Fair one year, a friend of a friend was seriously freaked out when he saw my armpits. He asked me "what's wrong with you? Why would you do that?!", which was pretty amusing but bewildering. It reminded me there will always be people out there who may react and judge me like that. Thankfully, the opinion of people who think like that means very little to me!
Weirdly enough though, I do generally keep armpits covered at work. Even though I work in the charity sector where everyone is pretty supportive and open-minded, I've been labelled a hippy before and don't want to risk being put in a box in peoples' minds or have people thinking about my body hair at work. Though this is something I should challenge and try to change.
For me having hair and not caring is a bit like being part of a secret club. When you notice someone else who is resisting society's expectations and staying hairy you feel solidarity and respect. It's nice to be part of that."
– Isabel (2019)