Emily Cripps for 'Natural Beauty' by Ben Hopper (2014)
“For an understanding of why a person won't shave I believe it's important to understand what compels them to do so in the first place.
I became aesthetically aware of my body at a much earlier age than many expect one to. Having begun puberty aged at around 8 or 9, I found myself painfully conscious of the myriad changes to my body; most notably the weight gain, menstruation and of course, hair.
What ensued were many humiliating (and sometimes aborted) school visits to the pool and haunting horrorshow P.E. changing room experiences in my teens. Bullying occurs inwardly as well as outwardly, and the cruelty from others accompanies that which we inflict upon ourselves. Much of this derives from enforced expectations from/of others and of the self, both of which can skew our ability to see either kindly or rightly.
Within the spheres of sexual, societal and educational pressures and tensions that imbue adolescence (and our adult lives), there are multitudinous opportunities to doubt oneself. These are bred and fed by external expectations of who you are meant to be; this is manifested, manipulated and milked through imposed ideas of what you are meant to look like.
What ensues for many are torrid years of obsessive attempts to alter one's body and situation, in some ways wholly destructive and others which are apparently insignificant. For many and myself this was led by a desire for appeal and belonging; the inward necessity for these feelings being supplanted by an obsessive outward focus. Whilst healing and growth ultimately come from within, body shaming is an ever-rife phenomenon which impairs our ability to do so. Ideals of image are vitriolically and violently imposed to such a variant of degrees that the gravity of many instances are often overlooked. The expectations from our culture regarding body hair seemingly determines the body’s beauty on being almost or even entirely hairless. Whereas I support that for some this may be their own enjoyed preference for many others removing their hair occurs from conformity to expectation and from fears of rejection. Whilst I wrote this I was reminded of pressures in my high school which insisted that girls should shave their arms; not just the armpits but every hair from every inch of our arms. Many times, myself and others were ridiculed for not doing so. For reasons relating to depression and anorexia, I didn’t last long in my high school and because of those reasons there are many years where I have little recollection of my attitude towards body hair. Shaving didn’t often occur as a matter of importance, lest for the seldom visits to the world outside my house where I would shave if my underarms or legs were to be on show. Ultimately there were few occasions which necessitated the need in my mind to shave at all. However, shaving was always required if in company of others, romantically or platonically, if I were to avoid feeling akin to the Mexican wolf boys or Victorian Freak show attractions. Older and somewhat less riddled by issues of eating I began to let my underarm grow, partly due to the opinion of a partner at the time who preferred it. Realising the falsity in the prevailing message that everyone is repulsed by body hair, I began to take delight in not shaving. When I did shave again, generally for modelling jobs, I was irate at the discomfort it caused me. I also began to think about it more, realising that if hair is growing there that there is more than likely a bloody good reason for it. The underarm is a sensitive place and a vital area for the release of toxins. The axillary lymph nodes can become irritated and even infected from frequent shaving and use of harsh deodorising products. On a more superficial level, I would sometimes get rashes and pimples from shaving and regrowth which looked to me a lot worse than some hair. I’m sure some of you will recall the Veet adverts which came out not so long ago. These represent women with hair under their arms or on their legs as being wholly repulsive, deterring as well as shameful to themselves and others. More so than this, they are represented as inherently male attributes as shown by the morphing of the woman into an apologetic and shamefaced man.
I wholeheartedly feel that the only people who ought to feel ashamed or embarrassed are those that brandish cruel ridicule and admonish women like myself who choose not to shave. I feel those who fall into this category need to stop, take a moment and honestly ask themselves; why? Why do you feel so affronted? Why do you care SO much that you feel like you are justified in making your hateful comments? Why do you believe you have the right to dictate what another person chooses to do with their body? Why let it concern you so deeply? Why bother?
Ben is a dear friend of mine and I am so proud of him and all the spectacularly beautiful women that make up this series of photographs. Braving the ignorance of others and choosing to be yourself despite the bullying you may face is one of the most admirable qualities to uphold. Sharing the idea of being confident in who you are and how you are -even when it does not conform to what you are told is the ‘right’ way to be- is an idea which must continue to be perpetuated. Those who seek to harm others are ultimately only serving themselves a disfavour. Be yourself and be the beauty you wish to see in others. Remember that your skin is just the carrier for the true beauty which lies within.”
– Emily Cripps (2014)