Sorry I'm a Mammal - Where are all the hairy women in art? A Conversation with Luba Dalu
By Shaina Joy Machlus
Illustrations by Luba dalu
Many magical things happen when one has the pleasure of writing a column about women and body hair; my armpit tufts suddenly reached new heights, I found myself, on more than one occasion, telling my mustache in the mirror, “don’t you look cute today?” Women I did not know began to reach out to me about their own hairy experiences and traumas, sending me stories and continually tagging me in pictures, illustrations, and art that contained women with body hair.
While I am not one to put too much stock into social media, it is undeniable that something inside of me shifts when I see a photo or piece of art that features a hairy woman. What is so important about a few follicly-full DMs? Well, if art is a type of beauty thermometer, traditionally, women with body hair would register somewhere between cold and Antarctic freezing. My own bodily reaction of soft wonder and solidarity made it glaringly obvious how few opportunities I had had in my life to see women with body hair in artwork, and the toll this took on my own notions of who deserved to be labeled a “masterpiece”.
In an internet bursting with hateful messages, I received the gift of being overwhelmed with constant reminders of how vast and diverse beauty truly is; something that extends much farther than hair vs no hair. A woman frolicking on the beach in a bikini, with hair peeking out of both her armpits and the folds of her bathing suit bottom. Another with gold hoop earrings, lips painted scarlet red, and a beautiful, sexy and full beard. And then there were Luzs’ (known as @lubadalu) illustrations. Her drawings are vignettes, messages inside messages. Her characters are simply living their life, many times with a small, simple coffee-mug bubble of wisdom. Each highlight the quality of being hairy while not singling it out as something obscene. The old oxymoron of putting something into the background in order for it to come into focus. The characters are powerful, they are casual, different shapes, sizes, and personalities who just happen to be hairy. Demonstrating that a brush stroke is a brush stroke, until it is not.
For Luz and other women artists, it stretches beyond portraying different women differently, but the additional layer of a woman literally taking portrayal into their own hands. Staggering statistics like those by “The Dinner Party” artist and art-educator Judy Chicago, “work by women artists makes up only 3–5% of major permanent collections in the U.S. and Europe, and 34% in Australian state museums,” (for the Guardian, Countess Report) prove that although women are commonly featured in art as objects, they rarely have ownership over representation. Apart from “high art” featured in museums, the art market, in general, is still no place for a woman, “in the list of top 100 individual works sold between 2011-2016, only two artists were women” (artnet News). The Gorilla Girlz have been telling us for years, and others beforehand, the disparities in the art world are as depressing as they are unending. Now add in the additional baggage of drawing women in a nontraditional way, and their likelihood for recognition, according to my calculations, are statistically infinitesimal. As always, it can not be ignored that being a non-white woman, a trans woman, or anyone else outside of the cis, heterosexual, able-bodied, white paradigm of womanhood means you have an even greater, unjustly-high wall to scale.
The ability to shape and shift these beauty norms seems nothing short of a superpower, and art clearly contains this capacity (for better, or for worse). And here, in the “for the better,” lies serious hope. I wanted to talk to an artist, to Luz, about her work, her decision to draw outside of the normal guidelines and if it was a conscience decision at all. Women taking control over how they are represented in art is directly connected to women taking control over their own imagine because it is never actually about hair, but about having the freedom to paint themselves magnificent.
Hi Luz! We would all love to know about you...
I’m from Argentina, but I’ve lived in Barcelona since I was five. I studied fine arts, but didn’t draw much during those years because I thought I was very bad at it. The only drawings I did were doodles in my class notes. I leaned towards sculpture, maybe because my grandfather was a sculptor himself, and I also loved the presence of stone.
After finishing my degree I stopped creating for a while, I didn’t know how to do art outside of art school. Little by little I began to draw again, and I found that illustration allowed me to be “bad,” meaning that I didn’t have to really respect proportions or realism and could just focus on expressing whatever I wanted. Still, I wasn’t sharing my work until I started a postgraduate course in literary translation (trying to make a living off of art is not that easy). I began to draw in class and decided to challenge myself to make a drawing everyday and to upload it to Instagram. And I never stopped!
My experience in the world of illustration is a bit of an outsider’s perspective at the moment, I mostly work by myself (although I hope to change that soon), but I love the virtual community created from sharing works in social media, it allowed me to discover many wonderful artists from around the world, it’s a constant inspiration.
Your drawings feature women with body hair. When was the first time you decided to draw a hairy woman? Was it a conscious decision? How did it feel?
One day, some years ago, when I had recently started to explore illustration, I was drawing a couple of girls. It was a black and white ink drawing, and I wanted to do some kind of texture on one of the girl’s pants. I started drawing little lines and I felt upset because it looked like hairs on her legs. It was a WTF moment for me, as I myself don’t shave my legs. I already considered myself a feminist at the moment, and theoretically knew that women were “allowed” to have body hair, but I felt disgusted anyway. I started to reflect about how I virtually never saw body hair in women represented in art, or in any kind of representation of beauty.
I decided to start drawing hairy women as a shock therapy for myself and to try to help other women stop feeling uneasy and disgusted about something so innocuous about our own bodies. It felt really great, as it allowed me to explore and start to deconstruct a set of beauty standards with which I don’t align. When I started to share it, the response was overwhelmingly positive. It makes me really, really happy every time someone tells me my drawings helps them to accept themselves and to see their own beauty.
When was the first time you can remember seeing other illustrations or art containing hairy women?
Rocio Salazar was the first illustrator I saw drawing hairy women, and it really helped me reconsider why I felt the way I felt about my own body hair, about other women’s body hair, and beauty standards and expectations in general, and how it is a cage in which the vast majority of us try so hard to fit into. Her illustration portrayed a woman with hairy legs and armpits posing the question “¿Y si no me depilo más? (What if I don't wax more?)". It was so sweet and simple, and powerful at the same time.
Can you talk a little about body hair being represented or absent in the way women are portrayed in illustration and other art forms?
Before answering, I want to clarify that I’ll be talking about western art, as it is what I’m more familiar with. Traditionally, one of the intentions of art is to represent beauty, and the mainstream/dominant idea of beauty is very narrow. Also, women in art are vastly portrayed as objects; a painting of a naked woman or of a vase is basically the same, it’s intended to be something pretty to look at, decorative. Women are presented as they are expected (demanded) to be. I feel that western art has made a great effort to portray women as some sort of ethereal, pretty, mythical creatures.
And for body hair in art, although it hasn’t always been like this, in this day and age, women are expected to be hairless. Art wants to represent beautiful women, and beautiful women have no body hair, ew.
What makes me hopeful is that it’s becoming something more common, more mainstream. I guess feminism in general is “trendy” now, and so art that goes against the beauty standards is getting more exposure, or at least is being allowed to exist a bit more. Of course, there’s still many limits, and it’s still counterculture. It’s also affected other kinds of oppression, such as racism, fatphobia, or transphobia.
Do you wish there was more body hair in art? Why or why not?
I wish there was more diversity in general, but I also wish that (mainstream) art stopped using women as beautiful things to be displayed and viewed. I personally started working around the taboo of female body hair because it’s such an innocent thing, just hair, virtually every woman has it. Why do we have to be at war with our bodies? I imagine that a larger portrayal of body hair will lead to more acceptance of it.
Why is it important to draw women with hair on their legs, armpits, etc?
I firmly believe that representation matters a lot. Hair is only one issue, but the mainstream representation of beauty (and of women in particular) is so narrow that makes it really hard for the majority of people to feel content with their appearance. It’s another form of control and to produce a demand for products to achieve the “right” looks. Freeing (or beginning to) oneself from this kind of expectations is a catalyst for a wider change. I’ve heard/read this idea many times before, and is so true: imagine how would you feel, how much more energy and time and happiness would you have if you weren’t all the time forced to worry about looking a certain way.
Has drawing with body hair changed the way you feel about your own body hair? How?
Absolutely. I’ve never shaved my legs (I’m not very hairy there), but I used to shave my armpits, and felt ashamed when I didn’t, or if my leg hair was more visible. Now I feel empowered and happy to flaunt and show my locks and strands.*
*(I recognize that I’m privileged to not be very hairy and generally attractive according to the beauty standard, and also to not have to conform to any dressing code as I work from home)
Is body hair political for you?
I wish it wasn’t, it shouldn’t be, but it is. It should be no one else’s business what you decide to do with your body, with the way you look, but as long as it is invisibilized and stigmatized, it will be political.
Is your art political for you?
For me politics is not something abstract, it’s a set of beliefs and ethics that affects our everyday lives. I consider my art political. I talk about the things that worry me, things that I consider important, with an intention to help create a positive change, one person at a time. If representing diverse bodies, being open about personal struggles or mental health helps people to feel better, less alone, less oppressed, less marginalized, I consider this to be political.
What is your favorite body hair to draw?
I like it all, it’s really fun to draw, but especially the legs, because it can be so diverse. Short, just growing back, long and fine, curly. It’s like drawing a meadow.
Who are some of your other favorite illustrators who draw hairy women?
I know most of them from instagram, I’ll say the handles and people can find them. @loukoumh makes super sweet watercolour drawings, @clubclitoris is a beast, amazing, @mirandajillmillen makes me weak in the knees, @ghostsinmyramen draws monster girls and the monstrosities of online dating, @charlinebataille is a tattooer and artist and her drawings are just incredible, @saltandchilli_emma draws super tender queer punk folks.