When I was growing up, I was deeply insecure about my body hair. From a very young age, I was advised to remove, shave or wax any hair on my body, with the exception of my head, that was visible to anyone. Everything about my body was something that I needed to change from my bushy eyebrows to my dark armpits and my hairy arms. Sometimes, strangers would comment on my facial and arm hair and advise me to wax them because “girls should always have their hair shaved”. These attempts at advice made me insecure about the way that I looked, especially about the hair on my arms. When I was 10, I started using bleaching creams to brighten my skin because I was labelled as “dark” by my own family and friends.
At that age, these standards that were set for someone as young as me were ridiculous when I think about it now. The kind of mindset that was instilled in me from peers including my own family, was that I had to shave my arms and legs to be more desirable or feminine. As a result, I was ashamed of having even an inch of hair visible on my body, even when I went to primary school. I did not want to be seen as unhygienic or impure, nor did I want to be the focus of ridicule by my schoolmates. I did not want them to make fun of me for having something natural on my body but insecurities and beauty expectations from celebrities forced me to make these changes and adhere to these unrealistic standards.
When I was diagnosed with PCOS, I hated my body hair and everything else about it. The comments that I received during this time to lose weight or that I “looked fat”, was something that I have never understood in my entire life. Whenever I went to consultations, doctors would make a note of my body and my hair, and they would be surprised that I do not look like the “other PCOS patients who gain weight”, slightly gesturing their arms. In the Maldives, it is common (and disrespectful) to great people with comments such as “Oh, you gained weight”. I am a skinny Brown girl who has always looked the same even when I was in school. The only weight or fat that I gained was in my stomach (or as I call it, my kangaroo pouch), which I had despised for the longest of time because of the way I looked at the hair on my stomach. I was hairy because of my PCOS diagnosis, and this was not something that I had any control over. Even though I could wax every inch of hair on my body, my diagnosis would not allow me to escape from the inevitable symptoms that are still considered unacceptable standards for women.
From Bollywood to Hollywood movies, the expectations that the media has for them to be the perfect image of a human being was what I saw as a young child. Skin brightening formulas, shaving creams, perfect figures, and so many advertised women to be the glossy, perfect figures for young girls. I noticed how abnormal my body hair was compared to the celebrities and Instagram models on the internet. Being a South Asian and having body hair is not considered something normal. I struggled to embrace my body for so many years because of the cultural expectations for women to be shaven from top to bottom. I do not fit in the current expectations of Western beauty but I was advised time and time again that their ways are better for me.
Trips to the salon always filled me with dread as aestheticians would comment on my arm and facial hair. “You should wax your arm hair” or “You should not have hair on your face, why don’t you wax or shave them off?” were comments that I received during my appointments. Even when I kindly said no, they would put additional pressure to remind me that women should not have hair on their bodies. Just look at celebrities, they would say. The kind of pressure to look a certain way, especially expecting someone like me to adhere to Western beauty standards is completely ridiculous to me. But I suppose, this is what happens when we are exposed to commercials that convince us to apply skin brightening cream to look more desirable and pretty.
These were not things that I could control but I was deeply ashamed and mocked at my age. I started threading my bushy eyebrows when I was in college and it became a regular thing for me to keep this appearance. Consequently, I became happier and more confident, but the part of threading and waxing my eyebrows for the next five years of my life was something that I had to do every week or month, just so I would be a better version of myself. Trust me, there’s nothing cute or sexy about having ingrown hair or razor burns and burns on your skin.
Conversations of self-love were not something that we talked about when we were kids. I was taught that I must fit into a specific model of beauty so that I would be more desirable to men. These kinds of standards internalised my hatred towards my skin, body, hair, and even the way I looked. Sometimes I regret the years I spent plucking and threading and waxing my legs and eyebrows, just so I can fit into that model of Western beauty. If I could go back and tell my younger self that the way I looked then was more than enough and I did not need to follow certain beauty standards to be more desirable, or anything else.
This kind of mentality is past its prime, even if it’s about something as trivial as weight or body hair. But the problem that I want to address more thoroughly is the issue of body hair being policed towards young girls even before they are teenagers. I have clung to my insecurities for the longest time and mentally, it is exhausting to let people know that I do not want to shave my arms or legs or anywhere else. It is my choice and what I do with my body is mine alone. Honestly, it’s tiring enough to do it every week or month.
I have learned to love myself and my body more after my diagnosis, and it was a difficult journey. It took me months of self-love and removing internalised hatred that I had for years to finally accept myself the way that I am. I still hate going to the salon just to hear comments about my hair, and it’s exhausting. But it’s more tiring to hear other people tell you that body hair is disgusting on a woman’s body when it is a natural thing. Hair should never be a sign of ugliness and impurity, it should be something that we must all embrace and love. The internalised hatred that we have towards our body hair is something that must be unlearned now, and even for young teenagers.