With a lens on body hair, an artist challenges notions of 'normal'

Her whole life, Esther Calixte-Bea thought she was the only woman with chest hair

Concordia student uses photography project to 'set herself free'

Concordia Fine Arts student Esther Calixte-Bea started a photo series, Lavender, to feel comfortable with her own body hair. (Esther Calixte-Bea)

After years of covering up, Esther Calixte-Bea was feeling boxed in. 

Calixte-Bea has had chest hair since she was 11. As a teenager, she gave herself painful scars and bumps as she attempted to wax and shave it off, believing that it wasn't normal for women to have.

"I would always hide it and I would never buy clothes that showed cleavage cause I was scared and I was uncomfortable and I just didn't know how to deal with it," Calixte-Bea told CBC's Let's Go. 

She always made sure to cover it up with clothing, and if her shirt should accidentally slip a little, she made sure to pull it back up right away. 

"I was tired of always hiding my body hair and I felt like I was living in a prison," said Calixte-Bea. 

"I thought by creating this project I'll be setting myself free in a sense." 

Studying painting and drawing at Concordia University, the 22-year-old is used to expressing herself through her art. She decided to make her next project something especially personal. 

She got to work and spent weeks sewing together a dress for herself: an elegant and long lavender dress, that was cut low enough to expose her chest on one side and high on the other— in case she changed her mind.

She then grabbed a tripod, walked to the park by her house, and photographed herself wearing it. 

The photo series, which she has posted through social media, is called Lavender because of the colour of her dress, and is meant to showcase the beauty of body hair. 

She had hoped the photos would make her feel more comfortable in her own skin, but their impact has gone further than that.

She was astounded to find that she wasn't the only woman with chest hair, and received several messages from women who said the series helped them feel more comfortable with their own. 

Esther Calixte-Bea was surprised to find there were almost no negative comments on her photos, though she did have a few people 'unfollow' her once she launched the project. (Submitted by Esther Calixte-Bea)

Calixte-Bea was also shocked to find there were almost no negative comments on her photos, though she did have a few people "unfollow" her for it.

"I feel free. I feel like I've helped myself but I'm also helping other people," said Calixte-Bea.

She said the project also made her realized just how much social media and media in general had warped her perception of herself, and has done the same for so many other women.

"We think that women do not have body hair, when it's completely normal," she said. 

She hopes to be able to change that in both her photography and her paintings. 

"I've decided as well to create characters that have body hair cause I really want to see that in museums and galleries. I feel like it's something that really needs to change — the way we think about the female body." 

With files from CBC's Let's Go