Esther Calixte-Bea, aka @queen_esie on Instagram is a body hair activist and painter. Her journey to embracing her body hair was a long and ongoing process, which all solidified in the Summer of 2019 when she created a photography series called The Lavender Project.
The Lavender Project is a photography series for which I created a dress that showed my chest hair for the first time. I took pictures and I posted the series on Instagram. That’s when I became my authentic self. I wasn’t hiding my body hair anymore.
Ever since then, she's been making photography series such as this one where she shows her body hair proudly. Her message? That women can have body hair and be beautiful. That body hair IS beautiful—and above all, completely natural on women’s bodies. Through her work, she hopes to inspire others to proudly own their body hair, to be a role model for many. Even more, the activist in her, hopes to open up a larger conversation. Esther wants people to question and challenge themselves, as well as their perception of beauty.
Why is this not normal on a woman’s body, but OK on a man’s body? Why is body hair seen as something masculine when women also have body hair, have beards and all these things.
Esther goes on to say:
Why am I doing this? Why am I removing my body hair? Why is my body fighting back if it’s completely natural for women not to have body hair?
When did your chest hair start coming in and how did it make you feel?
I was 11 the first time that I remember seeing that I had chest hair. It was my graduation, and I had to remove my chest hair with wax. All my life, I didn’t particularly hate my chest hair. I just hated being hairy in general. I was tired of it. I was tired of wasting hours removing all the body hair on my entire body. I would prevent myself from going swimming, from wearing certain outfits. It became such a burden. At that age, I realized that I was different. I didn’t know any other girls that were as hairy as I was, and that affected me.
In high school, I used to have sideburns. One day, I was tired of cutting them, so I just let them grow. A friend said: ‘Oh my gosh, Esther has sideburns!’ That put all the attention on me. I was so shy and insecure, and I felt so embarrassed. High school is so difficult and going through that was not something I wanted, so I kept cutting them, hiding and making sure that no one ever saw it.
What would you tell your high school self today?
I would tell her to hang on. I couldn’t say: ‘Hey, you should show your chest hair!’ No. That would have never happened. I wasn’t at the level of confidence as I am today. The high school me wouldn’t have been able to go through that. I wasn’t ready for all that. I’d just tell her to hang on, and that one day, the part that she hates the most about herself will be her greatest strength.
When did you stop removing your body hair?
In 2019, I slowly stopped removing my chest hair. I used to just remove above because I used to wear crop tops and I didn’t want the hair to be seen. After The Lavender Project, I made the decision to just stop removing it. In May of 2020, I challenged myself for a body hair movement in Montreal called Mes poils to stop shaving my leg hairs. I had to push myself to be able to do this. I had to put myself in situations that were uncomfortable. I told myself to try, and if I wasn't able, I could just go back to shaving my legs. I wanted to completely be free. I wanted to feel like it was a choice to remove or keep my body hair. I wanted to stop hating my body. So I went out, and I got stared at.
What do you tell yourself on a day that you’re not feeling as confident?
I talk in the mirror. I look at myself and I tell myself: 'I am beautiful.’ I do that every single morning, and every single night. It’s a type of encouragement that I have been taught by my mother. It’s important to also believe in what you say. That’s what I do everyday, and I pray to my God. All that really strengthens me everyday.
Before I was doing this for myself but now, it’s bigger than me. I have to keep going for others as well, and to show that it’s possible. It’s kind of like I’m the test subject, in a way. I’m just showing that you can love yourself fully and others will too, at the end of the day.
How do you find true authenticity when the media and beauty industry dictate beauty standards?
Consume the right things. Know that you have that power. Don’t let yourself be a slave to the media, to the corporations that are trying to make you believe that you have an issue or a problem. Say: 'No, I don’t accept this.' Recognize how much it’s influencing you and the way you see yourself. You have to keep asking yourself questions.
I think social media and Instagram is the most incredible tool. We get to see different kinds of bodies, different types of beauty. In a way, you’re in control of what you consume on Instagram. You can choose to only follow certain kinds of people. If you want to become more confident, you have to know who to follow, and who not to follow. For example, I don’t follow women that have a different body type than I do because I don’t want to start internalising this.
Art has an energy. You have to be able to see if it’s a negative energy or positive energy. Do you feel more beautiful by looking at this image? Do you feel better about yourself by looking at this image? You have to be able to question yourself and to say no, I’m not going to consume this anymore.
You can follow Esther's body activist account on Instagram, @queen_esie and her artist @artist_esie for more inspiration. You can also follow her YouTube channel Queen Esie to get a peak into her life and motivational tools to learn to love your authentic self.