Updated: Dec 14, 2019
Hair. You are such a vital part of my biology.
The hair on our head protects us against the sun, our eyelashes are our first defence against bugs, dust and other irritants and the hair on our armpits and groins act as ‘lubricants’, allowing for the movement of our arms and legs without chafing (Roizen and Oz, 2008).
In particular, the hair on our heads is also a means of ‘social communication’ as its individual styling is seen as an expression of who we are. It is seen as something both beautiful and desirable. So this begs the question, why is hair on any other part of our visible body seen as something to hide? Is it not just as useful as the hair on my head? Is it not…just as
Indian girls are known for their hair. You know the look- Deepika Padukone’s long black hair;
Priyanka Chopra’s shiny thick mane. Lustrous Indian hair is a multi million dollar worldwide
commodity sold in weave shops — with names such as Indian Hair Depot and Virgin Indian Hair — all over America. However, hair does not grow just on your head. It grows in even the most undesirable parts of your body- the parts of my body that I have unfortunately come to hate. Black and thick body hair has always made me feel insecure, and has undermined my self-love, and distorted my perception of what beauty looks like. Granted this issue of body hair is not isolated to Asian communities. There are countless adverts on British television for hair removal products depicting women as hairless creatures. The amount of times I have seen adverts of women shaving already silky smooth legs is both ludicrous and irritating. However, growing up in a predominantly Caucasian society, surrounded by women who have light hair (a sort of blonde fuzz) that appears to be practically imperceptible, it became clear that they would never go through the same struggles and insecurities that I would go through as an Asian woman. It became increasingly difficult for me to show any skin since it was covered in obviously dark visible hair, whether it be on my arms, legs, back, or face. To top it off, I had a mono-brow and a hairy upper lip- an issue that none of my Caucasian peers ever had to deal with.
One specific moment that is seared into my memory, and may perhaps have been the start of my self- deprecation, is when one boy who was sat next to me started talking about ‘hairy Indian girls’- how they all have mono-brows and then proceeded to use a pencil to depict said mono-brow. It was no coincidence that this particular conversation took place with me next to him. I remember my cheeks burning and my eyes beginning to water. I felt humiliated- over something I had no control over. I became more aware of the body hair (or lack of) my peers had. I would wear leggings underneath my school trousers during PE so that no one could see my hairy legs, but that wasn’t enough. It was then I began my treacherous journey of hair removals and bleaches. I began shaving my legs, arms, armpits and fingers. Yes even my fingers. I couldn’t stand the sight of the tiniest bit of hair on me. I started to use bleach to create the illusion of a hairless face nearly every week. I had it
stuck in my head that I mustn’t show any signs of my natural body hair, especially being a ‘hairy Indian girl’. I know for a fact that I made the hair on my body worse. It comes back thicker and darker. Over the years, my face has become hairier, but it’s a catch 22. I can’t stop now because it’s got worse, but it’s got worse because I won’t stop.
The societal pressure for women to look beautiful is a very prominent issue in Western feminism. The issue of hair, is one that I believe, can be found in many countries and cultures. Women are always in the limelight when it comes to appearances. You don’t see a hairy Angelina Jolie on the cover of magazines, the same way you won’t see a hairy Katrina Kaif. A statistic on self-esteem concludes that 98% of girls feel pressured to look a certain way (National Report on Self Esteem). Within both Eastern and Western culture, visible body hair is almost unacceptable- it’s just so much worse for Asian girls. More than 90% of women in UK, Australian and US surveys reported regular hair removal either by shaving, waxing or using hair removal creams (Terry and Braun, 2013). It doesn’t stop here. The consequences of body hair removal can be physically detrimental: laser hair removals can cause irritation, scarring and pigmentary change, and shaving can cause burns, cuts, ingrown hairs, infections and contact dermatitis. Furthermore, waxing can cause trauma to hair follicles which can cause an infection and the development of painful follicular eruptions (Trager, 2006). With all these unnecessary risks, why do we still continue to subject ourselves to these conditions? Because our appearance is our motivation. If Western society’s idea of a desirable woman is a female body with smooth sleek skin, then we as Asian folks- I as an Indian girl- must work twice as hard to keep up the same appearances.
The removal of body hair is such an established social norm that no one really thinks twice about shaving their legs or armpits, but if we really think about it, we do it in order to not be subject to ridicule and contempt. Our actions to remove our body hair can be dictated by our own choices or pressure from society, but the consequences are all the same. It takes time, money and our energy. My obsession with hair removal has got better. I can let hairy legs and arms slide; I’ve begun to understand that no one’s looking out for my hairy arms. No one is going to come up to me and say I look disgusting. However, I still wake up every morning and remove any hair on my face, hands and fingers because these are still the most visible parts of me.
I know that I should be less self-conscious about my appearances but it is an ongoing battle that I lose every day. I ask myself, should I just save myself the headache of this monotonous routine of hair depilation or do I save myself the heartache and paranoia of assuming everyone is staring at the hairy Indian girl?
I know what the better answer is. One day, I will be brave enough to be okay with it.
Sincerely, another Hairy Indian.
National Report on Self-Esteem. Unknown. ‘https://heartofleadership.org/statistics/’.
Roizen, Michael F., and Mehmet C. Oz, 2008. ‘YOU: Being Beautiful: The Owner's Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty’.
Terry, G. & Braun, V. 2013. ‘To let hair be, or not let hair be? Gender and body hair removal practices in Aotearoa/New Zealand’. Body Image, 10, 599- 606 cited in H, Williamson. 2015.
‘Social pressures and health consequences associated with body hair removal’.
Trager, J. D. K. 2006. ‘Pubic hair removal – pearls and pitfalls. Journal of Pediatric Adolescent Gynecology’, 19, 117-123 cited in H, Williamson. 2015. ‘Social pressures and health consequences associated with body hair removal’.
Guest blog by: Danisha Kaur
Danisha is a recent graduate in Ancient History and Archaeology from the University of Birmingham. She has a love for writing, a passion for reading and a desire to travel the world.