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27 Dec

The photographer finding strength in being an ‘unlikeable’ woman

Millicent Hailes is an unlikeable woman. “I don’t quite fit into small, quiet, sometimes invisible spaces anymore. I’m going beyond where a likeable woman should go,” she says. A creative director based between LA and London, Hailes has spent the last decade cleaving at the perimeters of up to date womanhood – borders that, she believes, are less permeable than culture might let on. Since graduating from LCF in 2012, Hailes has turned her hand to photography and filmmaking, collaborating with a few of pop’s most recognisable protagonists – Billie Eilish, Dorian Electra, Migos, and Young Thug – while her personal work supplants staid notions of desire and acceptability via strip clubs and feminine bodybuilders. 

Last yr, Hailes funnelled these ideas into yves.2c, a biannual magazine positioned to “lift up artists who’re speaking out against, and dealing to dismantle, patriarchal oppression”. In its pages, a ragtag crew of photographers, designers, and artists speak on the realities of compacting themselves right into a pecking order that was never built to accommodate marginalised genders, with Hailes reflecting on the ways by which a male-dominated entertainment industry has shaped (and suppressed) her own sense of self. “A number of my old interviews and work were just chaotic. I used to be so focused on pleasing the people I used to be working with that I overlooked what I even desired to say. I used to be trying my best to be as likeable as possible.” 

Though she first began to unravel that have in a set of essays and poetry – “exploring questions like, ‘Am I an excessive amount of? Too outspoken? Not outspoken enough? Am I being true to myself if I develop into likeable to others?’” –  Hailes is today debuting a recent fashion film, Unlikeable, based on the universality of those feelings. “It’s extremely difficult to be vulnerable and work through trauma whilst attempting to create a totally authentic body of labor,” she explains. “It delves into the challenges of becoming a ‘higher’ feminist, reflecting on the pressure to evolve and what it means when feminism is co-opted as a trend, especially within the entertainment industry.” On a forged of cis, trans, and nonbinary women, styled by Nazanin Shahnavaz, clothing volleys between a few of culture’s most gendered archetypes – the suit and tie, the handmaid’s cap, pleaser heels, and armour. 

Though this seems like a closing of a chapter more so than it does a gap of a recent one, Hailes’ voice repeats truisms: “Being liked means someone will see you / And protect you at the hours of darkness / That you simply should get home safely / Believable / Value saving / You don’t deserve it should you’re likeable / You weren’t dressed for it / Asking for it / Should you are likeable.” Throughout the film, a camera pans over languid frames of fleshy bodies pooling from corsets, pubes bristle from miniscule g-strings, and Joan of Arc swipes the screen together with her sword – all of that are interrupted with bloodied, shrieking faces, and gloopy tears. Images mined, presumably, from Hail’s past. “In my body is the need to learn and speak out / In my body is the need to be heard / To have myself be spoken clearly and rightly.”

While being an “outspoken woman”, who has often been told to talk “in a sweet way”, could have once rendered Hailes mute, she now feels more confident within the form of stories she desires to tell. “I’m undecided I’ll ever be there, though. I’m still navigating who I’m and who I represent inside my work. We’re all learning and unlearning but women are still up to now faraway from being equal.” With this film, at the least, Hailes appears to be finding her voice. “I’d like people to search out strength in being unlikeable, to feel comfortable not conforming.”

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