25-year-old Harnaam Kaur walks the streets of London, wearing a large, fur coat, her eyes lined soft. The people around her stare, even gawk - some shocked, some amused, some afraid. But Kaur does not stare back; she is indifferent. She walks, beard on her face and a turban on her head, fearless.
Harnaam Kaur may be known worldwide for breaking societal norms and gender stereotypes with her acceptance and pure ownage of body and facial hair - but she, unfortunately, is among the lesser lot who feels empowered and free when it comes to the societal gaze of ‘feminine’ expectations.
For most women, body hair has been always been a nuisance - something to get rid off more often than they’d like. They are embarrassed to wear shorts in fear of someone noticing their prickly black stubbly legs, ashamed to find unwaxed underarm hair peeking out through t-shirt sleeves - why?
For a long time now, body hair has been a contentious ground for women. While society may expect women to have clean arms and legs, perfect eyebrows and a soft upper lip, men, on the other hand, are ‘macho’ and ‘manly’ with a tuft of chest hair sticking out of their collars; to be fair, men also now wax and shave for their own reasons, but that too they seem to mostly get away with it.
From a very tender age, so many women are pushed into the cycle of body hair removal, a cycle many have slowly started to break away from, while some continue to feel society’s judgement follow each centimeter of hair growth.
There is no shame in women having body hair, nor any for those who choose to continue waxing or get laser treatment done - what’s important is the choice is their own. Breaking the stigma isn’t easy for everyone, and we reached out to our female readers to share their own views about body hair. However different or similar their opinions may be, most seem to agree that body hair removal was a process they were forced into from a young age by family members and that parlour aunties will always raise an eyebrow to young women deciding to take matters into their own hands, regardless of what their choice may be.
I. Urja Desai | 20 | Student
“I am 20 years old, and I no longer remove my body hair.
I was very hairy even as a child; my sister would jokingly call me a bear. I remember a family vacation we took when I was 10 – one of my aunts came up to me and ended a short conversation by rubbing her hands against my legs and saying, ‘You are so hairy!’ That was the first time I felt as though something was wrong with me; as though I was the only female with this much hair.
I was 13 the first time I got waxed. I still remember arguing with my mum about why it was so necessary for me to remove my body hair. I hated it and it was very painful for me. I had ended up developing rashes all over my hands and legs but was told that it apparently a normal reaction.
I was bullied throughout my teenage years for being hairy. I kept at removing body hair only because of the peer pressure and the teasing. In the 9th grade, a guy in my class commented on my facial hair, and I got so frustrated that I ended up shaving my eyebrows off. That was the first time I realised that my decision to remove my body hair was being forced onto me. However, I have finally gathered the courage to face my insecurities and have stopped removing my body hair. Since 2015, I haven’t shaved or got a wax on my limbs and I love it.
Both men and women are pretty much equally judgemental about body hair, although I have found women to be more insecure about their body hair than men; I always expected women to be more accepting but that is never really the scenario. I have been commented on by both men and women. Very recently, a guy came up to me and asked if he should lend me his shaving kit.
Body hair really isn’t a tool to measure someone’s beauty, masculinity or femininity. Removing or not removing your body hair is really a personal choice. For me, choosing not to remove my body hair has been incredibly empowering.”
II. Garima Gakhar | 27 | Retail Real Estate Professional
“I think I was in the 6th grade when one of my classmates got her legs waxed. The rest of us were shocked. But suddenly, everyone in class wanted to do the same because ‘Girls should never have hair on their arms, underarms or legs.’
Personally, I always wanted to get my eyebrows and upper lip threaded. Major shaming started happening as soon we entered senior school. I started with waxing my legs, because we had to wear skirts in school and everyone had clean legs. I remember it being super painful but the ‘after’ was totally worth it. I think I cried the first time I got my eyebrows and upper lip cleaned, but I don’t regret any of it.
My attitude towards my body hair hasn’t changed much over the years. I didn’t want body hair before and I don’t want it now. Earlier, I used to just wax, but once I started working, I started with laser as well and the results have been nothing but amazing.
It sucks how men can get away with any amount of hair on their body. The worst part is when I see mothers of newborn babies talking about how they’ll need to do so much to make sure they get rid of their soft baby hair. I try my best not to make others feel anything about body hair, but I don’t think anyone has ever made me feel better about my body hair unless it was when I worked for a year to perfect the shape of my eyebrows and they finally looked great.
The reactions I’ve faced from men and women about my body hair have been different, and sadly, the girls are worse. Men usually don’t say anything even if they do notice body hair, but women never leave a chance. A couple of months ago, I was hospitalized for over a week, and one of my own girlfriends told me, ‘Woah! This is probably not the right time, but your eyebrows are out of whack.’ I mean, really?
I think women feel like this because right from when we’re little, this is what society has taught us. Even before we start watching hair removal advertisements on TV, we see our mothers/sisters going to the salon and it’s just inbuilt.”
III. Niharika Gupta | Art Teacher
“Body hair is the ultimate problem of our lives, a bigger problem than acne. It makes your skin look darker and it is terrible when you have sensitive skin - my face becomes clear after a face wax or threading, free from hair but not from those notorious pimples which pop up next. With Polycystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD) especially, girls develop facial hair around the neck, chin, fingers and toes - before I was treated for PCOD, I had hair an inch long. It wasn’t seen because of my dark skin but I could feel it, and it felt irritating.
I was indifferent towards my body hair until my mother pointed out that I have hair on my neck and chin, after which I became extremely conscious. Plucking hair out with my tweezers left marks around my face. I remember thinking about how lucky boys are, because they can so easily show their body hair. More than their arms, I particularly envy men’s underarms - waxing my underarms leaves them red and sometimes even burnt.
My body hair growth was very minimal; you could count the number of hair strands on my legs and hands, because, as a child, my grandma scrubbed my hands and legs with a hard stone called ubtan. It used to hurt, but my grandma used to say it would help me when I grow up, and to an extent, it did work. When I was in school, I used to apply Veet on my arms and legs. During my hostel days, I first waxed my arms and legs, and gave up using Veet because many people told me that it makes your skin dark. Sometimes, I apply a base of makeup to cover the patches of hair around my cheeks. My dermatologist told me to use a facial razor made especially for females, and all of a sudden, I am stuck between the suggestions of a keen dermatologist and a worried mother.
I don’t have any problem with body hair, it’s the facial hair that is annoying for me. I’ve begun lasering, because it makes me feel weird when I see clear faces; it makes me feel out of place. Very few people actually understand PCOD. We’re constantly under pressure from all sides to do something about our body hair - we reach the final stage, acceptance, and nothing can be done about it. You keep on shaving or waxing, and live with it.
My parents understand, but other adults around me make me feel so insecure about my body hair. They’re even sarcastic about it, but I think that women are more understanding about things like this because we all go through the same experiences.”
IV. Asha Suparna | 31 | Editor
“The lack of body hair seems to be always in fashion. That’s not unrealistic considering that almost every woman we see around is hairless. That’s the beauty standard, I suppose. Photoshopped or not, most models and actresses are completely hair-free.
I have PCOD and that makes hair sprout on my body faster than bamboo grows. It’s a hormonal thing I can’t do much about. And let’s not forget genetics. Thicker hair on my upper lip than my head (giggle, giggle)! A man I once went on a date with commented on the hair on my upper lip, which I had failed to conceal (and by conceal, I mean that I hadn’t shaved - I hadn’t had the time). I got a bit annoyed and said that if I had let it grow, my beard would’ve probably been better than his.
I tried the waxing way and that simply wasn’t for me. The lady at the parlour burnt my tender skin with hot wax and said that it was normal. When she then proceeded to rip the skin out along with my hair, she chuckled and was downright amused and said, “If you can’t take this little pain, how will you give birth to a child?” My reply, even at 14, was, “Keep the money, and that’s none of your business.”
I thought about getting laser treatment done, so that I’d never have to worry about the hair on my face again. But that was another waste of time, because I’m just not patient enough to go for more than one sitting. Waxing was out of the question, based on my terrible experience. I tried threading my upper lip and made the lady stop half-way even though she was being extremely gentle with me. Yes, I had tears and all that.
There was this time when I was told that being hairless was what made a man want a woman. Yes. I was actually told that if I was hairless, men would want me more. (Total myth, by the way.) That annoyed me in more ways than one, considering that I’m of the impression that you dress up, wax, shave or do anything else for yourself and not for anyone else.
The reactions I’ve faced from men and women have been vastly different and I’ve found that most of the men I hung out with cared less about the hair and more about just “chilling out” or having a decent conversation. Most of the women, however, were the ones who pointed out that I was hairy, and either gave me unwanted advice on how to get rid of it, or just made fun of me for not wanting to do anything about it. Apparently, to be sexy, one must be hairless. To those girls and women out there who struggle with the annoying tiny hair that sprouts in random places that they might want to pluck out with a tweezer because someone said something stupid, well, don’t bother. You’re beautiful even if you don’t shave your legs or wax your face; and the bikini area and armpits? No one gets to say anything at all.
I have mostly come to terms with the hair that sprouts every where on my body. And I don’t have an issue any more, for the simple reason that I know that I have nothing to be ashamed of. So, maybe I’m a tad hairy for certain norms. I just tell myself that hair is important because it protects my skin and that if someone is upset or grossed out by the hair on my upper lip or if I haven’t shaved my hands and legs for a few days, they can bloody well just not look at me. Hair is a part of you, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Plus, the people who do know me and love me, don’t particularly care about it, dog included.”
V. Preetika Setia |17 | Student
“I am constantly teased by my cousins and my best friend for having hairy legs. Being a science student, I often try to end the teasing by saying ‘humans have evolved from chimpanzees and my body is a perfect example that Darwin can think of.’
I have never felt that bad about body hair because it’s natural. I have a twin sister, and when someone makes jokes related to our hair growth we try to make ourselves look more filthy so that we repel the other person. Like Chandler Bing, we use humour for our self defence.
I started waxing my underarms at 15, legs at 16 and arms at almost 18. The trend varies from girl to girl depending on the hair intensity on each part. I remember the first time I waxed my legs, I was agog, and I saw my legs in the mirror and said ‘damn, you sexy.’ Being a small-town girl, it was a really big thing especially for the first time; my girl mates would ask if I had waxed my legs and I used to say excitedly tell them that I did.
But then, it started to get boring. You have to wax again and again, but winters are relaxing. And damn those small town parlours! Girls often look for cheap services and those parlours that aren’t so expensive are always filled with aunties of variable varieties. They talk a lot – about lipstick colours that they’re allowed to wear as per the demands of their husbands and about how they were slim before they had babies.
I have tried many other alternatives too – epilator (for minimal growth) , filthy Veet (in case of underarm emergency), and waxing strips. Now, I have come to a conclusion that it’s all my choice. I want to be the unwaxed girl in boxers with a bun and loose clothes. It’s not that I don’t want to look pretty – I do, but only sometimes. I think that it’s all about comfort, and I am not embarrassed about being comfortable.”
VI. Raveena Sakiri | 22 | Writer
“I am a South Indian woman with quite a lot of body hair. I remember when I was 13 I had to attend a wedding and my mother told me that I could only wear my lehenga if I waxed my underarms. I cried, but got it done anyway, it was terrible. I continued with waxing my hands and legs after that, until now. I stopped caring about hair removal, and I mean all kinds - threading and waxing - for about six months now and I couldn’t be happier.
Now, I’m not saying that people who wax or thread should be shamed, but it’s a matter of choice. If someone is given a choice, they can pick whatever they want. I was never given the choice as a kid, maybe this is my way of figuring things out. Who knows, maybe a couple of months down the line, I might just make a trip to the parlour, but then again, it is up to me, because I own my body.
No one around me reacted weirdly to my body hair, except a few friends who joked about how hairy I was getting, but honestly, I have still been going on dates, still wearing all the shorts, sleeveless dresses and croptops because no one cares, and nor do I. It’s almost because I got sick of people forcing all these terms of beauty onto me that I didn’t understand, and also because the feeling you have when your hair starts growing back is literally the worst. I love my skin now – it’s hairy yes, but it’s mine.
Personally, I was never conscious of my body hair. My other girlfriends and I would openly discuss it and laugh about it with our guy friends. About two or three years after I first waxed my underarms, I think it kind of became the norm for girls around me to wax their limbs, and I started to feel conscious about my body. This was further re-enforced by my mother. But that being said, I was never one to let a mixed parlour appointment decide what I should wear, even though people would call me out on it. Now, things like that just feel trivial, but obviously getting used to being the way I am was a process.
Honestly, women seem more bothered by my body hair than men and wonder how I still wear what I choose to wear when I go out, but that is mostly because we are forced to think that hair on women is ugly. But mostly, no one really cares. I posted pictures on my Instagram with my arms and legs on display and the response was quite empowering. When it comes to men I have been intimate with, none of them think its a big deal either, which I think is very cool, but it also depends on the kind of people you encounter, really. I have had male friends ask me when I’m going to get waxed; who joke about how I am hairier than they are, but I’m at a point where none of this bothers me. I’m just glad I have the power to take charge of my body, and it’s a great feeling. The past six months have been going great, so far! People still tell me to thread my brows, but I think I look great regardless. If I ever feel like I want to wax or thread again, I would do it because I’d want to, not because people around me want me to.”
VII. Sulabha Dubhashi | 27 | Art Director
“The time I actually felt that it wasn’t normal for girls to have too much body hair was in school, in the 7th standard. That is when the hair got darker. My uniform was a pinafore, but I wasn’t allowed to wax until I was in college, because my mother did not want me to spoil my skin at a tender age. I think it was for the best. But I was so ashamed about my body hair that I used to wear long socks to hide my hairy legs.
I started with threading my eye brows in college. First time was definitely scary! My cousin took me with her because I was very nervous. Although it was painful, the end result was awesome. I loved my clean face. Every hair removing method has so far given me bad rashes. Luckily, waxing wasn’t painful for me, but it did not suit my skin – I ended up with bad rashes. So I began shaving, though even that gave me rashes, only milder. Now I am comfortable and confident, both with or without hair – I dont think that smooth skin defines me. I shave only when I feel like (and if and when I have the time!)
I also struggle with a facial hair problem, and I cannot explain to every person that I meet that it is all because of my hormonal imbalance. Although it was tough previously, I have slowly learnt to love myself with it, so much so that I have even given up on threading. Again; I do it when I want to, not when people point it out.
Men and women’s reactions to my body hair don’t really differ. Men just pin-point and laugh about it. A boy in my school once asked me why I don’t wax, pointing at my hairy hands. I replied by pointing at his hands and asking him why his hands were so smooth and hairless. But, women judge, scrutinise more. In college, the girls always judged me for growing my brows and upper lips. It was like I was scrutinised every second!
With hair or without, we all have our opinions. At least for me, my meetings and my fashion choice doesn’t depend on my body hair.”
Featured illustration by Ayqa Khan
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