Despite hateful remarks and stares from strangers, Shelly Riner, 23, is using social media to prove that female body hair isn’t just normal but beautiful.

I've always had a lot of dark, coarse hair all over my body: on my arms, my legs, my armpits, you name it. Because of that, shaving was a major chore for me. As a teen, I had to shave every day, or else stubble would grow back immediately and make me feel very self-conscious. 

So once I turned 19, I decided to stop shaving completely and grow out my body hair. The daily maintenance just wasn’t worth it for me anymore. I'm the type of person who generally doesn't care what others think of me, so making the choice to let my hair grow wasn't earth-shattering. However, having a partner who supported my decision made the process much easier. She's been extremely positive about the whole thing, comforting me when I doubt myself.

I'm now 23 and live in a small college town in Arkansas where I'm a student and part-time cookie decorator. It's pretty conservative here, and I know people stare at me and give me looks, but I don't really care. When I was shaving, I felt more self-conscious because I was always worried about the stubble or people knowing I hadn’t shaved that day.

Going out in public with hair is actually easier for me. I wear shorts out to the mall or Walmart, and it's pretty funny to see people's reactions, especially older folks. Women are the ones who tend to give me dirty looks or comments, while men will either say nothing or say something creepy.

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The hardest part about having body hair has been my family's lack of acceptance. I personally feel more beautiful and more confident with all of my hair. But whenever I see my family, they make it obvious they disapprove. In the winter, it’s not a big deal because I wear pants. In the summer, every time I see them, they always bring it up. My brother has openly called my body hair gross. Now, I just offer him a rehearsed response whenever he gives his two cents: It's my body, my choice and I''m fine with it, as is my partner—so it shouldn't matter.

That's part of the reason I started my Instagram page, veryhairyfaery, in May 2016. I wanted to show people that women having body hair is totally natural. Until I started my account, I only saw hairy women portrayed as sexy or beautiful on porn sites, and it shouldn't be limited to that. Women who don't shave or wax their body hair don't need to be fetishized.

After launching the page, a part of me wanted to see what kind of reactions I'd get by posting images of my hairy legs and armpits. At first the comments were pretty negative. I racked up many hateful remarks and even had inappropriate pictures of men's penises sent to me.

I considered taking down the account, but soon I started getting an outpouring of comments from girls who are naturally hairy or who have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) or other disorders that result in lots of body hair. They would send messages about finding their own confidence and accepting themselves, and those inspiring messages and comments are the reason I decided to continue posting.

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I view my Instagram page as a way to help younger girls embrace their bodies and make the decision to not shave their hair something they can be proud of. Choosing to have body hair doesn't make you an object or a fetish. I’m hoping that people see my page and think of it as another voice that's part of this conversation.