When I was 11 years old, I was desperate to rip out every hair on my body, from my upper lip to my ankles. How queer I feel compared to other girls. For Middle Eastern women like me, our hair tends to be thicker, thicker and more noticeable. In elementary school, many of my peers had thinning hair, or their parents allowed them to remove it. My mom told me I wasn’t ready and that I should enjoy my childhood.
Well, I didn’t like my hairy childhood, and after weeks of covering my legs by pulling off my school uniform and socks, I was finally allowed to wax my calves and underarms. How aptly lead women, this long and sadistic act of pulling and tearing skin. And hair removal, dear God. Picture a million tiny sprites tearing apart your hair follicles rapidly.
Hair removal ritual is modern torture, but the number of businesses in Australia’s waxing and nail salon industry 2.2% increase Average for each of the past five years. In my 20s, I continued this expensive, time-consuming, and painful routine, not for beauty, but for fitting into the prevailing beauty standards and pretending I had never grown hair. Oh, I’m just a soft buttery young woman, I only grow hair on my head, eyebrows and eyelashes! What kind of beast has hair everywhere? not me!
I associate body hair on women with misogyny, shame, and unsanitary hygiene because my mom grew up telling me it was “dirty.” The grown women, aunts and teachers in my life have no hair. Furry girls get snickered at the school’s swimming carnival. In the classroom, another girl was dubbed a “hairy bear” by her male classmates because of her thick eyebrows. Witnessing it all terrifies me. I make sure to shave everyday so I don’t get bullied.
I now see my laser hair removal practitioner monthly. While a 20-something burns the intimate parts of your body red with high-powered lasers, lying under fluorescent lights can humble one’s self-esteem. It’s not permanent, the hair will grow back, so I’m doomed to this lifelong cycle. “I’m seeing more and more moms taking their teenage girls for lasers,” says my esthetician, “and I don’t see the point.” Changes in puberty mean Lasers Can Make Hair Grow Faster And will not reduce future hair volume.
When I was surrounded by Melbourne hipsters, I was told to free myself. “I let mine grow,” says a friend, “I just don’t want to be bothered anymore. You should grow it too. Who cares.” I looked at her barely-there blond armpit hair with a sense of boredom. Am I preventing feminism by not dipping my armpit hair? There’s a difference between someone who conforms to Western aesthetic standards growing wispy blond hair and the hair I grow; dark enough for a wig, dark enough to be seen from across the room. Body hair is an accessory to some, but to me it’s a barrier to acceptance in many spaces where visible body hair invites prolonged stares or nasty comments. Women with darker, thicker hair tend to bear a greater burden of hair loss. I feel like if I’m not considered attractive or feminine because I’m not hairless, I won’t get the same opportunities in life.
The pro-body-hair movement sweeping TikTok, Instagram, and certain social circles gave me hope. But I wonder if the movement includes people like me and those outside of the hipster bubble — ie: the rest of the world.