Hairy Women in a Hairless World

As I sit on my couch eating peanut butter and checking my emails, my TV is broadcasting another Venus razor commercial. The slogan that flashes on the screen is “Reveal the goddess in you.” And I think to myself, why do I have to shave myself to reveal the goddess within? Why can’t I be a goddess with my hair? Shouldn’t I be proud of every inch of me, even my bushy eyebrows and toe hair?

Models, celebrities, and commercials all tell us what is deemed to be an attractive type of woman. And all the women shown are hairless. You don’t see any happy trails on Victoria Secret models when they walk down the runway. You never see a mustache on a woman when the camera zooms in on their face on the big screen. I don’t recall any dark armpits on Baywatch. Which, let me tell you, is so unrealistic for a girl with dark hair. If I shave my arm pits smooth, that patch of skin is still going to be two times darker than the rest of me.

Through the media, we have subconsciously told young girls that to be attractive, they must modify their natural bodies. And it’s hard not to believe it. When you see an actress in a movie who is lost at sea or stuck in the jungle for a week. She’ll have scrapes and bruises but her legs still look super smooth. Scenes like that cause unrealistic expectations for young girls. They believe that they’re hairier than normal when there really shouldn’t be a normal standard for that anyway. The movie, Princess Diaries, is a good example of that. Poor hairy Mia Thermopolis was depressed and invisible until her grandma, the Queen of Genovia came and paid for her makeover. With her plucked eyebrows and straight hair, her high school crush finally notices her. Yes, in the end of the movie she ends up with the guy that noticed her in her “ugly phase,” and while that’s sweet, that concept still serves a problem. We still think of Mia as ugly and invisible until she modified herself and tamed her hair. 

When you see these hairless women in movies and then see the media raving on how beautiful they are, you start to compare yourself.

And I can understand the pressure.

I’m Middle Eastern. So, there are a lot of identities that go with that: excellent hummus maker, extreme hospitality, and oh yeah. Hairy. I’m quite hairy compared to the women we see in media. And my dark hair paired with light skin does not make a good combination for a young girl who didn’t want to draw attention to said hairiness. I had the unibrow, the mustache, the hairy arms and legs. My fingers have hair on them. I have a happy trail down my stomach. One of my friends even said I looked like Mia Thermopolis before her makeover, and I took that as an insult since the movie and society deemed that version of Mia to be undesirable. I know this is something other women can relate to from a rainbow of different origins.

While growing up, I got bullied for my hairiness. I was a chubby kid with an unibrow and a mustache - an easy target. Before I shaved for the first time, my armpits were hairier than some grown men’s armpits I’ve seen. I had black arm hair coating my light skin and I used to cross my arms so not to bring attention to them. Kids would ask me if I belonged in the circus because I could grow a mustache (it’s okay, you can laugh). They would ostracize me from gym groups and made me feel like the grossest student in the 4th grade. I would come home crying sometimes. I remember in 7th grade, a girl turned to me and excitedly pointed at my fingers, “Hey! You have hair on your fingers! Only 1 in 10 people have that trait.” She was just sharing a genetics lesson with me, but she just got me to shave my fingers for the next 3 weeks.

Once 5th grade hit, I had enough of the teasing. In the coming years, I tried everything in the books to get rid of the hair. Waxing. Tweezing. Threading. Shaving. Laser Hair Removal. You name it, I’ve tried it. That was also around the same time that I started to straighten my naturally curly hair. The first time I got rid of my armpit hair, my mom waxed it off without cutting it first and I ended up bleeding. Not a fun memory. I know women who had to go through three razors the first time they shaved their legs. I’ve threaded my eyebrows at the mall before, and just like a new haircut, I always hated the change for the first day until the redness went down. Did I mention that I have to trim my eyebrows? Not just pluck, but trim. Like a haircut. For my face.

But some of the changes I made, I’ve now given up. I used to hate my arm hair, but I hated waxing even more. So, I tried bleaching the hair in middle school. The next day on the school bus, as I talked to my friend, my arms were in the sunlight. The arm hair was just as noticeable, if not more noticeable because it didn’t match the rest of my hair color. And I know women who shave their arms instead. If I shaved my forearms, it’ll just look like I’m wearing hairy short sleeves. My whole body grows hair, so if I shave some off, it brings more attention to the places I didn’t.

I remember my 5th-grade teacher complementing me before I had made my one eyebrow into two.

“I just love your eyebrows,” she said. “You’re going to be able to do whatever you want with them.”

11-Year-old-me was too focused on the fact that I was having a hard time making real friends and my logic at the time blamed the way I looked for that. I joked back to my teacher that if I could do anything to my eyebrows, then I would make them into zig zags in the future. Thank God, my fashion sense has changed since then. But my teacher was right. I did get the luxury of nice eyebrows in the future. I get compliments on my eyebrows frequently now - much more than any bullying I dealt with in the past.

I wish I could say that any hair removal that I do now is purely for myself and not because society has pressured me to do so. For the most part, I think that’s true. But, there’s a part of me that wonders would I have changed myself at all if I had never been told that the way I looked was different or ugly?

There are some women now and in history that have embraced their hairiness. You might be thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I already know about Frida Kahlo and her unibrow self-portraits.” Even though, yes, Frida Kahlo is an iconic symbol for art and for women having agency over their own bodies, there’s another woman- alive right now- we should all know about named Harnaam Kaur. She is a 26-year-old woman born with polycystic ovary syndrome which causes excess hair growth. As a teen, she was bullied so much for her facial hair, that she became suicidal. Since then, she has embraced her natural hair and was even baptized Sikh, a religion that forbids the cutting of body hair. She said in an interview with Huffington Post that she feels even more feminine now with her beard. She has the confidence to wear makeup and dresses more now than before. “It makes me feel like a brave, confident woman who isn’t afraid to break society’s norms,” Kaur says in an interview with Daily Mail. She is now a spokesperson for body positivity and anti-bullying.

Now, you don’t have to be as hardcore as Kaur to accept your natural body hair. Lord knows I don’t let my unibrow grow back in. I feel like somewhat of a hypocrite, because I complain how women should embrace their natural bodies and then I go remove hair. Every time my mom starts plucking hair from her neck and chin in the bathroom I tell her how you can’t even see the hair. She’ll ignore me and keep plucking. But I remember just last month, I was sitting in class and I felt a thick hair on my chin. I tried to wipe it off until I realized that it was attached to me. For the next 10 minutes, I zoned out of the lesson and casually tried to pick the hair off. And I realized, “Oh no, I’m becoming my mother.”

Even though I haven’t embraced my natural beauty in the same way Frida Kahlo or Harnaam Kaur have, I’ve learned to accept that my body grows hair. So now, when I forget to shave or pluck, I’m not embarrassed to leave the house. I don’t feel ugly or gross like I used to. And accepting my body hair has allowed me to drop some hair removal rituals I have done in the past. I barely notice my arm hair anymore- it’s just a part of me now. When I miss a streak of hair on my leg (because I always forget to wear my contacts in the shower), I couldn’t care less. I go to the beach in a two piece with my hairy stomach showing now.

And I still receive comments on my hairiness, but the thing that has changed is I don’t see myself as a problem anymore. Yes, my body grows hair. It’s just a fact to me. I only wish I could go back in time and tell 11-year-old me to not listen to all the bullies. That she was just fine with or without the hair. And that she shouldn’t change for anyone.

I f you’re a young girl or woman questioning if you’re pretty or not because of your hairiness levels, I’ve been there. I know me telling you to love yourself isn’t going to change how you feel about your hairiness- unlearning something that society taught you takes years, if not a lifetime. But, all I can say with 100% certainty is that you are not alone and a generous portion of the female population shares your struggle. And despite what commercials like Venus say, you are already a goddess with all the hair you were born with. And whether you’ve stopped shaving, forgotten to shave before leaving the house, or still remove every hair on your body, be confident in who you are and your choices. And whatever change you make to your body, make sure you are doing it for you and your own happiness.

by Sarah Haidar

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