Fashion designers, activists and models tell us about the significance of their hair

The twenty-three-year-old, gender-fluid designer has a bold look and an even bolder message. Harris took time out of their busy schedule dressing everyone from Harry Styles to Solange, whilst also becoming the face of Gucci’s first ever gender-fluid fragrance, to talk hair, identity and breaking gender boundaries with GLAMOUR.

What inspired you to start your brand?

When I came to London four years ago, I was thrown into this amazing melting pot of people really pushing boundaries when it came to their sexuality and their bodies and self-expression.

I quickly fell into thinking ‘Who am I? Who is Harris Reed?’ It pushed me to just be completely comfortable with who I am, and I took that bit of myself and pushed it into my work.

Were you your own inspiration?

The second I started making clothes for myself, as a being of gender fluidity, it all started to come together. I didn’t really see anyone at that time that I felt fully expressed who I was and what I wanted to stand for – because I’m not just here to make pretty clothes, I’m here to make clothes with purpose.

It’s so important to love yourself and I think to enable that self-love I made this fashion baby. When I wear my own pieces, I feel extremely empowered. I put a bit of myself into everything I create, so when I’m wearing it, I feel like the most heightened, fabulous version of me.

Do you think you’re designing at a turning point for fashion?

Not that I don’t have my own hardships that I deal with, but I really do think I’m very lucky to be living in a time of increased self-acceptance and, thanks to social media, increased awareness. I think it’s’ great that brands like Gucci and Burberry are fighting for equilibrium.

Even if it is for commercial purpose, it is still making a stand that there doesn’t have to be this segregation in fashion: this is female, this is male. I would 100% want to see all brands go gender-fluid. If a brand is endorsing that, they are endorsing a message. Whatever the intention is, that is sending waves through the fashion industry that this is no longer male/female: everyone can wear what the f*** they want. Just be who you truly are. Acceptance is acceptance.

How would you define your personal style?

Glam Rock Androgyny. It’s a lot of flouncy blouses, Edwardian detail, Old world hybrid 2019 fluid being- always looking to the future. People always ask me who my customer is and I’m like: they don’t exist yet!

What have been the high points of your career?

Probably Harry Styles performing on the biggest stage in Asia in a complete bespoke look we worked on together. Harry reached out to me and he really has been the biggest supporter of my career so far. He understood my message completely. Another highlight was Alessandro Michele asking me to walk for Gucci, as a gender-fluid designer, during his cruise show in Arles. As I walked, the first person I saw was Elton John; it was such a surreal experience. And then becoming the global face of their first ever gender-fluid fragrance – with Harry Styles!

Has creating your brand helped with your own journey of self-acceptance?

Taking a stance of ‘this is who I am, and this is what I stand for’ within the fashion space has really helped me with who I am as an individual. The more I affirm that message of self-acceptance, the more I affirm my own self-acceptance.

How has your hair formed a part of your identity?

Finding myself in my design aesthetic – my hair was a really big part of that. Once I grew my hair out, people would always think I was female, and I see the power that hair and beauty have to change people’s perception of you. I think I have grown in confidence with it. The more I own it – like dyeing it this bright orange – my confidence skyrockets. I feel so much more myself with my hair this length.

Do you think your visibility will help others?

I want to create clothes and create a conversation. My favourite thing is to read my DMs – and sometimes I get hundreds a day – from people who say that just seeing me or reading things I’ve said have helped them come out, or accept themselves. And that’s just from me being myself and visible. It’s so important. I had a great support network when I was growing up, but I still had no one really to look up to – people I saw myself in. If I can encapsulate that 5% for somebody, that’s all I need to do.

Maya Felix

Who knew not shaving your armpits could be so revolutionary? Twenty-four year-old model and activist Maya Felix tells GLAMOUR why taking ownership over your own body can be so powerful.

Why did you decide to grow out your armpit hair?

I was fourteen and at the time it wasn’t this big statement, this political act. My dad is black and my mum is white, so I have fair, sensitive skin but darker, thicker hair. I was anxious about my armpits all the time. I would shave and have stubble and irritation later that same day. It would be red and bleeding, and I could feel the irritation all the time. It affected my confidence. I would even go swimming with a t shirt on. I felt ashamed of my body. I felt something was wrong with me that I had hair like this. All the adverts you would see on TV would be sexy, smooth women. You don’t even see hair on shaving ads! I never saw body hair to begin with – so seeing my own felt so alien to me. My decision was to go the other way.

What has that decision meant for you?

It took a while to get used to it. But living without the rashes and the pain was wonderful and eventually I got more and more comfortable with it and realised I liked the way it looked on me. It was liberating not caring if anyone else didn’t like it. It’s just hair – I have metres of it on my head! People always ask if partners have ever minded about my hair, but I personally wouldn’t be with someone who wanted to change my body. The reality is that seeing body hair on women is still alien to people – even now people dart their eyes to my armpits when I lift up my arms. When I share photos on Instagram people think I am sharing a photo of my armpits, but it is just a photo of me, and my arm happens to be up, and my armpit happens to be unshaved. You would never comment like that if a woman’s armpit was shaved.

What online reactions do you get?

I get negative messages from trolls and disturbing messages from people who have hair fetishes, but for every one of them I get ten positive messages from someone who says I have changed their way of seeing things, or that I have made them feel more comfortable in their own skin. One time I had a guy message me to say his younger sister was really self-conscious about her darker body hair and he had shown her my profile and it helped her to see someone who had body hair like her and wasn’t ashamed of it. Some people have told me they show my profile to young kids to talk to them about beauty standards. I find that really touching. It’s very humbling.

What message do you hope to get across?

All I want to encourage people to do – especially women – is examine the choices they are making for their bodies and really consider is this really for me, does it make me feel happier or more beautiful and why is that? If I am spending hours shaving my legs, why is that? Sometimes I even shave my legs – because I like the feel of it. But normally I don’t, and all those choices are my own.

Does it play a part in your feminism?

Absolutely, in that it is about choice. There can be this tendency to judge each other’s feminism – ‘oh you wear makeup, you’re a bad feminist.’ I think instead that we should recognise that prioritising your own happiness and comfort and your own choices is what feminism is. I have zero judgment for women who shave for themselves, whatever lets you be the best version of yourself. A lot of the decisions that we make about our bodies are the result of external pressures but if you are OK with that, then that’s OK. Everyone has their own priorities and that’s fine – so long as you are not shaming anyone else for their decision. Personal circumstances play a huge part in everyone’s decision. I’ve had messages from people who say that their friends make fun of them for not shaving, and that their family is unsupportive. Or people in the trans community, for whom shaving, or not shaving, carries a very different symbolic weight.

Do you think the cultural conversation is changing?

Yes, but I think women with body hair are still boxed off as a particular ‘type’ of woman. I think representation is key to changing that. We need to see women with body hair and different types of female beauty on screen. It would make a huge difference. Too many young women still think they have to remove all their body hair as soon as they have it for hygiene reasons, while it is somehow perfectly acceptable for men to keep theirs. Trying to break that idea, you need to start seeing women with body hair in magazines – and not just as a one-off. It needs to be something that you wouldn’t bat an eyelid at. We’re still in a place where just by being yourself you are breaking a beauty standard. Hopefully we will get to a place where no one really cares what we do with our own bodies!

Harnaam Kaur

The inspirational speaker and social activist shares her powerful message of self-acceptance with GLAMOUR.

As a young girl battling PCOS, having facial hair, it was horrendous. It’s horrendous for anyone to deal with. I went through bullying and that self-hate led to self-harm and thoughts of suicide. I had immense depression and I still have social anxiety.

Growing my beard out, I kept telling myself, if you want to look different, you better get used to this – because you’re going to face racism, you’re going to face discrimination, you are going to be faced with people who are going to hate your guts. I thought leaving school it would be better but in the adult world there was so much hatred and arrogance and ignorance. I still get death threats. I always get asked about my hair.

What is it about a woman’s hair that is so intriguing to people? Why is it that every single day I am asked about why I keep my hair, but a man keeps his beard, or shaves it, and no one f****ing questions it? As soon as a woman empowers herself by keeping her body hair, people are like, ‘oh, are you a feminist, are you a lesbian?’ There has to be a label attached to it.

I am just being me. My hair grows naturally on my face, so I am going to keep it there. It doesn’t have to be a political act. And even if I do shave other parts of my body, that doesn’t mean that I don’t like myself, or have self-love. It doesn’t counteract anything.

I live by my body, my rules.

People think it is brave and empowering – I understand that, but I’m just being me. I keep my beard because it’s on my body and I decide what I do with my body. If I remove my hair, if I keep my hair – the answer will still be the same. I liberate myself, I am strong because of me, not because of hair.

I have a story to tell to help people heal. I’m here to add value to people, no matter what. People think that people who look different have no self-confidence, and I’m here to tell you that is not the case. You think that just because I have hair on me, I’m going to not have confidence? Well, you’ve come across the wrong b****.

People see this as my job, but I don’t see it as a job – I see it as my passion. It has taken me a long time to stand up and say I’m going to help people. I’ve gone through it, and other people are going through a lot of body shaming and bullying – it’s universal. I will be doing myself and this society an injustice by not speaking my truth. How can I go through all the trauma that I went through and not help others?

I know that now, people are starting to commodify self-love and body confidence, but for people who have gone through a lot of trauma, self-love is really hard. So my message is not about self-love anymore, it is about being kind to ourselves. I think that’s where it starts. It has been a really long journey for me, but it’s come from knowing who I am as a person. It has come from the strength that I gave myself – being able to be true to the person I am.

My beard can go tomorrow, but my message will stay. The way that I make people feel will stay in their hearts.

Samone Shanyelle

Signed to agencies in Los Angeles and London, model Samone, 20, shares her experiences of modelling with braids and natural hair.

We love your braids, how long does it take to do them?

It takes me four hours to do my hair, but I’ve mastered it now. I just sit back and watch a whole season on Netflix while I braid. I love it.

Modelling with your hair, has anyone ever asked you to change it?

No, I’ve been super lucky, no one has ever tried to make me something I’m not. Sometimes they want my hair natural and curly, which is great too, but braids are definitely my look. It’s part of my identity.

How do your braids make you feel?

When I have my braids, I’m like ‘Samone Shanyelle.’ When I leave my hair curly, I’m just Samone. It gives me that ego, that power. This is bad girl confidence, super strong and creative. It’s a mood.

Camille Munn Francis

24-year-old, London-based model Camille tells her story.

Tell us about your relationship with your hair?

When I was younger, I used to plead my mum to let me straighten my hair. I would look at magazines and it was mostly white women with super straight hair. That was what was considered beautiful back then and so that was what I wanted.

What does your hair mean to you?

When the Natural Hair movement came to the UK it was so good for me – it was really empowering. I’ve gone through such a long time not being happy with my hair and now I am at the stage where I have healthy hair that I love. But my hair is me now – take it or leave it. It’s powerful. When people say they love my hair now I can say, ‘yeah, so do I!’

What does it mean to you, to be a model with natural hair?

Representation is so important. I’m so happy that now, young black women will be able to see natural hair in magazines. They’ll know, if you’ve got it: flaunt it!

Bethany Cross aka Yellabambi

Bethany Cross aka Yellabambi is a 21-year-old Astrophysics student and influencer, here she tells us about her hair story.

Why did you first decide to start dyeing your hair?

I was just getting really bored with my natural colour and so I decided to start dyeing it. I was incorporating it into the makeup looks I was doing. The first few days I dyed it blonde and then almost immediately I dyed it pink. I just get so bored with one hair colour.

How do you maintain it?
It’s a semi-permanent colour and I do it all myself. Getting this rainbow look is really hard – I have to wing it at the back because I can’t see it. I then have to protect my hair with deep conditioning masks.

What does your hair mean to you?
I think constantly changing my hair colour is how I express myself. It changes my mood when I change colour. It makes me feel more confident. I hated my curly hair before. I love it now. I’ve empowered myself. I think my hair has given other people confidence with their curly hair as well, because so many people don’t feel confident with curly hair – I didn’t. I love to think that someone might see my hair and feel better about their own.”

Elizabeth Yeoman

Model and student, 21.

Have you always had really long hair?
I used to have super short hair actually! One day I just decided to try and grow it really long to see if I could. It only took a few months. Now it’s become a part of me, it’s my USP.

Is it easy to maintain?
It does take up about half a bottle of Tresemmé conditioner a week. I have to sleep with it plaited so that it doesn’t get tangled or damaged. I try not to use too many things on it. I don’t bleach it or colour it, I try and keep it as healthy as possible and I’ll put heat defence spray on my hair on shoots.

Are you defined by your hair?
Because of the length of it and the colour, it feels dreamy, it feels lightweight and whimsical and I think people immediately associate certain things with my hair. They think I’m a real girly girl. It’s not the case. Like me, my hair just does its own thing most of the time.

Amber Jean Rowan

Actress and model and founder of @Hairfreelife, 26.

What was it like to lose your hair at 15?
It was a gradual thing, so it wasn’t too dramatic. With each patch that fell off, there was a bigger and bigger realisation that it was falling out. It was nice that it was gradual, in a way, because at each stage I could slowly come to terms with it. The day it was all gone – that was one of those shocking moments that stays with you though. It was a time that made me feel really fearful – and it’s an especially scary time where you are already feeling vulnerable.

How does losing your hair define you?
I spent a long time struggling with that – I don’t want alopecia to be the thing that defines me. It took me a really long time to go on this journey, because I didn’t want to be ‘Amber – the girl with no hair.’ But now I have seen it in a different light. People will think that, and it’s fine, but it’s all about challenging how I perceive it.

Tell us about @hairfreelife…
I started it because it was exactly what I would have wanted when I was going through this at 15. Alopecia will not stop you doing everything you want to do, and I want to show that through this account, so that other people can see what it really means to live with it.

Laura Jackson

What made you first grow out your body hair?
I wrote and performed a one woman show at university in May 2018 and the show was about challenging gender stereotypes and what it means to be ‘a lady.’ The format was a gameshow and the last round had the audience shaving off my body hair. For that I had to grow out my hair for it. It was the first time I had intentional body hair.

The first few weeks were quite uncomfortable, mentally. I was really self-conscious and it was during that heatwave last year – so I was just constantly covering myself up with long jeans. It was interesting that I kept saying to people. ‘I’m doing it for a show – this isn’t my life choice.’ I think I was worried that people would judge me and put me in a particular body hair stereotype. Instead of judging it or rejecting it, I started to actually like this part of me.

I grew it out again after the show. It was interesting, even family members and close friends – who loved me as a person – couldn’t understand it. They were questioning it. When someone breaks that norm, people don’t understand it. My mum was like, ‘Are you being lazy, are you doing it to prove a point? Why can’t you just be normal?’ It doesn’t have to be a political act if you just want to be yourself.

How do you find the different treatment men receive about body hair?
I find it quite funny. I have been in the car with my brother and he’s seen my leg hair and said ‘urgh that’s disgusting’ and so I’ve looked at his leg hair and said ‘urgh, that’s disgusting’ and he’s had to be like ‘oh, yeah, fair play.’

After having further conversations with my mum, she’s realised how weird it is that she was even asking me that. She has realised it’s actually weirder that we do shave than that we don’t. I think more work needs to be done to accept one another in this way.

How did you start Januhairy?
I went to a Women of the World festival and we were talking about body hair and the differences between men and women. They were saying that men have Movember and so women should have something similar. I shouted out “Januhairy!” and then later on I thought, ‘Someone should really do this.’ I actually thought it would just be something small for me and my friends and some family members. I just wanted something to give women an incentive – you want to challenge yourself, but you kind of need a reason to do so. And then this January, it spread all over the world. It was overwhelming that it had happened – although it was while I was studying and doing my dissertation, so I didn’t have a lot of time to stress about it. I think it is so great that these conversations are happening now – it needed to happen. We are going to keep it going for next year and make it bigger and better, because we think it is so important.

Did you get any negative reactions to Januhairy?
Of course, there has been plenty of backlash against it too. At first I was a bit thrown by the negative comments as I wasn’t used to it. These were quite horrible and actually a lot of them were from women. They were saying it’s disgusting. One said it was ‘unnatural.’ My replies were just to ask why? People often can’t explain what they mean when you ask why. To be honest, the negative comments actually helped, because it showed why we were doing this. My ex-boyfriend was with me when I started growing out my body hair and he actually thought it was unhygienic for women. He had assumed that was the reason women didn’t grow it out. Isn’t that interesting?

I had Piers Morgan going on about it on TV and talking about how men don’t like women to be hairy. The negative stuff really exposed the unfair double standards about body hair.

How is your self-confidence linked to your body hair now?
I have good days and bad days – as you can have with any part of your body. You can promote body positivity and still feel negative about your body sometimes. It can be difficult – body hair is still something that isn’t normalised as much as it needs to be. There are times when I am by myself in public that I feel nervous – strangers will look at you weirdly and make comments. It can really affect your mental health. On the tube, when you put your arms up and people look at your armpit hair, you do feel self-conscious, but on some days I love that – I’m like, ‘Look at this, look at a woman with body hair.’ I actually find it easy on holiday – it feels like a different world and a very different mindset. Also, people assume it will be tricky with partners, but guys have found the fact that I love myself in that way really sexy. They’ve said they don’t see that type of body confidence in women very often, which is sad.

What does your body hair mean to you?
It means love and acceptance and having the confidence to learn to love something that you’ve been shaming yourself for having. It means respecting your own body, and being kind to it.

Sophia Hadjipanteli

Model and Founder of #unibrowmovement.

What made you first grow out your eyebrows?
Growing up I was always the sort of person who experimented with my look – different hair colours, crazy outfits. I used to get teased about my look a lot and that sort of built up a thicker skin over time. It made me less susceptible to pressure from other people. I was already doing what I wanted to do with outfits, it was only a matter of time before I did that with my beauty routine. There was just a day when I didn’t do my eyebrows and at the time, I didn’t see the significance of leaving something undone that society wants you to touch.

Did it feel like a statement?
I was already doing it and I then just felt that society was holding me back. I come from a Greek Cypriot family, where we’re all pretty hairy, so that was never really a thing. My biggest inspiration is actually my grandmother – she was such a strong woman and her appearance was never the reason people appreciated her. That became powerful for me. She had amazing eyebrows. I never knew it was a big deal. I think it was a time in my life, not a specific moment. When you’re trying to flee from a box there will always be people trying to put you back in that box. I never realised until I was being teased for my outfits. Social media was also not a thing back then – I couldn’t imagine having made this decision if it had been.

What messages do you get on social media?
For every positive message there is someone who is trying to counteract that. I always like to stand up for myself, so I always have this urge to challenge what they are thinking. It frustrated me when I first got those messages – I wasn’t allowed to say what I felt. I think that’s why I shifted my platform to discussing things that really mattered. The issue I was representing was fighting people who were trying to put you down for not conforming.

Tell us about the unibrow movement?
I don’t think people were really doing it before. It became this incredible thing and I am so proud of it. When you can visit each hashtag, it feels like you’re visiting a profile; it has become a community and a safe space for people and that’s all I wanted – for people who are like minded to come together. It has become a space for people who feel different. It’s where I find my favourite accounts to follow.

How have you eyebrows featured in your modelling career?
My eyebrows are not for everyone – they are for me, because I wear them every day. If there were not for me, they would be long gone. My eyebrows have become my USP, they are my signature. I don’t think they always will be. If I wanted to, I would get rid of them, but I would be going against everything I stood for, if I felt chained to them the same way people feel chained to plucking them. But I do feel a strong connection to my eyebrows now, because they are still not accepted. I first grew them for selfish reasons, but now I feel like I am doing it for other people, which makes it more important.

What do your eyebrows mean to you?
My eyebrows mean independence. I have grabbed society’s control over me and I am holding on to it. I get told I would be so beautiful if I fixed my eyebrows. I decide what I want to do with me, and it makes me feel so powerful. The only opinion on your beauty you should listen to should be your own. I could be your definition of gorgeous, but I want to be my definition of beautiful.

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