Hairy on the Inside

Contemporary ArtReviews
Installation view of Hairy on the Inside at Cooke Latham Gallery

Lindsey Mendick’s new solo show Hairy on the Inside felt like a “coming out”. The work revealed a secret hairy identity shared by the werewolf patients at Mendick’s clinic, by the artist, and by me.

As I caught the bus to Cooke Latham Gallery in Battersea, I wondered if anyone there would realise that I too suffered from the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the subject of the show. Going to the space felt scary and liberating. I wasn’t sure if it would be better if people noticed or not. Last minute, I remembered I’d have a mask on, and I was already wearing a “too hot for this sunny weather” turtle-neck, so I’d remain undercover.

Of course — as I often remind myself — just because I never talk to anyone about my PCOS, doesn’t mean people haven’t realised I’ve got it.

Mendick’s werewolves weren’t hiding their diagnosis. They sat in a brightly coloured waiting room on functional chairs, dressed in hospital slips patterned with female reproductive systems. Looking at them made me sad. They were a bit disgusting, a bit unsavoury, with huge ceramic toes poking out of ceramic crocs.

The same toes clawed their way out of glossy plant pots, refusing to remain hidden.

Lindsey Mendick, Patient 5, 2021

I took a seat on my own waiting-room chair to watch a film by Mendick and her artist partner Guy Oliver. The image was cropped tightly around her lower face, bright red lipstick with blurred edges, soft down on upper lip, wiry stubborn curls on chin. I found it uncomfortable to watch and — to my shame — immediately imagined waxing it all off. I couldn’t imagine how she could let the world see, draw attention in, blow it up, stake out her territory.

The footage cut intermittently to scenes from werewolf dramas: a rippling, bulging spine, faces and bodies contorting as hidden identities burst into view, uncontainable. Mendick recounts tragic sexual experiences I never had, but the fear of which stopped me from having sex at all.

It hadn’t been easy to grow out her facial hair, she told me. Far harder than she’d even imagined. Like me, she’d been thankful for mask wearing — some small protection, another thing to hide behind. And all of this despite the contradiction to her feminist ideals and to body positive mantras. Between what you advocate for other people, and what you are able to accept for yourself.

I should be able to love myself how I am. I should embrace what makes me different. I don’t want to spend time and money changing the way I look. I felt like I’d failed, betrayed myself, when I decided to try laser hair removal a few years ago.

Mendick is encouraged to wax her upper lip after her dad can’t stop looking at it. A painful reminder of how hair is policed, and shame and disgust are instilled by those around us. She addresses the shame that even resides in how and where to remove hair that is simply “too hairy”. Relief when one boyfriend is not horrified by an accident involving a bag of trimmed pubic hair.

The film ends with Mendick at a hair removal clinic. It is calm and no longer interrupted by intrusive werewolf footage. I wonder if this is the same clinic the werewolves with their ceramic faces and toes have come to. If these werewolf women are having the same inner turmoil I am, or if they are happier and more at ease now they are “out” and in the company of others a little bit like them. I wonder how Mendick feels now having made this work.

Installation view of Hairy on the Inside at Cooke Latham Gallery