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The Politics of Hair Removal for South Asian Women

Hair Removal
4 min read

Hair Removal Struggles

by Duriba Khan 

This post was originally published on our partner website India.com:

At the age of eight, I remember tugging the sleeves of my bodysuit over my arm hair in hopes that no one would notice them during a swimming class at the YMCA. At age twelve, I remember avoiding illuminated mirrors at Bed Bath and Beyond, because they made the fibers on my face look pricklier, grosser, and even more evident. At age 14, I reminisce the day I decided to rid myself of my unibrow: I was a brave young girl standing on a stool with a knot in her stomach and a pair of safety scissors in hand, taking a leap of faith. All of this was because I, unlike my “sophisticated” counterparts, was hairy.

Today, I take my familiar spot on the cold bathroom tile with a razor in hand and sigh heavily. With every eyebrow appointment, every tug of a wax strip, and every slide of a razor blade, I have lived through the repercussions of being hairy. For some women, hair removal is simply a part of life—but for those like myself, it is a sick philosophy that as much as I disagree with, I comply with. It is a philosophy that I mentally denounce while lasering, poking, tugging, and mutilating my skin; and one that, no matter how modernized our world becomes, we cannot terminate.

Body hair on South Asian women is an axiomatically ignored and underrepresented issue in Western third-wave feminism, and we have no one to blame for this but ourselves.

Take heed, and do not misinterpret my words; simply absorb them. I’m not saying that us ladies should don 5 o’clock shadows, but rather, we should avoid considering the concept of body hair as “gross.” Maybe you don’t like keeping a mustache, but it’s time you respect another sister’s right to. Don’t feel disgrace or pity for “barbaric” girls whose arms and legs have not met the edges of razor blades, and don’t be embarrassed for another’s mustache.

Our hair, whether we remove it or not, is a part of us. The question now, is not of whether or not hair removal should be a commonplace convention, but rather, do we remove our hair because we truly and honestly choose to, or because we feel we should?

I have come to the realization that I do not have a problem with “beauty,” but I look down upon the idea that it has made us hate our most natural state. Body hair—whether on thighs, chins, or forearms—is our own business, and it simply should not affect anyone what a woman does to her own body. Cosmopolitan, do not remind me to be at war with my body. Do not remind me to cater to your falsified, gross definition of what a woman should look like, and do not plant into my brain what is simply not true.

To me, growing up hairy was simply a curse. Although my mother is virtually hairless, it seemed to me that my father’s hairy genes hit me like a freight train. Still, my hairiness is a trait I try hard to wear on my sleeve, and it wasn’t until middle school or so that I noticed the dark, coarse bridge between my eyebrows. I literally remember counting down the days until my sixteenth birthday when my mother promised to allow me to thread my eyebrows. Although I am not entirely certain that it bothered others as much as it bothered me, it still stood like a fortress—my unibrow was permanent and embarrassing.

I remember summer nights before the mirror in ratty pajamas placing my index finger between my eyebrows, examining my face without the heartwarming presence of my dear pet caterpillar. After fourth grade, I mustered enough confidence to re-propose the idea of an eyebrow appointment to my mother, and she blatantly refused. It was then that I released my pent up frustration and decided to take matters into my own hands. So the night before picture day, with the confidence of Beyonce and a pair of safety scissors secured in the pocket of my blue jeans, I locked the bathroom door, stood on a stool, and made the most life altering decision of any fifth grader’s life—then I got a bit carried away and ended up chopping off half of my left eyebrow.

To this day, I remember the wave of panic and the stream of tears that ensued as my sister desperately attempted to fill my eyebrow with the darkest, most shimmeriest blue in our treasured department store eyeshadow pack minutes after, as there was no black to be found. Months later, my mother silently drove me to a salon. Looking back at this instance, I cannot help but to be perplexed. I cannot say why removing my mustache was so imperative to me, and why I had been so embarrassed and ashamed of my own face. Today, this story is a hit among friends at sleepovers and goes great with copious glasses of lemonade and European chocolates.

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Nowadays, although I continue to have my unwanted hair removed, I am less embarrassed of it. I get my legs waxed almost every three weeks, and in the winter, never. I joke about my sideburns out loud, and I consider myself indifferent to the hairs that make a grand appearance on my shins the days my jeans ride up. Hair is a most natural circumstance, and it is up to each and every individual to decide what they want to do with it.

After much thought, I have decided that, long, short, thick or thin, I do not hate my hair. My hair has held me when everyone else refused to. My hair has decorated my skin in flowers, and it is not gross.

So, why is the phenomena of hair on women so repulsive? Why is something so natural so disgraceful? Is it not any different from fingernails, or cold sores? Many have posed these questions, yet none have been adequately answered. And even though we may never be able to provide confident responses to these questions, the fact that we are still pondering them is a step forward.

So, brown girls, if you so chose, let the velvet dangle from your forearms, or discharge it—but do not ever think the decision to do so is not purely and wholly yours.

Duriba KhanDuriba Khan, or “D-Dawg”, is a sixteen-year-old blogging, vlogging, photographing, filmmaking, sketching geek who enjoys long, romantic walks to the refrigerator. She is half-Pakistani and half-Indian and currently resides in Austin, Texas. Duriba also feels uncomfortable writing about herself in the third person. For more of Duriba’s work, check out her blog.