Petra Collins, Artist

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"I’m from Toronto; I’m an artist. My main medium is photography, and I also love curating which I’ve been doing since I was 15—I’m 21 now. I started out taking photos of my friends on, like, disposable cameras and I documented my younger sister and her friends all through high school. I went to their prom and then their graduation party. The photos are so emotional, I didn’t even realize until I got the film developed how many feelings I had about that time. So I have this archive of them since they were, like, 12 or 13. The show that I just had called Discharge was basically a retrospective of my work from that period to now.

I shoot girls and women more than anything else because when I started taking photos I was at the age of puberty. So I was kind of torn between myself and my body and that’s what I was focusing on. Photography was a way for me to work out all those feelings. I continued with that theme because I find it so interesting to document young girls transitioning and that age. That’s why I started this selfie series, because it’s so fascinating to see how girls behave in front of the camera and how they change their face and posture their bodies when they take photos of themselves. I want the real-world version of what they look like, I wish that they wouldn’t feel the need to change themselves. So I find it interesting to photograph that process, because it reveals that real-world version of the girl. The ‘mirror face,’ too is really interesting. Like yesterday, I was getting dressed and I noticed I was doing something really weird with my nose in the mirror. It’s so subconscious; I don’t even normally realize that I’m doing it. I can't hate on that kind of duck face thing, because I probably do it!

ON FEMINISM

It’s really complicated and not complicated at the same time to understand why some people don’t want to call themselves feminists. I think it’s because of its history of not being so inclusive. Feminism is really scary to people, and a lot of people have the wrong idea about it. I remember in my first year of university, my teacher was like, ‘Who in this class would call themselves a feminist?’ and people were scared to put their hands up. I, too, hesitated, then I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ I don’t think it’s necessary for someone to call herself or himself a feminist… I do think there are so many negative things inserted into the concept when it’s really just about equality. It’s almost taboo because there’s so much confusion. The word still exists because men and women are not equally balanced, but it will only disappear once that happens—which won’t be for a while! [Laughs]

I don’t feel like I necessarily represent what it’s like to be 21 today, or 15 or 16 for that matter. It’s hard to be confident in everything, to say that you can do whatever you want. Especially breaking into a workforce or a certain type of art, I think women always feel the need to ask for permission. I never asked for permission, I just started taking photos. I was really driven; I worked so I could buy my own film—I didn't come from a wealthy background. I mean, I do have my privileges, being a white woman, and I was lucky enough to have a great support system and great teachers. Though I never had an outlet for my work, so I had to make one for myself, like Tavi with Rookie. I started a website called The Ardorous, which is my all-female art collective, a platform where woman can post their work. I would hope that I’m a good enough person to be a role model—that would be awesome! I hope what I’m doing is inspiring girls to do the same, to do what they want and not be scared. I think it’s a great way to teach people to be.

SKINCARE

I approach beauty the same way I approach clothing—I think people should do whatever to themselves to make them feel more comfortable in their skin. I’m really low-maintenance and don’t like spending a lot of time on things, so my beauty routine has to be quick and something I can do wherever. Like, sometimes I’m in the woods, literally! I also don’t like to spend a lot of time washing my face, or washing things off my face. I just got this Mineral Fusion Ultimate Moisture Facial cleanser from Whole Foods. I spend a lot of time at Whole Foods reading the back of the bottles, but usually I’ll just pick up the prettiest. I’ll be like, ‘Oh, this looks good, as a whole… Oh that looks like something my dermatologist would give me!’ I do the same thing with creams, I accidentally bought this Avène Cicalfate Restorative Skin Cream thinking it was face cream, but apparently it’s for scars. It looks pretty and it has no scent, which I love. My skin is dry and super sensitive, so I try to use the most baby product I can find. I need something that won’t bug my skin at all. I have crazy allergies, so I don’t wear perfume. I like natural scent, I like body odor. Well, obviously if you love someone their body odor smells good, but I don’t want to tell everyone to not put deodorant on because that’s not good. [Laughs]

MAKEUP

I’m not really a makeup girl. My essentials are my phone, lip balm, and keys. I don’t like the responsibility of keeping up with a bag, so I have small stuff I can keep in my pocket or I’ll put things in the top part of my overalls. The cash register line at Sephora is where I buy most of my beauty products, because they have all the small travel-sized stuff in the bins there. I like the look of a natural flush and a natural lip, so all of my makeup is basically lip and cheek balms. I like something I can put on and will stay on me all day, which is why I use stains. I use a combo of three—Tarte True Love Cheek Stain is good, but it doesn’t really stay on. I can take it with me though, and I can’t take the Posietint or the Benetint along. I like the Posietint because it really actually stains, you put a dot on and it stays. Benetint I use all the time, but it’ll spill. The applicator should be bigger, or it should be a sponge. I can’t apply it on the go; it’s such a process. I use three fingers and swipe it on really quickly, or I’ll use my own sponge. Dr Hauschka Lip Care Stick is my favorite balm. I love Smith’s balm because of the scent, but if my lips are dry I use the Dr. Hauschka. I use Tarte Amazonian Clay Waterproof Concealer if I have blemishes, but the really good one is the Mineral Fusion Concealer, it never broke my skin out—that’s my favorite.

HAIR

I don’t do anything to my hair. It dries really quickly, I just washed it. It’s very fine, but I have a lot of it. I like when my hair is big, so I brush out my curls. There's no specific shampoo or conditioner I use because I've tried so many and feel like they all do the same thing—though, I find that I can’t use natural shampoo, it just doesn’t really work for me. It won't foam like I want it to. I love Dr. Bronner’s, but for everything but my hair. People say you can use it for everything, but it didn’t work. I never color my hair, and I don’t think I ever will. Not that I have anything against it, it’s just so fine so I’m scared to put color on it.

BODY HAIR

It’s been about five years since I’ve shaved. I started growing out my body hair the first year in university after reading The Last Taboo: Women and Body Hair. I was just really fascinated about what happens when we go through puberty, and why once we do we try to go back to pre-pubescence. It wasn’t anything that I ever really thought of, but it just clicked in my head—like we suddenly try to conceal our shape and we don’t talk about our periods at all. It’s this weird thing when we pretend we’re still 12, not a woman or an adult, which is kind of twisted. It’s such an industry, too, so it’s strange that there’s almost nothing written about this natural thing that’s happening that we’re trying to change. With guys it’s more of an aesthetic choice, but for women it’s something else. Like in shaving ads they don’t even show hair when they’re shaving it off! It’s just a bare leg. Isn’t that crazy? I guess it’s just so disgusting. I never really shaved often anyway because my skin is so sensitive and my hair is so white, but I did shave my legs and trim my pubes until I decided to experiment on my body and choose not to do that. Slowly I became more comfortable with it and I’m really happy that I’ve been able to deprogram my mind in that way.

BODY IMAGE

I wish I could deprogram my mind in other ways, like with body image. I wish I didn’t think about what my body looks like. It can be done, it’s just a long process. It took me until I was 18 or 19 to really get boobs and now I’m still in the phase where I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I have boobs!’ My favorite feature is my butt because my boobs are so small. I have this really big obsession with Levi’s jeans—I have like 10 pairs of the same 501s because I think those look the best on me. People look the best when they feel the most comfortable, so I buy 10 of the same thing if I really like it. Another thing that I found interesting about growing my hair on my body is that it almost desexualized me in some ways. So I have hairy armpits, but will wear short dresses—I like daring people to think differently. I want to be able to be like, ‘I’m hot and I’m in control of my body.’"

—as told to ITG

Petra Collins photographed by Emily Weiss on May 28, 2014 in New York. 

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Julia

    LOVE LOVE her hair, specially the waves on the forehead!!! And in the two first pictures she looks breathtakingly beautiful!

  • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

    ITG, I hate to choose favorites, but I think this is my favorite Top Shelf thus far. It struck a really personal chord with me. I even have Petra's vagina T-shirt!

    I have followed and grown up with Tavi and her friends, from her days as tween blogging sensation to editor-in-chief of, in my opinion, the best platform for teen girls of all time. Petra has been a huge inspiration to me in many ways, initially capturing my attention with her photography, and later herself. I think what makes Petra and Tavi and friends (I shall just call them the Rookies), is that they have paved out this path for themselves using the tools they know. With a lot of young folk the tagline is "oh, yes, she's a really good [.........], for her age!" and these girls have changed that. Their accomplishments go far beyond age. They are talented in their own right. The internet has undeniably made it easier to connect, share, and encourage like-minded girls. There's a lot of positive space, but what I appreciate most is the honesty. Like the "There Will Be Blood" photoseries on The Ardorous, because lord knows I've had a public bleeding or two (one story involves a white dress and my babysitting to tween neighbor boys.....).

    I know that Petra has certainly made me more comfortable with openly calling myself a feminist. She's right. For a group that was founded on equality, there certainly was a lot of oppressiveness in other ways. I suppose I can understand some of that, probably fueled by anger of being so oppressed for being female, but feminism in many ways has lost its pretentious cloud thanks in part to Petra et al. In this fourth (?) wave of feminism, there are no "rules," and I really haven't seen anyone play that ambiguous game "Bad Feminist/Good Feminist." Feminism doesn't mean we can't wish our hips were narrower or we can't nurture the urge to cry into the shoulder of man. Rather, I think it's being knowledgeable about your options and who/what corporation is feeding your perhaps distorted perception of what you should or shouldn't be, both physically and mentally.

    As for beauty, I must admit that Petra has also been a source of inspiration in that sense, too. I have actually gone back and forth as to whether or not I should perm my hair in order to achieve Petra's 'do, which I love so much. The problem is that I am afraid of chemicals on the head. If I wasn't, I would have my best approximation of her curls on my head, right now. I guess I should do a little more research in order to make it happen.

    It's hard to try to put years and years worth of feelings into a comment -- especially as I am walking out the door -- so all I can really say now is: thank you a million times over. To Petra, to ITG, to all the young women and older women and oldest women who tell so many honest stories each day. X

    • Lauren

      rock on girl

      • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

        You too, girl. You too.

    • Louise

      Alice Lancaster was actually the artist behind the Period Vagina t- shirt, Petra just curated it.

      • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

        Yes! I love Alice! Have you seen her Seinfeld tote bags?

    • Badedasforever

      As much as I enjoyed this Top Shelf (and I did), what really cheered was your response, Emma Hager. As a 39 year old feminist, I look at our current culture and think things now are made way too tough for young women. So, I'm really impressed at your sincerity and thoughtfulness. I can tell you want to pursue a life of meaning and respect--respect for others and for yourself. So, it really made my day knowing that, despite all the obstacles that our culture puts out, there are young women like you who persist. Good on you!

      • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

        This made my day. Thank you so much for your kind words. I appreciate your taking the time to write this.

    • http://lerablogs.blogspot.com/ Lera

      Do a perm if you want to! I was afraid of the chemicals, etc. but I love curls. Talk to your stylist, follow the instructions carefully and everything is going to be cool.

    • F

      So well written! Thank you!

      • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

        No, no, thank you! :)

  • sabah

    Amazing. That is all.

  • http://taliashulze.com/ Talia

    She is so articulate and smart, it's inspiring.

  • felineloulou

    i loved this sooo much. i've read so many great things on itg by women i look up to and admire but this has to be my absolute favorite. petra's strength is inspirational. THANK YOU!!

  • tera

    would love to leave my curly hair loose and fluffy like this, but how does she keep it out of her eyes/face especially when working??

  • http://badoutfitgreatlipstick.blogspot.com Nae

    "Like in shaving ads they don’t even show hair when they’re shaving it off! It’s just a bare leg. Isn’t that crazy"

    Oh, man, this is one of my biggest pet peeves when I read a magazine. You're trying to prove that your product is going to get the hair off of my body; how is slathering some on to a perfectly-waxed, uber-made-up leg going to prove that?!

    And on that note: I salute her for not shaving. It's not my personal preference (I don't shave my legs often, but when I do, I always love how they feel), but I've had friends who decided not to shave, and I've never understood the insanity that inspires. "Ew, why don't you shave?!" ....people, it's just hair. It's not going to hurt you.

    • Yolondi

      Do you know my pet peeve? Ads for pads and tampons that use blue liquid to demonstrate absorbency. Seriously, we all know its red, just use red!! I hate it!! I might not flinch as much if they used something close to the real deal to demonstrate!!

      • http://badoutfitgreatlipstick.blogspot.com Nae

        Apparently, they don't want to "freak people out." Just furthers the misconceptions about periods, IMO. My students read "Even the Queen" last semester, followed by some articles about the misconceptions people have about periods, and it was just a revelation.

  • Madeline

    I love Petra! So smart and her work is stunning. Great to see her on ITG.

  • holydances

    Does ANYBODY in NYC know where I can find vintage Levi 501s? Been looking everywhere, but i don't know where to go!

    • magicmollys

      What Goes Around Comes Around is $$$$$ but they have them! Maybe have a drink before you go in though because sticker shock

      • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

        It's insane how inflated the prices can be on those things. I was at a flea market in Amsterdam recently and nearly every item of clothing was going for less than 5 euros, except the Levi's 501s, which were going for 25 euros.

        • inubiyamarsha

          Emma I respect your views. I can tell you are beautiful and smart and I will read about you soon. Please if you perm your hair make sure the products are natural and not too much chemical. All the best!

          • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma Hager

            Thank you so much for this comment! Being part of such a great community of readers makes this site all the more special (and ITG was already pretty freakin' special.)

            And thank you for the perm advice!

    • lg

      I highly recommend the Grand Street Bakery, on grand street in williamsburg, Brooklyn for vintage denim...they have tons of stuff for girls and guys, reasonably priced. Good selection of local jewlery/natural products as well.

    • http://taliashulze.com/ Talia

      Ebay aka where all my money goes :)

  • Sarika

    I think that not removing body hair is great and all (my grandad's a doctor, and he says that the hair aids our immune system - long story), but Petra's hair is white anyway; like, I'm Indian, and all the hair on my body is black. I get where Petra's coming from, but it's not something I could do, personally.
    I get her point about shaving ads though, that really annoys me (and how they all have big smiles in waxing ads as they wax their BARE LEGS).

    • Lola

      I don't want to underestimate your struggle with hair, but if that's you on your picture, I assume your skin is darker. Now picture this: a white, transparently pale skin, with veeeery thick, black hair EVERYWHERE (including unibrow, above my my upper lip, etc), grossly hairy legs, bikini zone and yes(!), pubic zone... that's me... so I am sorry, but it's quite easy for this elfin looking, blonde beauty to say she doesn't shave.

      • Sarika

        Lola, I feel for you :( and while I don't share your exact struggle, I totally get how that feels
        My picture has a filter on it, but my skin is MAC NC42 in the middle of winter, and I'm Indian, so it's "expected", I suppose, or at least not that extraordinary - but even so, it's hard being 11 years old and being told you're a "gorilla" because your leg hair is so long it curls. It wasn't even an uncommon experience. Those kinds of things really take their toll on you, especially in your younger years before you develop a thicker skin.
        I think that the theory behind Petra not shaving her legs is great. But besides my personal insecurities, smooth legs feel bloody amazing, especially to a former "gorilla".

        • Lola

          Hahaha... well, i can tell you one thing, you grew up to be have a wonderful personality! I really love everything that empowers women, but would hate to see someone berating us for putting more effort into looking and thus feeling good (I am not saying this post was about that, I am just sharing my thoughts).

    • Lauren

      Agreed. If I had white hair I'd have so much more free time and money. Lucky girl!

  • Genevieve

    Lovely! She looks like she could be out of an old Malick film.

    In ballet class yesterday when we were stretching on the barre I noticed that neither of the women next to me had shaved their legs. As always it was interesting to note how viscerally surprising it is to see leg hair on a woman--even to another woman like me, who doesn't believe they "should" shave! It's just that ingrained in me that women should be hairless. Anyway I liked her perspective and honestly on that issue in particular.

  • Kate

    THANK YOU, Petra is an insane inspiration and I love that you featured her! Wonderful! More of this!

  • luanda

    Petra is rad! She is true to herself and some sort of inspiration, i think is so funny that girls like her and Tavi knows and express more ideas on feminism than most older people I know! and she is soso beautiful

    • JY

      The feminism that Petra and Tavi espouse is more nuanced and accepting.

  • Allie

    I appreciate this. A real woman on a beauty blog!

  • joannanyc

    I have the same hair texture she does (mine is dark, though). How come I love it on her and hate it on me? This requires contemplation.Thank you, her top shelf was great, she's so inspirational!

    • ZoeE

      I'm with you. Got a lot of fine, dark curly hair. A constant source of stress. I have never ever known how best to style it!

      • Molly

        Me too, I even tried to brush it out this morning inspired by this post and it looked so bad!

  • http://springfevervintage.tumblr.com/ tovah leigh

    Love her! Do Tavi next! <3

  • Hannah

    Thank you Petra for sharing your boldness!

  • http://www.leasambar.com/ Lea

    I'm still deciding on what her photography represents to me, but I applaud her for having a strong opinion and sticking to it - I truly admire this!

  • http://www.atdorsia.com/ Eliza

    "Mirror face" is SO true--I know that what I REALLY look like is that split-second when you open your iPhone camera the wrong way and you look like a depressed potato.

    And I never thought about the leg hair thing in razor ads, but that's crazy--it's interesting that women are expected to alter their natural state just to be acceptable (e.g., if a woman has to work in an office, dress clothes AND makeup are required, but men don't need to wear makeup). I personally hate body hair (on myself!) and love makeup, but I agree that we shouldn't HAVE to be that way to be "feminine" or "acceptable." You go Glen Coco!

  • Anna

    Her hair shade, those curls....Ahhh Gorgeous!

  • Ondine

    This is some good good stuff. I dig it!

  • http://www.clevergirlreviews.com/ Clever Girl Reviews

    New girl crush!

  • http://www.disneyrollergirl.net Disneyrollergirl

    Emily these pictures are just lovely!

  • http://www.cocoandcocoa.com/ Lola Byatt

    This post couldn't be more timely. The other day I had in mind to go swimming and asked a friend if she wanted to join and her response was "i cant, i haven't shaved" I said to her, neither have I...who cares, your hair covered flesh will be on display for like a second and we'll be under water, what was ridiculous was that she had like 3 hairs total and it was literally not visible to anybody unless you were super close. Admittedly, I'm not comfortable with having hair on my skin at all times but no way am I going to go through the efforts of shaving to just go for a swim. That got me thinking about how we as a society don't even really question why something is not considered acceptable because we are just programmed to think a certain way, we've always been taught to shave body hair so seeing someone with it freaks us out. Really great interview, Petra is an incredible role models

  • Katie

    Wow, she's beautiful :) loved this top shelf

  • http://www.jomso.com/ Jomso Wearyourdreams

    I love denim. The outfit, you wore of denim is just too good. Loved it.

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Avene
Avene Cicalfate Restorative Skin Cream
Tarte
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Benefit
Benefit Posietint
Benefit
Benefit Benetint
Dr.Hauschka Skin Care
Dr.Hauschka Skin Care Lip Care Stick
Dr.Hauschka Skin Care
Smith's Rosebud Salve
Tarte
Tarte Smooth Operator Amazonian Clay Waterproof Concealer
Mineral Fusion Concealer
Mineral Fusion Concealer Duo
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