Negotiating A Healthy Relationship With Body Hair

As someone who has engaged in an almost never ending battle with my body hair since my teenage years, I can say that it has been one of the most complex and emotional experiences of my life. For a long time I believed that the ongoing cycle of having hair removed (the removal, enjoying a brief period of respite, lamenting regrowth and then starting it all over again) was an intrinsic part of my experience as a woman. In other words, I couldn’t have visible body hair because women weren’t supposed to be hairy. At least, none of the women in magazines, or on my TV screen had hair on their arms or legs. It was only once I started university that I considered the possibility that maybe I actually had a choice when it came to deciding whether I wanted to remove it or not.
As a Sikh, growing my ‘Kes’ (hair) is an important part of my faith. Over the years, I had always tried to negotiate my fear of not fitting the so-called ideals of womanhood with being true to my beliefs as a Sikh woman. When I started university I was unable to ignore the hypocrisy in this negotiation.
To be clear, this is not a judgement of women who choose to remove their body hair- rather me stating the importance of being authentic to your beliefs. Learning more about my faith, and the centrality of Kes to it, allowed me feeling of empowerment when it came to looking at my own body. I was able to work at removing the lens of the outside world, and instead replace it with a lens of my own fashioning. This lens was built by asking myself questions like, what felt right to me? What did I like? Did the hair on my arms and legs make me feel ugly? Instead of a subscription to other people’s ideas of beauty, I bought myself the ability to reflect on what felt authentic to me. In my view, part of being a Sikh is recognising the sovereignty of all. With this in mind, if I could commit myself to activism for the rights of others, why could I not advocate for my own freedom from other people’s views of what was beautiful and what was not?
I distinctly remember stifling summer months where I felt unable to take off my cardigan because of a suffocating fear that someone would see the layer of hair covering my arms. Looking back at this, I am only able to question this mind set by coming to other realisations. Body hair is natural, and yes- women do grow hair all over their bodies. I know this, other women know this, and men should know this. So what exactly is it that I was so determined to hide? Maybe if we just universally acknowledge that women can be hairy- we won’t feel so pressurised to hide it all the time. After all, it’s not some big secret, it’s something we all share and engage with in one way or another.
The importance of authenticity to your own beliefs is something which I am learning more and more as I navigate my 20s. In some ways, the acceptance of body hair, and the places where it chooses to make a home seems to me like the first step in this process. This is not to say that there aren’t days where I choose to keep my cardigan on, rather that these decisions are now made a little more consciously. I reflect on them, I learn from them, I like to think that I grow from them. It no longer feels legitimate to do things blindly because of the way society has been conditioned. If I am to be part of the solution, and I very much aspire to be, then I need to be critically reflective about the choices that I make.
In order to work at providing women freedom to make their own choices, in ways that feel authentic to them-, we need to work at emancipating ourselves. Sometimes that can start here.

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