April 24, 2021

As the weather warms, people are baring their skin more often — and for many women and non-binary people, that means exposing more body hair, too.

It’s something that caught the eye of Saskatchewan-based photographer Hannah Crease-Maclean, who works out of the small community of St. Denis near Saskatoon. She had noticed a lot of local women unabashedly flaunting their body hair, which eventually gave her the confidence to do the same.

Though she believes attitudes around body hair are changing, she isn’t seeing that represented much on social media or in mainstream photography, like magazine spreads or in advertising.

“I think there’s still a long way to go because women are still, I think, very much expected to shave their body hair and to not have any body hair in the mainstream,” she said.

Crease-Maclean had her own experience in this vein.

After posing for a boudoir shoot for a friend, her armpit hair was edited out of the images. She brought it up with the photographer, who apologized, saying she assumed, based on her experience, that’s what Crease-Maclean would want. She then sent along unedited versions of the photographs.

Crease-Maclean felt compelled to organize her own boudoir shoots “not only normalizing body hair but taking it a step further and showing that it’s actually super sexy and attractive.”

She described the intimate series that followed as the “most meaningful project” she’s worked on.

“It’s been an incredibly rewarding and connective experience to be able to do the project and talk with all these different women and non-binary folks and why they choose to keep their body hair and what they think about it.”

Many of the participants were simply fed up with the time and effort hair removal takes.

Others’ decision stemmed from realizing the primary reason they had spent years (and so much money) removing their body hair is because the practice is normalized: hairlessness is entrenched in society’s definition of women.

“From a young age, as early as 11, I started shaving because my friend did it. She saw her mom doing it, so then she was shaving and I thought I should, too,” said Sara Guenter. “But then it just got to a point where I was, like, why am I doing this?”

Many people feel insecure at first about keeping their body hair. But like Crease-Maclean, seeing other people maintain their body hair is empowering and can help them get over that mental hurdle.

“I honestly think that was a big part of it — seeing other women and then being, like, you look so badass I want to do that, too,” said Victoria Capp.

The subjects expressed feeling more at home in their bodies when they weren’t trying to perform what society’s ideal of a ‘woman’ or ‘feminine’ is.

That sentiment was particularly strong among those whose decision to keep their body hair was part of an exploration of their gender identity.

Perhaps most surprising to Crease-Maclean in speaking with the participants was that so few reported negative experiences when others noticed their body hair. Some received comments from people who think all women should shave, that it’s unsightly or that it’s a turnoff for a new date, but the photographer is optimistic that the sparsity of demeaning comments is “an indication that things are changing.”

Crease-Maclean makes clear that when it comes to your follicles, “whatever you choose — that’s beautiful.”

“I hope that when folks see these images it maybe opens their eyes to different representations of women and makes them feel more comfortable with other women having body hair and perhaps their own body hair in the process as well,” she said.

Hannah Crease-Maclean is a portrait photographer based on Treaty 6 territory and the homeland of the Métis. In her boudoir work, she loves engaging with a wide range of people and bodies, and capturing their beauty in an empowering way. She is incredibly grateful to all of the wonderful folks who took part in the body hair project and helped to build her community and contribute to her growth as an artist.

Natascia Lypny is the features editor for CBC Saskatchewan. You can reach her at natascia.lypny@cbc.ca.