I looked at my freshly waxed chest the day before I was supposed to fly to Goa for a wedding, it was covered with painful, red pimples oozing with puss. I hurriedly covered it with Lacto Calamine lotion, tried to do a cold compress of ice to soothe it, put on a thick layer of aloe vera gel on it, and lay on my back, naked. This was three years ago but my struggle with my body hair started many years before that.
I spent most of my adolescence in a boarding school for girls nestled in a small valley on the foothills of the Himalayas almost cut off from reality. Yet, within these four walls, the clasp of patriarchy was still tight around our necks. Girls whispered about body hair being unhygienic, about facial hair looking ugly, and about who still hadn't started getting themselves waxed.
Around the seventh grade, I started becoming so conscious of my hair, that I let kids around me experiment with removing my hair with anything they would find- paper cutters, scotch tape, medical tape. Yup, anything. I stopped going for sports because that meant wearing shorts and showing off my hairy legs in broad daylight.
Finally, in eighth grade, without telling my mother, I got waxed by the parlour didi who came to school and the painful process finally started.
Growing up, my clothes were strategically planned- the shortest shorts for the day after I got waxed and the first week, then longer skirts and dresses for the week after and when tiny, scattered hair started to grow back in places, India attire or jeans. This changed a little as I grew up, becoming a little more confident with my leg and arm hair but only for night outs when hardly anything was visible.
My new obsession became removing my facial hair and pubic hair. I don't know where it started or how it came to be but I felt a pang of disgust every time I saw myself in the mirror with a stache or unwanted eyebrow hair. And as for pubic hair- it was a personal barrier against sex. If I had even a little bit of hair growth down there, I knew I wouldn't let anyone even come near the area. What would sexual partners think, I would be unattractive, I wouldn't be desired, I didn't even look at myself, how could I expect them to look at me?
Then the pandemic happened. With the salons closed, I couldn't thread my upper lip, wax my bikini area, or wax my arms. A few weeks into quarantine, I was as hairy as I had been in early puberty. My arm hair was dark against my skin and I hadn't even noticed it growing the length that it had. As I watched the cases rise around me, my body hair, and the shame around it seemed small in comparison. When my days were divided into essentials and non-essentials, my life fell into the former, and my hair fell into the latter.
Even as salons opened up and people started shaving, I remained unbothered. Almost as if I was telling myself, my body and my hair have sustained me through this year of uncertainty, they make me feel weirdly comfortable. Gone was the shame, gone was the disgust. The only thing that remained was my acceptance.
The guy I'm casually seeing came over one day and I contemplated shaving my entire body but because I was running out of time, I just trimmed my bikini hair and let the rest be. As he and I started having some fun in the sheets, I became painfully aware of my arms and the stray strands around my nipples. "What will he think?", I kept asking myself. However, he seemed to not have noticed, he went about the act as though nothing was different and it was reassuring to say the least.
The more I thought of it, I realised it's now sort of a dating sieve for me- whoever isn't comfortable with my body hair, can see himself out of the door because, after years of conditioning, I've finally been able to be free. After years of reading feminist literature and knowing that accepting the body- hair, stomach rolls, stretch marks and all was the need of the hour, it finally took a pandemic to actually start practicing it.
This year has been full of tragedy for many of us but at least I have a better relationship with my body and in case things go wrong- I have my body hair to protect me. I know it's just hair but what can I say- it makes me feel free, it makes me feel liberated!
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