Designer & Artist
Founder Laura Jane interviews designer & artist Rachel Bowles aka @rachel_plates about the complexities of gender, creative inspiration and growing out body hair.
Laura Jane: You’re a recent college graduate. How has your college education impacted the way you think about body positivity?
Rachel: So I went to art school and studied graphic design so visuals and imagery are a big part of what I do, what I make, and how I learned. Going into college, I was very curious about a lot of things I may not have been exposed to or encouraged to question before.
I think my education has impacted the way I think about body positivity because as an artist, I strive to find beauty in things that may not fit the generic definition of what “beauty” is. Over time, I figured this kind of thinking applied to my body, not just my education. I came to love the things I hated about myself as I immersed myself in a creative field.
LJ: I know you’re an artist interested in topics of gender. How did you decide what topics you’re going to focus on?
R: I’m fascinated with human identity and how that varies from person to person. I love that the conversations around me are opening up as we gradually realize how much we allow this social construct to determine us as a society. I’m really interested in the images of identity that we as humans have created and how they can be deconstructed, reenvisioned, and remade. for me, I try to stay-up-to date with the news and what’s taking place in our world, with current events specifically related to female, femme bodies and their health. I think there is a very honest movement of more and more women displaying themselves as they truly are and pushing back these really outdated definitions of what a woman is and is capable of. I think a lot of us are tired. Our bodies are sacred and holy in the female form. I mean you look way back in history and art and the female form is always so revered, not in what she does but in who she is in her truest form. Once you realize that female bodies are beautiful, you realize all that shit that’s thrown at them and hold them down.
LJ: Tell me about your recent art project that has to do with body hair.
R: When I think of body image, unfortunately, I immediately think of my insecurities. But I think this is because I’m faced by them every day. I know them fully and I know I can’t have a positive body image until I make amends with the parts of myself I may not like. I have very dark body hair, everywhere. and I began to consider the impact this has on my self image, my weekly routines of maintaining my body, and the image I portray to others. My mom has gone to every means to remove her hair and that’s her preference, but I was always so ashamed of having it. Then removing it didn’t make me feel much better because removing it just felt shameful, like I was trying to hide something. I can appreciate smooth skin but buying razors and shaving often was just getting old and annoying. Then I started thinking, who started this?
For one of my senior capstone projects, I interviewed 200 women about their hair routines. I split it up into four sections: hair on your head, pits, arms, and pubic hair. I asked all the women what their routine was and in the end my results were kind of all over the place. So basically, I wanted to make something to portray that there isn’t some image you have to fulfill in order to be considered a strong independent woman in today’s society. Rather, it’s important to understand that it’s your body, therefore you can do with it what you wish. Some people, they prefer to shave everything. Some prefer to let everything grow out. I think, as long as you love what you’re doing, you should do it.
As part of my research, I decided I wouldn’t shave any of my body hair to experience other people’s responses to seeing something a little more uncommon. I went 7 months without shaving anything. I had different responses. Some people thought it was cute. My dad told me I wouldn’t find a guy that way. A guy I was seeing at the time wasn’t thrilled about it, but supported the statement I was exploring. I think it’s comical and interesting to maintain my own spin on these beauty standards while being a hairy woman.
We are taught that body hair is shameful. You develop hair on your body as your body matures and develops and it signifies that you are a women. To tell women to shave is not allowing them to be what they are in their truest form.
LJ: What is your own body image like?
R: I want to love my body in its truest form and get to know it better than anyone else. I want to see myself as I naturally am and be able to love it fully--my external self but also my internal self. We as women are obviously so much more than an appearance but I want my appearance to reflect and represent a female that loves herself honestly.
I lived in the mountains and it was pretty common to go swimming at the river on weekends. i was very aware of all my body hair at the time and so were other people. It’s this weird thing that happened that by putting my insecurities on display, it helped me deal with them and love myself.
I need to push myself to embrace those uncomfortable moments. If not, life gets too mundane and honestly a little boring. I want to push back to what is considered normal to question the idea of what women’s bodies are supposed to look like. These are things that are so ingrained in my head. I want to practice seeing my body do something that I’ve never done before yet am totally capable of doing in order to reverse my definition of what I think of as good. These standards of beauty are things I haven’t chosen for myself.
LJ: How was social media been a part of your body image?
R: Social media is really fun for me. I got into posting images I thought were cute but then if you looked closely you could see my legs were super hairy. It’s this juxtaposition that’s fun to play with. Why can’t body hair be cute? Why can’t our insecurities be embraced? What’s holding us back from thinking that way?
LJ: How has being Armenian impacted your body image?
R: So hereditarily, I’m hairy. In addition to that, I have a hormone imbalance that amps up my hair growth. That makes for a fun equation of “how the hell do i get my body to chill out or how do I get me to chill out about my body?” Armenian women are pretty hairy but like all of them get rid of all of it. I feel like the overall stereotype is hyper feminine, pretty sexual, like the Kardashians. This sets up this cool opportunity for me to embrace my femininity and sexuality but in a way that is specific to my own body and definition of what femininity is. Beauty standards within Armenian culture are pretty opposite of mine and it’s not all by choice.
With my hormone imbalance comes a lot of facial hair. There are negative connotations, you know like having beards as a women. There is that idea of the bearded lady in freak shows. I laser my facial hair because it gets so thick. I’m not at a place where I’m comfortable enough with growing it out like my leg hair. I’ve seen and heard of women that do and i think it’s totally kick-ass and I admire it a lot but I think I’m cool with my own preference for now.
LJ: How do you think women can change the culture of body image and develop their own positive body image?
R: I think we are in a very interesting place in time for women. We are further redefining what women can be and do. We are taking this on while pushing all the misogynist and patriarchal shit aside. I think we can change the culture of body image by keeping an open mind to things and people around us. A lot of my growth in identity came as a result of this. It plays a part in developing as a human in general. I think it’s important to not hold too tightly to what you know and always being open to a new perspective.
Another thing is, I’ve seen women develop a fuck you mentality. Women are going to get shit no matter what they do. Even if they follow the book, they will still get shit. If that’s the case, why not do what makes you feel the best about yourself and push the boundaries society has set up against you.
Pushing back to the male gaze is a mindset I have taken on as my choice but also out of necessity. Going out and wearing what I want because I love my body and love the way I feel when I wear certain things gets tainted with the fact that men feel they have the right to impose. For me, it's about confidence in who I am and what I won't accept from others around me.
I think a lot of body positivity starts in the mind. The state of your metal being affects the way you interact with others and carry yourself through spaces. As someone that has anxiety and depression, it's important to include the mental part and it's encouraging that in developing positive body image I can also conquer those mental illnesses by gradually learning to love myself in spite and alongside my insecurities. By including the mental part of it, we aren’t just talking about women in terms of appearance, like we are normally talked about. We have so much more to contribute.
This interview has been edited and condensed.