I remember the first time someone pointed out the hair on my face – I was 6 years old, living in Pakistan and playing a game of tag with some of my friends. The boy who tagged me called me muchard, an Urdu word which essentially means ‘someone with a moustache’ and ran away laughing. I went home thoroughly upset. When I told my aunt, she told me to ignore him and said everyone had hair on their upper lip, even women.
Soon after that day, I began to notice my body hair more and more. It was on my arms, legs, neck, back, chest, and even on my knuckles! Everywhere. I was covered in it, fine and light in some places, thick and dark in others. When I moved to London, I became envious of the fair-skinned girls and boys with barely anything on their faces, arms and legs. Even if they did have some peach fuzz, it appeared to be a lovely golden colour which complimented their skin tone, whereas mine seemed ugly, coarse and extremely noticeable.
I soon grew ashamed of what I had on my body. I hated wearing trousers which didn’t cover my ankles because my leg hair would peek out. I started relying on long-sleeved shirts to hide my arms. I would walk around self-conscious, trying to conceal my face with my hands. The problem only worsened when I started secondary school, an all girls comprehensive, where some of my friends would point things out. During P.E. a girl asked why I was so hairy without any hesitation whatsoever – I meekly replied it was because of ‘genetics’ and she laughed. Was I forever doomed to be the hairy Asian girl throughout my academic and personal life?
My prayers were answered when I was 12 and experienced my first taste of hair removal. My mother, who had become more than aware of the dark wisps of hair above my upper lip, got her spool of thread and smothered baby powder all over my mouth. I cried at the first twist of the thread, tears streaming down my face repeatedly. Yet I swallowed the pain and when I saw the difference afterwards, I was hooked. Every weekend, my mother would thread my face and every weekend my eyes would water. But I never interrupted this ritual, or asked to stop. Having less hair on my upper lip made me feel less insecure about the rest of the fuzz on my face.
Slowly, everyone at school stopped poking fun at me. Sure, I’d still get an offhanded comment here and there about my hairy arms or legs, but it didn’t bother me too much. When I reached my late teens, I got all of the hair on my face removed, including having my eye brows shaped. I thought I looked amazing and more ‘feminine’. I felt and looked like a girl. I got compliments by my friends about how fresh my skin looked. My confidence increased tenfold and I no longer felt that dull embarrassment I used to.
I have hair everywhere, in the most embarrassing places that one could imagine, but I have accepted that this is a part of me
This didn’t last long. I soon realised that I’d need to maintain this cycle of hair removal. Cue the monthly spending on trips to the salon, wax strips, razors, shaving creams; the whole lot. Sometimes I’d cut myself shaving in the shower but I’d carry on, ignoring the trail of blood and instead remaining focused on getting rid of all the hair I could see on my arms. I began to attack my legs too, sometimes hurriedly running a razor across them during morning showers whenever I noticed that some hair had started to sprout. I developed something akin to paranoia about this, always ensuring that I appeared completely hairless. I had started to lose confidence again when I began to notice white girls with their soft, golden fuzziness on their arms and face and me with my ingrown hair and angry razor bumps dotted across my skin. I was resorting back to my previous insecure self, making sure that no one knew about this disgusting ritual I made myself go through every week.
And then, one morning, I came across , the young Asian woman who refused to let society’s rigid beauty standards hold her down. She has been in , walked down , and works as a body confidence and anti-bullying advocate. Reading her story about how she battled her own demons and the horrifying abuse of those around her provided me with a new kind of inspiration. If Harnaam can rock a full-fledged beard without a care in the world, then why can’t I cope with a few stray hairs on my chin or on my knuckles? Why can’t I possess the same confidence as her and let go of this self-consciousness that I hate so much?
Honestly, I’ve tried. I’ve tried not to care about my hairiness. I’ve tried to embrace it. And sometimes, it works. Sometimes when I step out of the house and see some stray hairs on my arms and legs, I’m okay with it. They seem futile to me. Other days I hide behind baggy, oversized clothes, my embarrassment and shame returning. I align my hair removal process with my plans so when I am outside, I appear as hairless as I can be. I go back to being the confused 6-year-old in the playground, lost in the game of tag.
One thing I have learnt is to stop adhering to Western beauty ideals. I am hairy. I have hair everywhere, in the most embarrassing places that one could imagine, but I have accepted that this is a part of me. I can wax it, shave it, epilate it, godknowswhatelse to it, but it will grow back – I have stopped punishing myself for this. The confidence comes and goes, but when it does come, it stays for quite a while.