Model Behavior: Me, Myself and My Body Hair

In her first column for ELLE, model Poppy Okotcha tells us how fashion made her love her body hair

MOST POPULAR

A couple of years ago I realised I had been religiously removing my body hair almost constantly since I was 12. I'm now 20.

There is something disturbing about that fact. How can a 12-year-old possibly make an informed decision on how she wants to wear her body hair? How can she decide she dislikes it before she's even tried it? She can't. She can't make an informed decision because society has made it for her, society has told her to dislike her public hair - her leg hair, her armpit hair, her top lip hair, her downy back and her too bushy eye brows.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

So I decided I was going to take back ownership of my body. Not to be dictated to by society (pornography, social media, or even the fashion industry). I decided to stop shaving my legs when I first started modeling 2 years ago I promised I would stay true to this. Surprisingly, working as a model within the fashion industry has made me realise that I am the one in control. I just thought I wasn't.

MOST POPULAR

I spent last week shooting in LA. On arrival I went straight to the fitting. While there, another model, the face of the brand, proudly announced they operated a no Photoshop policy, to promote a realistic standard of beauty. I then discovered we would be wearing lingerie and swimwear.

We were going to be open and honest about our bodies, so I got really excited. I love working for a positive cause.

As I checked into my hotel room after fitting, the implications of no airbrushing began to sink in. Airbrushing fixes the 'flaws' you wouldn't even notice, makes you perfectly unobtainable, even for yourself. My legs, which I now never shave wouldn't be made smooth. The bumps on my recently waxed bikini line wouldn't be buffed. And I'd forgotten to shave my armpits for long enough that they were nowhere near silkily airbrushed.

The thing is I like all these 'imperfections'. I feel feminine regardless of never shaving my legs, I don't care that my vagina doesn't look like a Barbie dolls, it's not meant to. But the moment I imagine other people might mind I begin to mind on their behalf too. I begin thinking maybe I should have waxed my legs, maybe I should laser remove hair on my bikini line in order to avoid bumps, I should be more militant about remembering to shave my armpits... And all not because I fancy it but because I feel I should fancy it.

My freedom of choice over how I care for my body slowly starts trickling away.

So... resolved not to offer to shave just to please I graced the shoot hairy arm-pitted and proud. After all, the brand message was: you're beautiful no matter what.

No one batted an eyelid on that shoot. No one ever has on any shoot.

I wish younger me knew this. Younger me who's biggest anxiety was body hair since the first remarks from peers. Saying I really ought to start shaving my underarms because they were looking quite hairy and besides, they all shaved.

We were just 12. From then on, like every girl In school, I meticulously removed every last hair from my body the night before P.E. Not because I wanted to but because I thought I had to.

The thing is I don't actually think it's wrong to keep or remove body hair. I think it's wrong to feel obliged, from such a young age, to do one or another, feel that one is good and one is bad. We should feel comfortable either way. Our bodies are our own.

Hairy or not hairy, both are ok. I can't believe it was the fashion industry that made me realise this.

Experiencing the fashion industry from the inside has been eye opening. I've never felt pushed to change myself and I now know first hand that no model genuinely looks as she does in that swimwear shoot. Even without Photo shop, there's lighting, angles, professional make-up, and the photo you see is edited from hundreds where the model doesn't look like that.

Open dialogue about body image and body hair, what's real or not real is crucial. People say this all the time but we need to keep saying it, until we don't need to anymore.

More from ELLE UK: