Pin It
Ashley Armitage responds to body hair trolls
Billie campaignPhotography Ashley Armitage

Ashley Armitage responds to body hair trolls

TextAlex Peters

We speak to the photographer about the outrage her images of female body hair provokes

For such a natural thing, body hair sure does elicit a lot of strong reactions and feelings of outrage, something that photographer Ashley Armitage knows only too well. “Every photo I post of people with body hair who aren’t cis-men gets adverse reactions,” she says. “I’ve posted photos of non-binary people, trans women, and cis women with body hair and they were all met with anger. It doesn’t seem to matter what type of hair, either. Pubic hair, armpit hair, stomach hair, leg hair, it all makes people mad.”

Earlier this year, Ashley shot a campaign for the female-first razor brand Billie. It was the first ever advert to feature women’s body hair. Gorgeous and dreamy, Ashley’s photographs were an intimate look at natural femininity, showing women with underarm hair, leg hair, hair below their navels, their bikini line. Though widely praised online, not everyone was pleased with the images of women in their natural state, and when an Instagram account with a lot of followers recently posted one of the Billie campaign shots she encountered a strongly negative reaction. We spoke to Ashley about what happened.     

One of your Billie campaign shots recently caused some drama on Instagram. Can you tell us what happened?
Ashley Armitage: My posts are mostly filled with positivity and support because that’s my audience. However, this time around an Instagram account with millions of followers posted the Billie commercial and opened the floodgates. There were super vile and toxic comments (mostly from men) saying literally, I quote: “I’d rather die than watch a girl run a comb through her armpit hair again”, and the worst, “Wtf is come over here with armpit hair I’m fuckin punchin you in the pussy”. Sexual violence towards girls with armpit hair? That’s terrifying. Reading these comments shows me that we need this type of imagery. We will only normalise body hair through exposure.

What was the concept of the shoot?
Ashley Armitage: The concept was to show that body hair removal is a choice. We made it to say, “If you want to grow out your body hair, amazing! We support that. If you choose to remove your body hair, then Billie has great razors!” To my knowledge, we were the first commercial to ever show women with body hair. In shaving commercials, for some reason, women already have perfectly smooth hairless legs. How is body hair so taboo that we can’t even show it in an ad literally about body hair?

Why do you think people have such a strong reaction to body hair? Particularly since it’s such a natural part of the body.
Ashley Armitage: I think media has ingrained the sexist beauty standard into all of us so heavily that when women fall outside of it, some men feel they have the right to retake control of our bodies. I think they feel threatened by an “unruly” woman and that it’s their duty to re-exert their power over us. On the Instagram post of the Billie video I mentioned above, there were so many men commenting calling women who grow their hair “Feminazis”. Sometimes I forget that I live in such a liberal bubble, and that these people exist. When I get those violent comments on my work, it’s depressing but it encourages me to work even harder to get these images out into the world.

You repost the image every few months. Have you noticed reactions changing?
Ashley Armitage: Yes, actually! In the beginning, when I first started posting the photo of my friend, Irene Bowen, with a bikini and pubic hair poking out, there was a huge amount of people who were outraged. I think over the years, with all the body hair pictures I’ve posted, I’ve weeded out the sexist people and kept the good people. Now when I post that photo the comments are 95% supportive.

The image has been reported and taken down several times. How does this make you feel?
Ashley Armitage: Honestly, it doesn’t surprise me. It feels like yet another way for agency to be stripped from me. My art is silenced. It’s disappointing but it’s a sign that there is still much progress to be made.

What do you see as the main arguments on either side of the body hair debate?  
Ashley Armitage: My side of the argument is that body hair preferences are personal choices. If it’s your body, it’s your choice. No one else has the right to comment on it or control it. Body hair is the same exact thing on any body of any gender. It isn’t suddenly unhygienic when it grows on a woman.

I guess the opposing side of the argument is that women should not have body hair because it's “gross”. I see that this perspective stems from the beauty standard telling us to be hairless. That’s why I want to flood the media with body hair pictures. I want girls and women around the world to see that we have options. I want men to see that this exists and it’s natural and normal.

Read Next
Mystic Meg
How to tailor your beauty routine according to your rising sign Beauty Feature
Cruel Intentions
The 10 best nail looks on film throughout history Beauty Feature
Cupid Willow Smith
Cupid on the otherworldly beauty looks he created for Willow Smith’s album Beauty news
Sophie Apollonia
Sophie Apollonia on navigating the world of ballet as a woman of colour Beauty Feature
Tom Ford
Tom Ford is launching skincare and you know it’s going to be sexy as hell Beauty news
Beyonce Spirit
Fans think there is a secret message in the hair of Beyoncé's ‘Spirit’ Beauty news
Blood Orange Benzo
Evanie Frausto and Marcelo Gutierrez talk beauty for Blood Orange’s Benzo Beauty Feature
Las Mujeres de Fuego
Watch Fuego Nails’ new film celebrating female empowerment in mythology Beauty Feature
Dunlop Volleys
We need to talk about bacne: meet the Bacne Buster, Pamela Marshall Beauty Feature
Cardi B Reebok
Cardi B’s magic manicure in the new Reebok ad is everything we need Beauty news
Violet Chachki Pat McGrath
Pat McGrath taps Violet Chachki and Liz Hurley’s son Damian for campaign Beauty news
Old Celebrities 1
Billie Eilish and the other celebs doing the #FaceApp Age Challenge Beauty news
Bhasha Mukherjee
Miss England beauty pageant introduces new body positive make-up free round Beauty news
Jeffree Star
First Kylie Jenner now Jeffree Star feuds with Lady Gaga's Little Monsters Beauty news
Derek Ridgers 10
Derek Ridgers on porn, plastic surgery and the changing face of beauty Icons
Kim Kardashian 4D Lift
Meet the woman behind Kim Kardashian’s 4D viral laser neck treatment Beauty Feature