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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

26

On Hair, There and Everywhere, and Intra-Cultural Shame

dem brows

“A girl told me today that I would be a lot prettier if I got my eyebrows threaded. So I told her she’d be a lot prettier if she got surgery to turn her fivehead into a forehead!!”

File that one under the “swing and a miss” column of my sick burn top hits listicle, but biting wit notwithstanding, my mother was unperturbed.

“Maybe you should start threading your eyebrows,” she conceded, staring fervently at the thicket perched above my nose like it was an unsolvable calculus problem.

I was not expecting that response. I was nine.

***

Any article trending on the Internet right now can tell you how difficult growing up female is, but let me make it clear: growing up female and Indian is about 100x worse. Thanks to my follicular birthright, I was covered in body hair – not just that adorable little unibrow, or even the wispy mustache that would put prepubescent teenage boys to shame, but wrist to shoulder, leg to ladypart thick black hair. The longest relationship I’ve ever been in, 16 years and counting, has been with the nice Indian lady who threads and waxes me bare – a woman who, despite being so skilled at hair removal she made it a career, once commented, “I just don’t understand why your chin hair is so stubborn.” (Me either, Roma Auntie, but I agree with you, it does seem like laser hair removal has really helped, right?)

If you were interviewing me to be an entry-level management consultant at your top four firm, and – in lieu of asking me how many ping pong balls I thought could fit into a Boeing-737 – asked how many hours I’ve spent in my life removing body hair, I wouldn’t just estimate that shit to show you my thinking. I can give you cold hard numbers. 18 years, seven minutes of leg shaving every three days, one hour of arm waxing, eyebrow threading, and myriad other ways to “clean up” the rest of my face every three weeks, and I’m staring down the barrel of 723 and one half hours. Throw on another half hour of laser hair removal (saying nothing of the time I spent crying in the car after laser hair removal, because it hurts that badly), and that’s 30 days of my life dedicated to maintaining the image that I was, as Leonardo DiCaprio puts it in The Wolf of Wall Street, “hairless from the eyebrows down.”

Feminism and the patriarchy notwithstanding, I wax, shave and thread myself into oblivion for two reasons. One, we discuss loudly – in women’s magazines, over boozy brunches, and all day every day on Gchat: sex. The other, we don’t discuss because it’s awkward, uncomfortable, and snaps most of us right back to the elementary school playground: without a wax, we risk being openly mocked for looking like a distant relative of the Bearded Lady.

***

Once you reach a certain age, there are certain unspoken rules between women. There are lines you just don’t cross with fellow members of the sisterhood. Stealing boyfriends, being passive aggressive, saying "What? I'm not being passive aggressive" when confronted about being passive aggressive – ALL FAIR GAME. But calling out another girl for being hairy – to her face? Literally, never. You might as well throw battery acid on Beyoncé, for all the standing you’d have left in the female community after that.

But here I was, three days into turning 27, staring down the barrel of the most bonkers email I’d ever received, from an ex-girlfriend of a guy I’d barely started seeing, when buried within her attempts to tell me to stop dating him was this gem:

He and his friends have nicknamed you Chewbacca, for crying out loud.

Oh. Okay. I’m nine years old again.

***

When I relayed this story to my friend Maggie, who is half-Indian, I initially forgot to mention the biggest transgression of all: the girl who sent it to me? She just happened to be Indian too.

After delightfully crowing my cyber bully’s name (an anglicized Indian name so generic, she may as well have christened herself John Smith and called it a day) for upwards of five minutes, Maggie looked at me and matter-of-factly summed it up. “An Indian girl shaming a fellow Indian girl for having body hair? No. No. No. Shut it down.”

And she’s right. That’s not to say that every girl doesn’t have it tough growing up in one way or another based on how she looks, but as my Italian best friend who once got called Werewolf in junior high for her arm hair can attest to, there’s a certain solidarity in shared hirsuteness. Show me an Indian girl, and I can show you a girl who has at some point in her adolescence cried crocodile tears because she had to wear shorts in Phys Ed and some girl – probably a Jessica because it’s always a Jessica isn’t it? – made fun of her goose down legs. Those scars may get threaded, waxed, and plucked away on a biweekly basis, but damn if they don’t grow back.

***

While Maggie continued to yell my new favorite Indian’s name apropos of nothing for the next hour, I spent the last two glasses of rosé explaining in painstaking detail to Maggie’s husband how there was no way I could be mistaken for a Wookiee, because I had gotten a bikini wax the day before our first hookup, and threaded my upper lip and chin before our last date. It took a third glass of rosé and a tipsy walk home spent peering at my now-baby soft arm hair to realize the bigger lesson: while I might expect another Indian girl to avoid causing this particular and recognizable pain, this woman was fighting a desperate and unwinnable war. It was very likely experience that had taught her where on my now-hairless body to plunge the knife, and in her rush to hurt me, she brought out the weapon she thought worst. All I can do is what Beyonce would do in the face of battery acid – turn my other smooth cheek and wish her the best.

You can find Beejoli Shah on Twitter @beejoli.



26 Comments / Post A Comment

RogueState

I think bitches are just bitches. I had a friend suggest that I could be her personal assistant when she makes millions one day. Isn't that sweet. Wow thanks for allowing me to be your assistant. Apparently I am not capable of making money on my own, so I appreciate your generosity. Biaaaaatch.

Beejoli I'm sorry she said that mean thing to you, but she just sounds like a mean girl.

Green

I for one prefer a full, natural bush

Vera Knoop

@Green No one cares about your boner.

commanderbanana

@Green I prefer pushing your face slowly through a garbage disposal.

Gilgongo

I'm impressed that you only shave every 3 days! Back before laser hair removal (which has been a wondrous miracle for me), I would have a 5pm leg shadow after shaving that morning. Ugh. Anyway, not Indian, but I can relate.

Also, a lot of "Jessica" hate on The Hairpin lately. :(
- Jess

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@Gilgongo I'm sorry, decent person named Jess! I was going to post a comment to the effect of "LOL, it really always is a Jessica" and then list my favourite Jessica as an exception, but truly, the evil Jessicas have unfairly given you all a bad name. No pun intended.

chickpeas akimbo

Actually I think that's a pretty sick burn for a nine year old. I only recently figured out what "fivehead" means, and I am an adult ("adult"), so.

Betsy Murgatroyd

I had a young girl (11 or 12) who was part Indian in my chair for a brow and lip wax once and she was very facially hirsute. Her white grandmother said, "oh, she's our hairy monkey." She looked so embarrassed and preteen me wanted to cry. The co-worker that was in the room with me was also horrified.
I don't know what this has to do with your post, other than humiliating and shaming women with facial hair seems to be a thing. A thing that needs to be killed with fire.

hedgehogerie

@Betsy Murgatroyd How awful. That would never be funny to a kid especially coming from someone they love and likely respect, who probably never had the same issues. Did you have a chance to make her feel more comfortable?

On a similar note, whenever I go to a salon to get an underarm wax and they say "wow you have a lot of hair//this is going to take a while//you need to come back each month...*frown*" etc. I want to punch them in the face, but instead I just end up taking my business elsewhere. (I'm sure you do not do this)

Betsy Murgatroyd

@hedgehogerie I tried. The other estie and I were mortified. But we both did our best to make her as comfortable as possible about it.
I went to school when I was an old, so I had life training in sensitivity, but it is not something that is taught at school (well my school, anyway) and it probably should.
I do give guidelines, which includes monthly maintenance if needed and the whys, and next time take a tylenol because holy hell underarm hair hurts (because of the swirl pattern it grows in), but I try not to comment too much on the amount of hair.

swirrlygrrl

@Betsy Murgatroyd Yes to taking your business elsewhere!! I am a white girl with what I like to call "Brooke Shields" eyebrows. I once had a woman cutting my hair at a salon try to shame me into an eyebrow wax. No tip for her, and I never went back!

(This triumph of self in my 20s was in sharp contrast to the hours spent crying in my teens when someone commented on the hair on my stomach. That kept me away from 2 piece bathing suits much more than the look of my abs ever did).

hedgehogerie

THANK GOD. A lot of the body hair posts I've seen around the internet tend to be written by or concerned with body hair of light-European ladies. I totally get that everyone has body hair needs no matter their origin, but lets get real: those of us with any blood from the Middle East/Russia/India section of the world tend*** to have more issues with hair removal. Yes, blondies, you might have to shave your pits a few times a week, but do you get a black 5 o'clock shadow there?

My dad is from Iran and my mom is North Euro + Russian (ancestry), and I thank haysoos that I don't have nearly as much body hair as say, my brother, who is a wolf. But, I have very pale, sensitive skin and have spent nearly twenty years removing my various hairs (I'm the same age as the writer).

I'm actually a fairly big proponent of doing whatever you like, and fuck whoever you are dating if they aren't down. Most of my girlfriends (including coarse haired ones) are entirely bald every day under the brows, but I am hopeful one day they'll stop caring about what dudes and others think.

***I am fully aware that Mediterranean, Celtic, etc. people have similar hair issues. My 27 years tell me that Middle Easterners and Indians tend to have more, darker, and coarser hair overall, everywhere.

sulpicius subuculus

@hedgehogerie I don't know why this has to be a competition. I'm a mostly-Scandinavian dark-haired mishmosh and yes, I do have a 5 o'clock pit shadow, and weeks when I shave my legs every 3 days - as the author apparently does - are weeks when I don't give a shit what my legs look like, because my leg shadow arrives around 3pm. Threading every 3 weeks? I plucked my eyebrows so much in high school and college that they were constantly bleeding/infected in an attempt to keep the unibrow at bay.

My point is that there's no need to do some kind of competitive-misery ethnic comparison. We all struggle with unrealistic body standards; yes, some of us have it rougher than others, but not necessarily on some kind of perfectly rank-able genetic scale; different people are different. Plenty of "blondies" have dark body hair; I had a redheaded friend who hated the way her (virtually invisible to me) leg hair SPARKLED in the sun. Commiserate, fine; but don't denigrate others for having their own bodily insecurities. I agree with "fuck whoever you are dating if they aren't down" (or don't fuck them, as the case may be). But let's also agree that people are allowed to worry about their bodies however they want.

hedgehogerie

@sulpicius subuculus Ha....not sure where the competition idea came from. I think you missed my asterisk and my point: it's refreshing to hear about body hair issues from someone who I can relate to. There's no denying that women of all regions deal with varying forms of body shame. However, I cannot relate to the sparkly hair phenomenon that I, too, am well aware of since I have friends of all types and we talk about body hair. Except, no one understands the same woes like my Persian, Indian, Israeli, etc. friends.

Maybe you missed the author's point too: in referencing the ex-gf as Indian, there is an implied understanding of those body hair issues unique to certain types of people, which this lady should have been aware of, and it's awful she would shame the author for the same thing she has LIKELY had to deal with. So yes, there are differences and popular opinion TYPICALLY will not reference Scandinavians when discussing body hair/body hair removal.

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

@hedgehogerie not to pile on or anything, but hi, I'm Italian, and somehow the mother who gave me half of my strong Mediterranean genes does not understand how I can be hairier than she is.
It can definitely be a cultural thing - my fair-haired friends don't get it, but I don't really hold it against them. To each their own, right?

eizverson22

I'm very envious of those bushy-haired girl.

Jillsy Sloper

Thanks for writing this, I too have always felt shame about my body hair, probably because of comments made back in elementary school. I'm so super sensitive about it. Two things over the years that reminded me of this, and how some people don't understand how it feels, or are purposely cruel about it:

1. 7 or 8 years ago, on an episode of American's Next Top Model, there was a photo shoot where each of the girls was a circus freak. Tyra assigned a girl with thick, curly hair to be the "bearded lady." The girl was terribly uncomfortable, and was eliminated that episode. I felt so bad for her! I thought, based on the appearance of her hair, that she might be a person who'd struggled with body hair, and how hard it is to overcome those feelings. I was horrified.

2. Seth MacFarlane said a ton of fucked-up and truly offensive shit when he hosted the Oscars, but one that I am still angry over was when he said something about the Kardashian sisters having mustaches. Those girls have obviously complicated beauty regimens, and I seriously doubt anyone has seen them with unwanted hairs since before puberty. So MacFarlane's "joke" was that women with their coloring often have facial hair. It was basically a joke at the expense of their Armenian heritage. which is racist and fucked up.

Miss Money-Sterling

OK, I know that Bollywood movies have their own issues with feminism, race, bodies, etc. But Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is the jam, and I could watch Kajol ALL DAY LONG. I'm kind of your average white-ethnic lady (a little bit of everything, but people usually guess Turkish or Greek and I'm happy to play along because it usually means free dessert at diners) and I was way hairy as a kid. Oddly enough, as I get older, a lot of the body hair has thinned out, and now that I am more comfortable with my body I kind of miss the thick arm hair and unibrow (I wish I could get the giant brows back, now that they're in style and I missed it), and am even kind of into my little bit of mustache. I SAID IT. I love my body hair. I also love everyone else's. OWN IT, LADIES (unless you don't have it or don't like it, in which case, do whatever makes you happy).

commanderbanana

I want to know what happened afterwards - like, did she confront the email writer? Show it to the dude?

WHAAAAA HAPPENNNNN

Les Cuadra@facebook

Think!......there are beautiful women who are......Bold!......yea!......Bold! They have to wear a wig or hairpiece. We are not in a perfect world. Besides, there is difference between hair and fuzz. Scandinavian women also have fuzz, but you don't know because they shave or do anything else to get rid of it. I love peaches!

Imadethisjustforthisarticle

Okay yes it does hurt, but electrolysis on my chin/upper lip was absolutely the best choice I have ever made.

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