Editor’s Note: This month, that is July 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Feminism And Body Image, where we invite various articles about the diverse range of experiences which we often confront, with respect to our bodies in private or public spaces, or both. If you’d like to share your article, email us at email@example.com.
We women have had a perpetually conflicted relationship with hair. Hair on the head is the most stark qualifier for beauty whereas that on the body is seen as an object of shame and ridicule. So much so that, the advertisements for hair removal creams on TV show the product being applied on an already hairless body. Smooth hairless skin is seen as a marker of femininity; and hence, men with less body hair are ridiculed and have their gender identities questioned.
It is important, on the other hand, to have a thick foliage on the head. You often find that your mother, grandmother or even your visiting aunt, never fail to point how the fast eroding cover of beauty is affecting your youthfulness. It is a place of worry they speak from and not always malice, but why worry about a bunch of dead cells that are almost as useful on the head as the appendix inside the abdomen? Yet hair on the head, mind you, continues to be one of the most essential needs for beauty and cause of worry for almost all women.
There are several proverbs that have been passed down the ages in various cultures about the different kinds of hair needed for enhancing a woman’s beauty. In Western standards, and one fast encroaching upon the rest of the world—straight blond hair wore short—is fancied while in traditional Indian lore, goddesses and princesses are painted in imagination with long black tresses reaching in undulating waves long down to the hips, are considered the eternal mark of beauty. It is common to have heard your grandmothers or mothers boast of how thick braids they sported in their youth and lament the loss of volume now into the present. Thickness of braids is often a measurement of the rate of dwindling into age, and therefore, also a measure of ugliness for girls in several Indian households. It is often an essential requirement for selecting the prettiest bride for Indian sons.
While the question of hair on the head is universally hailed as important, that of female body hair is pretty much a hush-hush issue. It is still very difficult for society to accept that body hair is as much a common thing in women as in men. Women aren’t supposed to be ‘naturally’ hairless or men as the opposite of that. Yes, comparatively the disparity is evident, but the contrary need not be ‘unnatural‘ and therefore as all unusual things in social life, ridiculed. Women too have beard and mustache lines and it doesn’t rob them of their femininity.
Growing up, I have been a hairy kid always. Body hair has always been a big deal for me. To the point, that I once landed up in the doctor’s chamber fearing some hormonal imbalance or abnormality in my body. I ended up consuming the medicines which I threw up straight every day in the morning till I stopped. And I went back to my perfectly normal life, with my hair, on my body. I realised the medicines were the abnormalities, not my hair or my hormones which perhaps had no link with my excess body hair.
Also read: Hairy And Proud: Body Hair Removal Through A Feminist Lens
But the shame never went away. I took to waxing legs to wear shorts and my back to wear backless tops. Even till date, I perhaps won’t have the courage to flaunt shorts with unwaxed legs in public. But the pain was too much. And it served little purpose. I could not do away with the shame but couldn’t do away with the need to feel good about myself either. So I took to shaving. I still hear several of my friends applying the technique of pulling hair out of the roots. It doesn’t pain them much or perhaps they are accustomed or perhaps they don’t feel it. But why do we need to undergo any sort of pain to look beautiful? A lot of things can be done away with, such as these conventional ideas of beauty enhancers. But it is very rare to spot the same courage when it comes to women embracing the hair on our bodies. We are made to believe it as the ugliest of ugly flaws.
I have seen my male friends go no-shave-lockdown, embracing it quite happily. I have seen my female friends fret about the cancelled visit to the parlours the most. We fear looking ugly, even to ourselves in the mirror. I have personally made sure to trim my facial hair the first time I left my house after lockdown. So much is our vision even of ourselves attuned to the gaze of patriarchy that we cannot embrace ourselves in our most natural forms.
It is ironic how hair on the head is our most bountiful asset, one of the strongest weapons of seduction as they say. While the sight of one strand of the same on our bodies, exceeding their allowed limits makes us rush to, at times the most painful of resorts for removal. We aren’t allowed to live life with the understanding of freedom in the truest of sense. We are reduced to our bodies and therefore the various parts of their bodies stand as markers for wholeness in the absence of whole lives to be led. Our pride and vanity therefore is tied simply to the artifice by the men who govern our lives at large. But there is way more than the artifice for our worth to rely on.
Also read: Surprise! Your Body Hair Is Hygienic
It is my only hope that someday all of us grow the courage to love ourselves enough to reconsider what we think of as our flaws. That we don’t pain ourselves in order to chase after some artificial standard of ‘beauty’ and learn to live free and happy.
Featured Image Source: Feminism In India
Thank you for writing on this topic… It struck a chord.
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