The Ugly Grizzly Bear
I genuinely wanted to know if boys hated their body hair like most women do or are conditioned to do. I asked most of my male friends. All of them replied in a very careless manner. Some of the replies were “ Oh! I don’t know. Never thought about it.” “Yes, body hair looks bad but it doesn’t matter to boys, I guess.” “Why would I feel insecure about my body hair? It’s a sign of my masculinity.” I was hurt. Why should I feel insecure about myself when I have hair on my body then? Why is the society encouraging one section of the society to feel insecure of their bodies and not just accepting them the way they are born?
My mind was running wild with thoughts as the lady in front of me was applying a layer of hot wax on my skin. I flinched. Then she carefully took a strip, placed it on the wax and pressed it hard on my hand. And then, in a second, she pulled the strip off my hand. I could see a clear red patch on my hairy hands. She proudly showed me the strip which had hair glued to the wax on it. As she burns my hand with hot wax, rips my hair off my body and repeats this process, I was confronted with just one question-“Is this pain worth it”?
I made a choice to treat my body this way. I made a choice to suffer the pain silently. But why? Why did I make this choice? For who did I make the choice? Why am I not stopping inspite of seeing my cuts from the threading, my burns from the waxing, my rash from threading and waxing? Once, I went to a salon to get my underarms waxed. The lady handled my body so roughly that I bled as soon as she pulled the strip off my underarm. I didn’t stop even after that sight. Why?
There have been many months when I just decided not to go through this pain. I decided not to wax. I was proud of myself for not submitting myself to the stereotype. But then again, there is someone (male and female) who ends up commenting on my body. She said “You look like a gorilla. Learn to groom yourself.” He asked me if I even realized that hair on the body looks ugly. He was hairy too but did anyone ask him that question? I didn’t understand it. Why are women being encouraged to be violent with their bodies?
Once, my friend decided to get her back waxed. She was going to meet her partner. She wanted to look nice, she said. The wax resulted in horrible rash on her back. She couldn’t sleep at night properly because her back hurt so much everytime she lied down on her back. It took a month for her back to heal properly. She then vowed to herself that she will never get her back waxed again. Lucky her, I thought, it’s just her back. She could avoid getting her back waxed. What if it was her hand, leg or her underarm? The “vital parts” of the body? What would she have done? There are many other alternatives to waxing right? Like epilators, hair removal creams, razors and laser treatments. But we as women believe that waxing is the best because it removes our tan, dead skin and hair. In short, everything ugly, it removes. It cleans our body. So, it is imperative to go through the pain. After all, being fair and hairless is desired right?
I, like most other girls, gave in to the societal pressure and decided to become “clean” or “hairless” again. No, this sentence does not imply that I had no agency to make a decision. I made this choice. I was going to wear a hot black dress and wanted to look “nice” and “presentable.” To achieve this purpose, I have to be hairless. So, I decided to try the epilator this time. The sound that the epilator made when I switched it on scared me a lot. It was like a tiny motor grumbling. Imagine that on my body? When I finally mustered the courage to try it, I put in on my leg. Ouch, ouch, ouch…fuck! Yes, it hurt. A lot. I switched it off and thew it aside. My friend gave me moral support and told me that she felt that pain too, the first time she tried it but that I will get used to it eventually. Used to what? The pain, of course.
Then my focus shifted to hair removal creams. The fancy advertisement promised that it is a painless procedure. Katrina Kaif, in the commercial, just applied this cream and after some time, just removed the cream with the help of some tool which is wavy and firm. That’s it! Voila! She didn’t have hair on her body any more. I couldn’t believe that this could work. I decided to use it too. My friend warned me about the hair removal cream. She told me that this useless product gave her a rash and blackened the area. I decided to ignore the warning and tried it. Yes, I ended up feeling terribly itchy and as soon as I washed the cream off, I had a horrible rash. That’s what razors do too some times. My friend scarred her leg- right from the knee to her ankle when she was trying to shave her hair and I ended up getting horrible rash one day. My hopes got crushed. I was disappointed. Hair removal cream was my only hope to remove body hair without going through the pain.
Laser treatments are not feasible for every person because they are extremely pricey. My friend paid one and a half lakh rupees and got laser treatment. She told me that this treatment does not remove hair permanently. It just reduces the growth. When asked about the pain, she replied saying “You will feel like your tissues are burning. It’s so painful that I cannot explain it in words.” My roommate happened to hear our conversation and she shared her story with us too. She told me that she had to stop laser treatment midway because she could not take the pain and the burns it left on her fingers. Yes, laser treatments, very often, burn your skin and those burns are very visible to the naked eye. But women who have a very high hair growth or thick hair growth opt for laser treatments though it is painful and not feasible. If you are asking yourself “why”? Ask yourself this question too- Does our society teach us to feel insecure about our appearance if we do not fit into the stereotype of “beautiful” or “hot” ? if yes, you got your answer. If no, you don’t know the reality.
I can go on and on about the painful affects of the hair removal mechanisms. But is that the problem now? No. The problem is the larger point of why are women encouraged to remove hair from their bodies. Why do we teach women to loathe their bodies? We are all born with body hair. Aren’t we? Isn’t it just a natural state of humans? Why is it so abnormal when women have hair then? Why should we look like wax dolls? Why are we expected to look in a certain way? Why should we go through the pain to look like that?
I genuinely wanted to know if boys hated their body hair like most women do or are conditioned to do. I asked most of my male friends. All of them replied in a very careless manner. Some of the replies were “ Oh! I don’t know. Never thought about it.” “Yes, body hair looks bad but it doesn’t matter to boys, I guess.” “Why would I feel insecure about my body hair? It’s a sign of my masculinity.” I was hurt. Why should I feel insecure about myself when I have hair on my body then? Why is the society encouraging one section of the society to feel insecure of their bodies and not just accepting them the way they are born? Why should I, as a woman always feel conscious of not lifting my hand too high because I haven’t waxed or to not wear short dresses because of the hair on my leg? Do we have answers to any of the questions? No. The only point we can trace this to is the way we see “beauty” or the way we think about “beauty.” A woman is beautiful if she looks like a wax doll- fair and clear skin, even skin tone, gorgeous hair, smooth skin (without hair) on the body, tight stomach, thin legs and skinny body. The movie industry, commercials, media promote this idea. There is always an idea of an “ideal beautiful woman.” Just grab a paper and check the matrimonial ads section. Most of the ads demand for a thin, fair and beautiful bride.
The norm is to wax and be violent with your body. The society encourages you to feel insecure about your body and to suffer the pain in silence. Isn’t this evil and horrible? How do we escape this? Maybe when we defy the norm? Maybe when body hair on a woman is not loathed by the society? Maybe when we as women realize that we are being dictated upon; that the politics of women’s body hair is a form of patriarchal violence? Maybe when we understand that we no longer have agency on our body when we give in to the societal pressure? Maybe when we decide to be comfortable in our bodies and let the society brand us as “ugly grizzly bear” rather than “hot or beautiful”?
[This post has been contributed by Avanija Inuganti, law student at Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat.]