NSFW: The Instagram Fight For Pubic Hair

Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
At first glance, this might look like a typical racy Instagram post: a shot of someone's bikini bottoms. But as you look closer, you start to notice some dark shading around the suit. Yep, that's pubic hair — something many women are told to hide at all costs. Welcome to the Instagram account of photographer Ashley Armitage, where dreamy scenes of girls lounging by a pool are peppered with body hair (lots of it), tampons, period stains, and granny panties.

"I’m interested in creating a platform for girls, by girls, completely the female gaze," says Armitage (who is also starting Girls by Girls Agency with another female photographer). The narrative that emerges throughout Armitage's work shows the behind-the-scenes of female young adulthood — how girls create femininity, live in it, and break its supposed "rules."

Much of the project is collaborative: "It’s often both me and the models deciding what we want to create together, and both parties have agency. I'm giving the woman power, not taking it from her," Armitage says. "My friend who did the pubic hair photo, she's always like, 'Oh, take photos of my leg hair...take photos of my pubic hair; it looks so cute today.' [And I thought], now is a good time to post this photo of my friend's natural body, up close. It says, 'Hey, we have a choice. This is beautiful, too."

Click through to see a sampling of Armitage's images — and the internet's reaction to them.

Ed. note: All the women photographed nude in this series are at least 20 years old.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
Armitage has consistently embraced body hair in her images and has been kicked off Instagram a few times though her followers' reactions to her work have always been warm. "It started positive," she says. "A bunch of women said 'amen,' 'thank you so much,' 'we need this type of representation.'" But when Armitage posted this photo, everything changed.

"I wasn't expecting that much of a negative reaction," explains Armitage. "But then one person came in and said something really hateful, tagged their friends in it, and those people came in and tagged their friends." The criticisms snowballed — as often happens on the internet.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
Commenters began scrolling through the rest of Armitage's feed as well, complaining about earlier photos that also featured pubic hair. "I was watching every single commenter, and there were 45-year-old dads with Instagram photos on their profiles with their daughters and their wives. They were commenting on this photo of my friend, calling her a whore," Armitage says.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"It would be so sad to me [if] a young girl already has in her mind that the natural body she will grow into is unhygienic, and [if] it was already ingrained in the boy's mind to shame and police [a] body that is not [his]."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
That particular photo was flagged and taken down, but Armitage decided to repost it with this caption: "This photo does not break the rules of Instagram. This does not show 'sexual intercourse, genitals, or fully nude buttocks,' as their rules say aren't allowed. There are millions of photos of girls in bikinis on Instagram. The censorship of a photo that shows a natural bikini line is like saying a woman's natural body is obscene, abnormal, and unacceptable. It's like saying that in order to be decent and acceptable, we must shave."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"For me, the point of this is to take the hyper-feminine, take the cliché and things that would typically be used against us, and reclaim it and maybe subvert it," Armitage says.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"I think my photography from afar will look like another teenage chick flick, and [when] you kind of go closer to it, you see, oh, the girl putting on lipstick has a ton of lip hair," Armitage says.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"I want to show more representation," she continues.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
Most of Armitage's models are her friends, and she takes care to include their viewpoints in her work. "I’m giving them a chance to represent themselves as they want to be represented, so it’s a huge collaborative process," she explains.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
Body hair is common in Armitage's world in Seattle, and dyeing armpit hair is a trend. "I’m not saying shaving is bad," Armitage clarifies. "I feel like it’s totally a choice, and I want to show that."
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
"I think I live in a pretty liberal bubble," she adds.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.
So, despite the trolls, Armitage doesn't see her mission changing anytime soon. "Posting that [blue bikini] photo and receiving the slew of negative comments confirmed that this is what I need to keep doing, and this is what needs to be done," she says. "There were a lot of real powerful ladies chiming in, saying, 'thank you so much.'"
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