Being a hairy Indian

CW: Mental health, body shaming

I remember the first time I asked mother if I could wax my moustache. I was 13 years old. Her response was very dismissive: ‘no, you’re not old enough/it’ll make it worse/you look fine’, which, I’m not going to lie, really didn’t help.

It got worse when I realised I had an uncomfortable amount of hair all over my body. Everywhere. Not on my legs and arms, but on my *whole* body. What that meant was going into the shower and shaving the bottom half of my legs wasn’t going to do shit. Thanks Veet, Gillette and every other depiction of hairiness in the media, but you seem to have no idea what dealing with here.

Then one day, I remembered noticing the band Kittie and the dark skinned guitarist with hair on her arms, unashamedly posing with them in full definition. I was shocked, impressed and very quickly fell in love. I listened to a lot of pop music, which was saturated by standards of beauty I could not physically live up to. These stunning visions in my TV were not only beautiful, but so incredibly hair free that I felt even more alienated from the world. I moved to 'alternative' music, drowning puberty into Tool, the Deftones and Marilyn Manson albums. Here I found Kittie, and here was the first time I remembered feeling overwhelmed by a connection.

As my mother began calling the music I was listening to 'wrong' and 'for freaks', I found myself living up to my own fears. My hormones moved me onto smooth, hair less comic book characters - those of which would only be covered in hair if they were a mutant. I wasn't sure if I hated myself or whether I blamed everyone else, but I remember that growing up as me was a very conflicted experience.

School was an intense period. I was one of the most bullied girls in my year because of my moustache/sideburns/eyebrows and hook nose (I have since undergone rhinoplasty). I was told I looked like I permanently wore Groucho glasses, which despite being an accurate observation, was incredibly hurtful. My main experience of school was spent crying in the toilets, crying in class, crying in corridors, trying not to cry in class so I could actually learn something and so on. Those kids really let rip and it's stayed with me. I wish I was stronger and ignored them, but I've always been susceptible to anxiety.

Eventually, I hid in my room and waxed my face and eyebrows without telling mother. I didn’t emerge from my room for days and would run to school covering my face. She finally noticed, and since we just had a visit from a group of kids standing outside the house shouting verbal abuse such as ‘hairy man’ and ‘ugly bitch’, my mother decided it was fine to let me continue.

So that was my face dealt with, but what about the rest of me? It took me a good hour to shave both legs, and each thick hair grew back painfully, leaving me with one hour of smoothness, and a week of itchy pain, plus red dots that looked like pimples. This was not ideal. So, I went for waxing – painful, expensive waxing. It went from waxing my legs, to my bikini, my butt, my hands, arms, chest and my stomach. That’s a lot of money to spend every few months and more importantly, a lot of pain. I was dealing with enough internal hatred, that abusing my skin was beginning to take its toll.

Staring at images of models on TV and in magazines, with their smooth silky white legs, and a quiff of blonde hair that was softly blown off with the threat of a razor, enraged me further. I hated them. I didn’t want to be them and I wanted them to stop making me try. The anger was not directed at individual model/actresses (I still held them in high esteem), but to the ideals that was created around them. I was angry I had to conform to this.

What didn’t help was the way my family and Indian friends would refer to it as being ‘clean’.

‘Your face looks clean, you look lovely!’

‘Look at your nice clean legs’

‘Clean your face’ would be code for ‘get your face waxed’

Mother would say ‘it’s what us Indians deal with’, but looking at her hairless legs, and the small wisps on her upper lip, I would wonder if she actually knew what I went through. My cousins would organise waxing trips, which we'd all go to (going to a beauticians house so that we didn't have to undress in front of any of the public), leading to the uncomfortable, sticky walk back home after. She would silently and quickly wax our bodies as we shed tears in the pain and sheer stupidity of it all. I would compare myself with my Indian cousins and friends, and despite the extra hair they had, I felt like I suffered the most. I victimised myself so much, it led to depression and eventually a body disorder.

Countless hospital appointments would come up with no solutions. I didn’t suffer from anything to cause extra hair growth; I was ‘just an Indian girl’. Looking at images of girls refusing to shave their armpits and leg hair left me in fits of laughter ‘I wonder if they’d do it if they were just an Indian girl like me’. Mocking them to make myself feel better was a coping mechanism I really regret having.

I was an unhappy teenager, and then became an unhappy young adult. One-night stands were terrifying. I would run out the next day, in case my moustache had grown back. I would have to try and manage the hair on my face daily, meaning I would wake up at 6am every morning to spend an hour on my face before getting ready for work.

I was scared of summer and revealing clothes. Sex scares me. Getting changed in front of people scares me. I once had a panic attack when an ex playfully wouldn’t leave the room so I could get changed. Another ex once said ‘Ryan Giggs has nothing on YOUR legs!’. I sometimes still cry about that. I have become my own beautician over time, which means I have to look at my body a lot. I grew to hate it. I don’t go to the beach or swim in a pool. I don’t wear a dress/skirt without a days planning. I don’t just throw on a t-shirt, I have to make sure my arms are bald.

Then this year happened. Probably the best year in my history. In my 30s, I had a revelation and immersed myself back into Indian culture. Learning to love myself began with remembering to love where I’m from. Instead of it being my problem, it became my saviour. I found a lot more people talking about being hairy, quite openly. Friends began discussing it with me and I joined in. A year ago, I would have been too ashamed, but now I discuss all the different styles of hair removal as well as the effects on your skin, weighing out the pros/cons, discussing hygiene and so on. Harnaam Kaur became a discussion point. I can't love any one I've never met more than I do her.

Last year, I would never have written this. In fact, it's still quite hard. I wrote this months ago. I've been hovering over the 'Publish' button for 4 hours.

(Originally posted on writer's personal blog)