These 14 Photos Challenge Mainstream Beauty Standards (NSFW)

Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
With every photo she takes, photographer Ashley Armitage aims to fill a void. "I'm interested in representing the female form in all of its various and imperfect ways because the media does not," she explains via email. Her body of work prominently features pubic hair, stretch marks, body rolls, and other physical features that, as far as she's concerned, have yet to be normalized in mainstream depictions of women.

"In media we see thin, white, cisgendered, and hairless girls photoshopped to the exclusive beauty standard," a standard that "leaves out the majority of women and girls," Armitage says. "My photography started as a way to free girls from the standard by showing that there are many definitions of beauty." She shows women at their most comfortable, fully at home in their own bodies. Isn't that how beauty should feel?

Click through for a selection of Armitage's recent work — images that are simultaneously raw and sensual. They feel intimate and even voyeuristic, partly because, yes, her subjects appear nude or in their underwear, but also because we so rarely see women's bodies depicted so honestly.

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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
Armitage acknowledges the intimacy and realism in her photos, explaining that "this dualism happens because of the intimacy between my subjects and me. Because of this intimacy, my photos sometimes become documentary. Sometimes on group shoots, I'll just tell my friends to hang out and talk while I capture it."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"So far, all of the people I've photographed have been my friends or friends of friends... My friends that I've shot are either already comfortable with their bodies, or they've told me that they want to shoot with me in order to feel better, like a photo shoot is a form of healing."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"I try to avoid posing. I try to just capture my friends as they would be naturally."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"Beauty is your best friend, your sister, your grandmother..."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"...It's all of us, and media needs to do a better job of showing that."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"We need to make room for more women in charge, behind the camera."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"When women are in charge, they tend to include other women, and show these women in three-dimensional ways."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"We not only need more women in charge, we need more people of color, more non-binary people, more transfolk. We need more diversity behind the scenes in order to have more diversity in the pictures."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
When asked how young women can overcome body shame, Armitage says, "I think a huge step has been the democratization of the internet. Now, almost anyone has the ability to log on and post their work for an audience to see. It's no longer that privileged of a thing to get your art out. Now we are able to self-fashion and self-represent. We can control our own image."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"There's a whole movement of young girls logging online and reclaiming an image that has historically been controlled by men. We're taking back what's ours!"
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"Every day I log onto Instagram to an inbox full of people (though mostly girls and women) saying things like, 'Thank you so much. I never liked my stretch marks, but now I'm finally starting to see them as beautiful,' or 'Thank you for representing us Brown girls!' or 'Your photography prompted my husband and I to have a talk about the beauty standard this morning in bed.'"
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"I just think that it's such an empowering thing to be able to see imagery that is relatable."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"I show body hair, stains, stretch marks, bruises, and cellulite because that's something we all have. For some people, it's uncomfortable to see my photos because they show bodies in ways we aren't used to seeing represented. But it's okay to experience discomfort, because that is the first step in becoming used to something."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"The more I take photos, the more this type of imagery will become normalized. How nice would it be if in the future, anyone could open a fashion magazine to see their body type represented?"
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