Image Essay: ‘For the Love of Hair’ by Leila Koren
By: Leila Koren
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I have been thinking a lot lately about my own body hair, hair in general, and how media censorship is particularly harsh on pubic hair.
Canadian artist and writer Petra Collins had her Instagram account deleted over an image of pubic hair. She responded with a great article on censorship and the female body and it made me wonder, what is the problem? I am offended by a lot of things I see in the media, but pubic hair is not one of them. It seems to me a visual reminder of sexual adulthood in human beings – a concept that the wider media industry seems to find extremely threatening.
I grew my pubic and underarm hair out this year, not as a political act, nor as a sexual fetish, but just for pleasure. Growing up in Australia, you barely think about whether or not to remove your hair, so it’s good to challenge the paradigm that says we must be hairless.
I spoke with a guy who shaves off all his body hair because he likes it. I spoke with others who lament the uniformly smooth bodies seen in media and in sexual contexts. Hair love, no hair, or some hair – each person has their own story.
For this essay, I recorded each of my subjects talking about their personal relationship with their own androgenic hair. I took photos of them on a Polaroid Land camera, a Leica and a Canon. Everyone’s story was beautiful and unique, and I thank each person for sharing their intimate feelings and thoughts with me.
It’s sensual and liberating, the relationship between my hair and myself.
First, I grew it out because I wanted to accept myself the way I am. After a while, I appreciated it more. It’s sensual, because the smell changes in potency. Hair is raw and natural. And it’s liberating to be able to choose whether to have it or not, and how to wear it.
The beauty of it is that I don’t have to prepare myself to be presentable. I wake up and I am presentable.
There was a lot of pressure to get rid of all my body hair when I first joined my football club. Smooth bodies were somehow seen to be more acceptable.
There was no sporting reason for this and the new recruits each year would be ridiculed for their body hair. After two years of waxing, my hair has grown back.
I love my hair now – it is part of who I am, and part of my sexuality. I like hair on other people too. The pheromones drive me wild.
Hairiness to me is at the core of masculinity. It’s very sexy on a man. Facial hair – beards and moustaches – is part of the beauty of being a man. My partner calls my chest hair “fur”. It’s very loving when he rests his head on my fur.
I find fur very masculine and sexy. On the other side, I find it tender and soothing and a comfort to snuggle into. When I was younger and first coming out as gay, it was different. I used to get rid of it. I used to shave my crack hair off and it was terribly bristly.
I can’t remember when, but I eventually let it grow back. I then met someone who said it was beautiful and appreciated it fully. I thought, “Wow, there are people like that? That is who I need to find.”
For me, cultivating an aesthetic is a fun, creative part of self-expression. Hair is a really big part of that.
I find the ritual of grooming very relaxing, and there is something nostalgic about taking a little time out of the day to make sure you’re looking your best. I love my barber, Tony at Sterling HQ in Sydney. There’s community around a place like that and it’s a little indulgent, which I enjoy.
As for my mo, I’ve grown very attached to it, or vice versa. It may not be the thickest, most luscious moustache, but it’s got style. I could be overselling it, but I like to think it’s a little Clark Gable.
When I stopped shaving my pits, my sex life also grew out: I like to think there is a direct correlation between my underarm hair and the quality of sex I’m having.
Around the time I put down the razor, I was also questioning how I had formed my sexual identity. I realised a fair chunk of it was handed to me by social norms. (Thanks, Norm.) The blonde hairs under my arms emerged, and while they grew, I started to develop and deepen my understanding of my own sexual identity, rather than just inheriting it.
The shift in attitude may have had the most significant part to play in the quality of my sex… but let’s just say armpit hair changed my sex life.
This essay originally appeared in Archer Magazine #2.
My disability helped me embrace my queerness: Re-evaluating masculinity through the gift of weakness
The socio-sexual landscape of scars
Teaching while androgynous: Broaching gender with kids vs. adults
The medicalisation of gender fluidity: Forget me not
Painful love: Sex, disability and vaginismus
Sex and fluids: Navigating bodily secretions
Boxing for bravery: Risk, transitioning and a warrior’s spirit