Photographer Ben Hopper is on a mission to help people understand why it is that society finds it such a big deal to see a woman with armpit hair. In his photos series titled "Natural Beauty," which he began in 2014, he's photographing and interviewing women who let their body hair grow uninterrupted for varying reasons. 

"Although armpit hair is a natural state it has become a statement," his website reads. "Why is that? For almost a century we have been brainwashed by the beauty industry, encouraging hair removal. By creating a contrast between common ‘fashionable’ female beauty and the raw unconventional look of female armpit hair, thoughts are intrigued and a discussion is made."

Below, see some select photos from Hopper's series alongside the thoughts of the women pictured. See the rest of them on his website.

Maya Felix

“I am mixed race and have quite fair sensitive skin and thick dark hair. This made shaving a very difficult and often painful process... My underarms were never ‘pretty’ or ‘feminine’. I hated it and was made miserable by it... I certainly couldn’t afford regular waxing at the age when societal pressure kicked in."

"When I was 15 I even asked my mum for laser hair removal for my birthday (luckily my mum is a badass feminist who has never really conformed to ‘beauty’ standards or bothered with non-essential grooming and firmly said, ‘No, your body is beautiful, you don’t need to burn it with lasers’). When I was about 17 and in my first serious relationship with a boy who loved my body a lot more than I did, I decided to try something radical. I decided to stop putting myself through pain, to stop being angry with my body for not being the way I wanted it; I stopped shaving."

"I think everyone should try going without any non-essential grooming at some point in their life. It will shave (pun intended) lots of time off your routine, and it’s really interesting to see what your body naturally does. You may find it freeing and empowering. You may even find that you like the way it looks as I did, and if you don’t, you can always just go back to shaving, no harm done.”

Jess Waldman

“As a teenager, I remember trying to stuff myself into a box of what a girl should be like. It always felt uncomfortable; padded bras, shoes that hurt, and shaving rash. Running, swimming, and climbing have helped me to see the strength and resilience in my body and to love it for what it is. Growing my armpit hair has been a recent experiment, and the longer it gets, the more I like it! I like the way it looks and feels. It has given me a new respect for myself. So I say, embrace growth, and if it pleases you, let it all grow!”

Kyotocat

"I felt so relieved and free when I let [my armpit hair] grow out. It felt like being able to breathe. It was incredibly comfortable too. I felt a confidence and boldness returning, like I was replenishing some kind of primal power."

"People revere my decision as a feminist and bold political statement, which is ironic, considering how almost everybody has some kind of body hair. It is also funny because I am lazy and keeping it is the path of least resistance."

"There are people who are exceptionally rude and who speak from fear. People who say it’s dirty and that I must be a man. The more important questions to ponder are rather why and how do we live in a culture/society that has deemed it acceptable for certain people to have body hair, and unacceptable for others? Isn’t it absurd that it is socially acceptable for humans to have lots of hair on their head, but not on other parts of their same body? Isn’t it ridiculous and ironic that what grows naturally on its own is seen as unnatural? How did we get here?"

Jessica Hargreaves

“I originally stopped shaving maybe five or six years ago, really for physical reasons at first — my skin has keratosis pilaris (those little bumps, like ‘chicken skin’), and so shaving was a nightmare, particularly on my legs.... I tried a few different hair removal methods but nothing really worked, and eventually, I started to feel that my body was protesting, so I just stopped."

"When I stopped shaving, I finally felt free of my body’s reaction to hair removal and all the pain and hours spent exfoliating, just for my skin to look terrible anyway. At first, I wasn’t sure about how it looked, but I’ve really grown to love my body hair, and I’ve never had any complaints from people whose opinion I care about."

Jess Cummin

“I stopped shaving at the age of 18. I was suffering from PTSD as the result of rape and was trying to regain autonomy over my body in any way I knew how. I had also reached a breaking point with the amount of catcalling and sexual advances I was experiencing and was willing to go to any extreme to protect myself from that. It didn’t take long for my body hair to become obvious, and within the space of about a month, I was already noticing the shift in attitude from men towards me, which reinforced the importance of continuing this. It also awoke deep anger and frustration that shaving was an expectancy for women and our beauty was dependent on it."

"It made me feel simultaneously embarrassed and empowered... The like-minded women around me celebrated it and embraced my armpits. It took longer for family and friends to be on board with it (with moments of encouraging me to shave for family events or holidays), but they too came around. Men took no effort in hiding their disgust; they called me dirty, unclean, smelly, feminist(!), gross, or other things along those lines. They fetishized me in a way that made me feel incredibly uneasy."