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The Body Hair Project

By Michelle Zaydlin--In our society, especially as women, we are constantly pressured to remove our body hair. We shave our legs, our armpits; get our eye brows waxed, and so on, as we continue with this desire to remove our body hair to conform to society.

Yet, not everyone conforms with this unnatural removal of body hair. Ailsa Fineron, a 21 year old student in England, has taken a stand through using photography and showing the natural body, hair and all. I had the honor of interviewing Ailsa to learn more about the Body Hair Project and the incredible work she is doing.

Michelle Zaydlin: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Ailsa Fineron: I am a twenty one year old who juggles being a math & physics student with doing as much photography as possible- alongside tutoring, volunteering for a gender equality co-operative, learning kung-fu, organising Bristol’s effective altruism society, and a bit of socialising! I am a very vocal intersectional feminist, less vocal vegan, and am currently focussing on getting more vocal about mental health issues as I talk more about my own experiences of bipolar II. I also identify as female, mixed race -Chinese & white- and Scottish.

MZ: Where did you get the idea for the body hair project?

AF: My friend and I stopped removing our body hair in summer 2013 and it prompted a lot of discussion between us and other -predominantly female- friends. It was surprising how little attention any of us had given the topic before, especially given that our friendship group is quite feminist. It was fascinating but also sad to hear of my friends’ insecurity and shame about body hair, and the lengths they went to in order to remove it, particularly when they were younger.

However, everyone I spoke to was very open. Every conversation I had made me think more about my own approach to body hair and my insistence that I shaved because I wanted to. I thought that if having these conversations was making me think so much, maybe I could open up the discussion to more people through the internet and my photography. My photography up till then had been very much focused on making everyday moments beautiful, which, whilst very meaningful to me, was more just aesthetically pleasing to others. So I decided to have a go at doing something with more direction, and the body hair project is the result!

MZ: What are your aims for the body hair project?

AF: My aims are to initiate and encourage discussion around body hair and, hopefully, as a result, lessen the taboo around it. I don’t want to tell women what to do with their bodies, but I do want to get the message across that the choices we make are not made in a vacuum: we are influenced by others and others are influenced by us. I think that’s a really important thing to remember- it gives us a responsibility to think carefully about our choices and their impact.

I’m also hoping to normalise body hair on women a bit more, simply by putting photographs of women’s bodies, complete with hair, out there!

MZ: What message can we send to teens and society?

AF: That body hair is natural. And by body hair I mean all types of body hair: pubes, leg hair, armpit hair, facial hair, arm hair, back hair, snail trails and so on. That it’s okay to have hair in all these places (and others!) It’s not unhygienic. It’s not disgusting. It’s a normal and beautiful part of the human body, despite what the media tells/shows you.

Also that it’s not okay to put pressure on people to conform to your standards of beauty (society and media, I’m looking at you.) Especially given that our current ‘ideal’ beauty standard is so narrow and impossible for so many women to fit into -particularly women of colour.

MZ: Why do you think this issue is important?

AF: I think it’s important because it’s part of a wider issue: that of the constant policing of women’s bodies and of basing our worth on our appearance. I guess I’m hoping that people will see the Body Hair Project and it will encourage them to be less judgmental when it comes to what they expect of women and the stereotypes they hold about them. That they will try to be more aware of the biases they have, where those might have come from, and then try to counteract them. It’s a lot to hope for, but I’ve found you can get amazing results when you just encourage people to question the world around them a little more.

MZ: Body hair seems to be a pretty taboo topic, why do you think it is so taboo and what can we do to make this less taboo?

AF: I think one of the main factors in body hair being so taboo is the complete normalisation of hairless bodies. Even in historical dramas, or films/tv series where the female characters are out in the wilderness for months or years, they always seem to have access to a razor, tweezers and time amidst all the fighting for survival to keep on removing any body hair! That lack of portrayal of hairy bodies, along with some unhelpful myths -body hair is unhygienic, you cannot be feminine if you have body hair- has really made the topic taboo.

To not remove body hair is so against the norm that it’s daunting to even talk about it for a lot of women. I don’t blame people at all for this. There’s a lot of stuff out there ready to scare and shame you and, sadly, it works.

MZ: Anything else you want to share?

AF: There is a lot of good stuff going on! I think that the Body Hair Project is just one small part of a growing movement of women embracing their bodies just as they are, in defiance of all the pressure to fit into one tiny, pretty, pale, big boobed, small waisted and hairless stereotype.

I am so encouraged by all these wonderful, confident women who are proud of their bodies despite society telling them they are too fat, too dark, too hairy... Not everyone is that confident, and nobody should feel bad for not loving their body (it’s an incredibly difficult thing to do and it takes time) but I think it’s incredibly important for us to see women who aren’t ashamed of their bodies, and for those women to be a diverse group of people. And from there, I think that group of people can only grow.

To connect with Ailsa, check out her websitetumblr, and Twitter! 

About this blogger: Michelle Zaydlin is currently a senior at the University of Michigan and will be graduating this May with a B.S. in Neuroscience and Spanish. She is currently involved with NEDA as a coordinator of the second annual Ann Arbor, MI NEDA Walk and a member of Dance Marathon which helps support pediatric rehabilitation therapies at local children’s hospitals. She also works as a physics study group leader through the science learning center at the University and as a behavior technician doing applied behavior analysis (ABA) with children on the autism spectrum. 

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