Ever since the age of five, I have been called out for having hair on my arms, legs, and face. In fact, I have hair everywhere. EVERYWHERE. The worst place being on my cheeks, my chin and my upper lip. As I grew up, everyone pointed their dagger-like gaze on the ragged hairs that grow from my arms a week after I wax. Over the years, so-called friends and threading ladies have remarked “don’t you want to remove the hair from your cheeks?”, “Maybe you should try laser”, “If you have sensitive skin try depilatory cream”.
I have nothing against removing my hair. A part of me loves how smooth my skin feels after an hour of waxing (yes, one hour). I’ve been waxing since I was 11 (a little young I know), but over the last 9 years I’ve become numb to the pain, if I wax within 3-4 weeks each time. But should I dare to wait any longer, I feel the punishing, pulling pain of cloth strip against wax, against long black hairs.
I recently found this poem, by Naina Kataria, which really spoke to me. It’s also worth mentioning that 95% of Indian girls experience this throughout their lives. And I couldn’t ignore something that essentially spelled out my life story. So here it is:
When a man tells me
I don’t believe him.
Instead, I relive my days in high school
When no matter how good I was
I was always the girl with a moustache
He doesn’t know what it’s like
to grow up in your maternal family
Where your body is the only one that
Proudly boasts of your father’s X
While your mother’s X sits back and pities
He doesn’t know the teenager
Who filled her corners with
Empty consolations of
Being loved for who she was- someday.
He doesn’t know hypocrisy.
He doesn’t know of the world that
tells you to ‘be yourself’
and sells you a fair and lovely shade card
in the same fucking breath
He doesn’t know of the hot wax and the laser
whose only purpose is to
replace your innocent skin
with its own brand of womanhood
He doesn’t know of the veet and the bleach
That uproot your robust hair
in the name of hygiene
Hygiene, which when followed by men
makes them gay and unmanly
He doesn’t know how unruly eyebrows are tamed
and how uni brows die a silent death
All to preserve beauty
And of the torturous miracles that happen
Inside the doors marked
So when a man calls me beautiful
I throw at him, a smile; a smile that remained
After everything the strip pulled away
And I dare him
Till my hair grows back.
I used to resent my father’s genes as I grew up. I teasingly call him a gorilla, which he really is. He has hair everywhere. EVERYWHERE. And like Kataria, says, it’s painful to “to grow up in your maternal family /Where your body is the only one that/Proudly boasts of your father’s X”. This is the part of the poem that speaks to me the most, and will be the main lines that I centre my ranting around.
“I was always the girl with the mustache”
My mother’s family has nowhere near as much hair as my father’s, which is lucky for my brother, having predominantly inherited my mother’s genes.
Me? I wasn’t as lucky.
I resent my father’s genes every time a look in a mirror, two weeks after a threading appointment, and see unsightly black hairs contrasting against my pale skin (you can blame the lack of sunlight for that). I wince and shudder every time a waxing lady asks me why I won’t thread my whole face, why I get rashes, why I can’t just get rid of all of my hair. Not only have I inherited my father’s fur, but also his sensitive skin.
“He doesn’t know the teenager / Who filled her corners with / Empty consolations of / Being loved for who she was- someday.”
A few months ago, while putting up with waxing and threading, I put up with a hairless beautician who said I will never find a man because of the hair on my face, that I’m unsightly to look at, that I have genetic issues. And to you I say, if it weren’t for my hair, you wouldn’t have a job. If it weren’t for my father’s genes, I wouldn’t be as tall, as weirdly wonderful and hilarious as I am now. And with all of those wonderful qualities that my father possesses, and has passed on to me, he has also passed down his body hair. And I am prepared to deal with it, and embrace it (that will come much later).
“the torturous miracles that happen”
This is what we go through to look acceptable in general, particularly Indians. We’re often discriminated against for having too much hair, and while we’d love to accept our bodies, we’re not in a position to do that yet. It’s actually great that this is being talked about, but just because some people are comfortable with their body hair on the internet doesn’t mean that I or anyone else needs to be comfortable with it overnight. I’d never judge someone for growing out their body hair, in fact I’d admire it! However, I’m not in a position to do that yet so we need to consider that side of the debate too.
I was recently involved in a Facebook-comment spat with a girl of white heritage, who found a BuzzFeed video involving men being waxed for the first time a barbaric display of low confidence. I’m walking on eggshells here, but white women generally don’t have as much of a struggle with body hair compared to women of colour. And here, I speak for Indian women.
White women have recently taken to social media, in experiments showcasing how they go against shaving and waxing for a month and decide to grow out their body hair. They are then praised for breaking patriarchal stereotypes and for being powerful women. If an Indian woman of our age and generation did the same, I can assure you they would not receive the same response.
The reason? Some of it could be to do with racism, but the truth is we have more hair. And we’ve been raised to remove it. Unlike the underam-hair growing crusaders that parade on BuzzFeed, our hair is actually visible, unsightly, and according to hairless beauticians “means that you cannot find a boyfriend”. Which is obviously all that I am aiming for in life.
My problem here is this. There are a lot of statements on the internet telling girls to embrace who they are fully and to love themselves. Sometimes, it can be suffocating. It doesn’t give us the space to deal with our flaws and try to correct them, and by trying doing so, by trying to correct what we feel are our flaws, we are wrong. We’re considered “barbaric”, as my white-girl Facebook opponent commented. If I ever met her, I’d show her the hair sprouting from my fingers and cheeks, and ask her to reconsider.
That’s not to say I haven’t tried not waxing. In winter I do grow out my body hair because no one is ever going to see it. So you see, I can be brave. Threading is something I can’t give up just yet, and probably never will. I hate it while it’s happening, it’s painful and demeaning and punishing. Is it wrong to love how I look afterwards? My threaded face is the face you see the most. It is the face you’re used to, and I hate showing my face when the roots of my hair are visible.
“a smile that remained / After everything the strip pulled away / And I dare him / To wait / Till my hair grows back.”
This is why I used to hate it when people complimented how I looked. They didn’t see me as a child, they didn’t see the awkward, lanky kid with hair sprouting prematurely, the girl with the mustache and unibrow. I shudder when I hear the words “beautiful”, “gorgeous”, “sexy”. If only the people who complimented how I look today could see me as a child. If only the people who tormented me as a child could see me now.
That being said, I’ve now grown as a person and have somewhat accepted my body hair, sometimes. I’ve also learned to judge the character of my friends by growing out my eyebrows, etc. And so far, all my true friends haven’t run away yet. My mother completely understands the struggle, despite having nowhere nearly as much hair as I do. We’ve talked for hours about my encounters with people who have pointed out more than they should have, talked about laser etc. After hours of discussing this issue, we came to the conclusion that I would have to keep removing my hair, and having to accept that I have hair and that I’m comfortable with removing it. I don’t feel like any less of a feminist for not “embracing my body hair” the way I am “meant to do”. I can accept it and remove it at the same time, and the balance I’ve found is the place where I want to be. I sincerely hope it is a place where young Indian women can reach too.
Writing all of this out has been a major catharsis. I’m more ready and willing to embrace myself. I’m more ready to except how beautiful I am with my so-called flaws, but society has told me that I’m not at an age or position to willingly reveal my flaws to the world. I still need to wax and thread to escape personal and social judgment. And I can’t let go of such vices just yet.