Women and body hair issues go long back. The ritual of hair removal was common in ancient Egypt, where women would use clamped sea-shells as tweezers and pumice stones to remove body hair. In the Roman Empire, body hair removal was a sign of belonging to the elite upper class, and that's why you see women in renaissance paintings are smooth and hairless.
But it was only in the 1900s, when razor company Gilette created the first razor specifically for women, when the trend of body hair removal really took off. Soon, more techniques and gadgets became available for women's hair removal, and before you knew it, it became a full-blown industry. Now for this industry to sell its products, they needed to advertise them in such a way that a large population of women use hair removal tools. And how did they do that? By prying on women's insecurities, of course! And it totally worked.
Soon, women with body hair were considered 'ungroomed', 'unkempt' and 'unhygienic'. Women with visible body hair, such as facial hair, were labelled 'manly' or 'gay'. But let's pause for a second here and think about it: if women weren't meant to have body hair, they simply...wouldn't have it? Our body hair is there for a reason, and fitting into society's ever-changing standard of what's beautiful should be the last factor to consider when you're thinking about removing body hair.
As Indians, we are blessed with thick, dark, shapely brows and a long, luscious head of hair. The downside? Most of us also have long, luscious hair, err, pretty much all over our body. And when you see hair removal ads showing models shaving their hairless arms, we're bound to think that something is wrong with our bodies. Fortunately, modern-day feminism encourages women to accept their bodies, hair and all, in their natural glory. But that also doesn't mean that you're a bad feminist if you prefer to keep your body hair-free. After all, it's about choice, ladies!
When the pandemic struck and our government announced a strict lockdown, hair removal was the least of our priorities. And rightly so--people were dying in large numbers across the globe, and there was no end to the virus in sight. And since we are now stuck indoors for the unforeseeable future, the idea of removing hair has become...redundant? Most of us don't need to go to work, and aren't going out to socialise. The only people we're seeing on our regular basis are the one we live with, and perhaps a few more close people in our social bubbles. So with the 'log kya kahenge' gaze of society being lifted, women are actually enjoying letting themselves-and their body hair--be. We spoke to five millennial women on how their relationship with their body hair changed during the pandemic, and most of them have the same resounding thought: who even cares anymore?
From an early age, I was extremely embarrassed about the hair growth on my arms and legs. Blame that on gawking at hairless models in magazines or constantly being fed hair removal solutions through advertisements. I wouldn’t wear a dress if my legs weren’t absolutely hairless and would rush to the parlour any chance I got. Bikini wax, threading, arms, legs, stomach waxing--I would do it all. For some time I even went through an obsessive laser hair removal phase. However, 2020 has been my feminist awakening in that sense. Thanks to all the Virginia Woolf books I read this year and the fact that going to a salon is almost life-threatening, I’ve been growing my hair out all year and loving it. Every time I feel like I should shave, I tell myself that it’s just too unimportant to care. So, the silver lining during this pandemic has been my love for my body hair, in all its natural glory!
--Anandita Malhotra, 25
I was always super ashamed about my facial hair. When I was in the 8th grade, the class topper told me, “You may be pretty but you have hair on your face which no girl should have!” I cannot tell you how much that affected my mental health, as I was suddenly too conscious about it! I even thought about shaving, just like my father. And yes, I did shave it. But honestly, it just made the matters worse and in time, I actually stopped caring about it altogether.
Coming to the current situation, the hair on my face (eyebrows, upper lips, cheeks and chin) are thriving and honestly, I ain’t mad about it. I mean I do ‘clean’ my brow hair once a month with a wax strip (do not do it) but other than that, I don’t care as there are so many other things in the world worth worrying about!
--Aayushi Pareek, 27
It was quite recently that I was reading about the 1968 Miss America pageant and a march that happened right outside it. Bras and towering shoes were done away with and so were razors, albeit in small numbers. But what fascinated me about it was how often, from then and long before it to now, women are always put under scrutiny about the most minute things one could ever imagine. I can't remember the number of times someone has remarked on my undone eyebrows or arms and such, much because of the restrictive beauty standards we have set as a society, amongst other things. And perhaps now would be a great time to let these so-called norms be done away with. I didn't care much for the advice and the comments before but this year has only strengthened the feeling—it's just hair for heaven's sake.
--Abhilasha Tyagi, 27
Braless and hairy--that's how coronavirus lockdown has been to me. TBH, I was the kind of person who thought that not getting my eyebrows shaped is going to make me look ugly. And therefore, I would get them shaped before they even grew properly. But as lockdown happened and only essential services remained functional, our parlour didis weren't a part of it. So I got a chance to see myself with all my natural hair thriving after which I realised that facial hair is not that bad. While it started from 'who's looking', it has gone to 'I don't care', and I'm glad about it. Well, I'm not saying that I won't get my brows shaped but yes, I definitely won't care even if they aren't at their best.
--Neha Kapoor, 32
I remember while discussing the process of waxing with my cousin when I was younger, I said that I’d never get it done. She turned to me and said--it doesn’t matter ‘cause you’re ‘like a boy’ and not girly. Back then, I was too young to care about what she said. But, it all changed when I started dating. Suddenly, after 21-22 years, I became extremely conscious of my hairy legs and arms. I started ‘grooming’ myself for my then-boyfriend and I think that was the stupidest thing I have ever done (and I have done a lot of stupid things in life). He tried to convince me that waxing should be an individual choice as it really doesn’t matter to him. But, my insecurity got the better of me, and even after the breakup, I continued to remove my body hair. Thankfully, the lockdown re-introduced me to the decade-old version of myself that I had long forgotten. I have legit not gotten waxed or shaved in the past eight months and this is the best-feeling-ever!
I'm sure a majority of us relate to these women! And if you're still insecure about your body hair, remember, the more power you give to it, the more it will feed on your insecurities. If you genuinely enjoy staying hairless, then you do you! But if it's something you feel 'pressured' to do, there's no better time to give society the finger by letting your hair grow out, exactly the way it's supposed to!