“For almost a century we have been brainwashed by the beauty industry,” says the photographer Ben Hopper of the inspiration for his new project, a series of images of fashion models with full-grown armpit hair. The body of work, titled “Natural Beauty,” pokes a small hole in the unrealistic, limited standards we expect from female models in beauty editorial and advertising images.
The artist explains that female hair, a part of human biology, has been made a political statement; since 1910, body hair on women has been characterized as unattractive and unsanitary. In presenting models, most of whom otherwise adhere to conventional Western beauty ideals, baring their pits, Hopper has re-appropriated body hair as a symbol of power and beauty. His subjects abandon the coy, fresh-faced sensuality that we’re so used to seeing in the media, opting instead to confront the camera with unflinching eyes. It’s just body hair, but seen through Hopper’s lens, grooming habits and the refusal to shave is seen as an act of social defiance.
Also refreshing is Hopper’s choice to include women of color (although we wish there were more!) and more natural hairstyles; here, he asserts a woman’s right to her own hair. It’s simple but elegant: our hair has no baring on our hygiene, and we certainly shouldn’t base our sense of self-worth on what’s beneath our arms. In the future, we would hope that the artist continues to expand and represent more diverse women of different sizes and shapes! Take a look.