He loves hair, or more specifically body hair. Embracing one’s own body image in its natural state is a challenge. There always seems to be some sort of insecurity brewing beneath the skin. This includes everything from the size of one’s curves to the hair on a person’s knuckles. With little variation in social norms regarding ‘acceptable’ appearance, it is easy to understand where these insecurities may develop from. In order to promote self-love, Chris Pieneman injects some diversity through his photography and articles.
Rhey: Where did your passion for ‘empower self-confidence in a natural body’ come from?
Chris: My passion for confidence in a natural body comes from two distinctly different areas – my experiences and confrontations around my own body hair and body composition.
Rhey: What does a typical day in the life of Chris Pieneman look like?
Chris: Wake up and feed the cat. Drink 12oz glass of water with lemon squeezed into it. Maybe two. Eat water-containing fruit. Listen to a few favourite musical tracks, stretch, make coffee and bask in the rising sunlight.
I start working on whatever I’m working on that day, pretty much as early as I can. No two days are alike. Sometimes I’m out in the city looking at buildings for my consulting practice or in my office doing desk work.
Nowadays, I enjoy shutting off and being with my daughter in the afternoon and evening.
Rhey: If you were not a photographer, what would you be doing?
Chris: I am also a graduate of the University of Waterloo’s engineering faculty, and when I don’t have a camera in my hand, I run a consulting business in the restoration of aging or deteriorating high rise exterior cladding.
Rhey: What is your guilty pleasure when it comes to photography, if any?
Chris: Going for the close up.
Rhey: Which project or photo shoot had the most impact on you, for better or for worse?
Chris: The Kickstarter campaign related to funding a proposed body-hair positive fashion show was particularly difficult. There was a long lead time in planning it, a variety of curveballs, changes made on the fly and countless hours in preparation that all culminated to an unsuccessful Kickstarter. Regardless, I am quite pleased with the quality of the experience that was shared during its making. The collaborative and creative spaces that we explore inside of a project like this are truly one of a kind. Nobody in media has ever talked about this subject as openly and as frankly as is happening today, and I see all of that as a really good thing.
Rhey: Why call it “Women with Hairy Arms”? Why not call it “Men with Fuzzy Uni brows” or “Women with Hairy Legs”?
Chris: Arms are sort of this last battleground for hair removal on women, and can be a real source of embarrassment for those that have it. Everything else has been so heavily regulated by imaginary social constructs that women really believe they don’t have a choice but to remove their hair.
I am finding that hair removal, for those that do it, can be felt as sort of fashionable. And I say that if it empowers you to be your best self, then go for it. But where hair removal is done out of shame and embarrassment, I say its possible to turn those feelings around. In our advanced world, I think we can each afford ourselves the freedom to choose to be embarrassed about something natural on our body, or we can choose to love ourselves for the miracle that we are. We are living in the information age, and so this project is the source of information around loving yourself including your hair that you might have thought was unwanted.
The artist in me is totally fascinated by the look of the human body and how intricate and endlessly balanced it is. Arms are definitely my favourite part of the body. The more and more arms I began to observe unnaturally hairless, I simply got the feeling that something was missing… something looks unbalanced to me – manufactured. So, my hope is that this project will spread the information and empowerment that is necessary to help turn that around, even just a little bit.
Rhey: What would you say to all the single people who believe that they are not attractive enough to be wanted or to belong?
Chris: Too often do we fear taking an action because of a thought or fear that is not based in any truth in reality. When we think, “I’m not good enough for _______”, it is most of the time something that was created inside our head. Then because we are experts at self-denigration, we’ll gather evidence from our life to support our hypothesis. I have done this in all areas of my life at one time or another. I was a champion at it when I was a single guy in middle and high school. Most of us do it all the time.
The solution for me was to set up a system to simply remind myself that I was good enough. I put a daily reminder in my phone at 7am every single day to inform me that I was good enough. Smart enough. Driven enough. Worth doing it for. Worth loving. Attractive enough. Athletic enough. I also put it on a magnet on my fridge and in my wife’s daily calendar. We both became good enough together after a few months and found that everything about our relationship got better and better. After a while with these kinds of inputs and with others, one tends to change the hard-wiring in the brain.
Now, I’m thinking about getting those super-large letters that people usually have in their living room that spell out “HOME” or “FAMILY”, but instead I want to put it in my bedroom. I will spell out “You’re worth it” or “I’m great” – not to become a practicing narcissist, but to have a confident state of mind thrust upon me every day when I wake up.
Another thing I do to change the beliefs about myself is I ask myself semi-rhetorical questions that are written out on the inside cover of my day planner. They are questions that leave my brain searching for the answer in the background of my daily goings-on. Questions whose answers are marvellous additions to the enrichment of life, such as “What actions can I take to become better at everything I do?” or “Where can I provide more value to the people who depend on me?”. Anyone can ask themselves such questions, the point however is not to actually answer them in detail, but to craft questions that will cause your sub-conscious to be working constructively.
All these things put into practise helped me go from not good enough for a lot of things, to very happy almost every day. (Hey, traffic is still a downer!)
Rhey: If you had to use one photograph to explain to the diverse demographic of Canada what is beautiful, what would it depict?
Chris: People from other places don’t really understand what a melting pot is but I have a concept for a photo that is a variety of vibrantly-coloured whole foods and ingredients together in a very large cauldron.
Rhey: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to improve their self-confidence and self-esteem?
Chris: What you think about most often becomes your reality. If your reality is a dark place then actively seek or implement structure to create different, lighter thoughts. Change surroundings, create new habits and talk to a nutritionist to ensure what you are eating is a total match for the kind of life you want to live. Most people, even people who think they eat well, unless they have had an education about how nutrition actually affects the body, don’t really know what healthy looks like. A healthy body (gut biome specifically) has been clinically proven to bring health to an unhealthy mind.
Rhey: What are the greatest challenges you have/had with practicing self-love?
Chris: When my wife and I competed in the sport of bodybuilding, we were around a lot of really competitive athletes and begun to compare our bodies to theirs as it related to our particular division. During that time we both had an issue with self-love because we weren’t built the same as other competitors who had been into it for much longer. We didn’t exactly stack up and so when we looked at ourselves in the mirror all we saw is where we needed to change in order to compete better. This is fine if we wanted our lives to be all about that world, but we knew that participating in competitive bodybuilding was an experience from which we would eventually move on.
Also when I was a kid, I remember sitting down and seeing the skin folded at my stomach and believing it was gross. I can thank my Mom for my then fat-phobia, as she was thin and the rest of the women in her family were not, so she was actively looking to remain thin and vocalised this to me. The underlying thinking rubbed off on me. Today I am past that, and I love all of my skin whether its folded or not.
Note: 1. AS UR brand founded by Chris Pieneman in Toronto, Ontario. (Canada)
2. Discovered through Kickstarter.