An hour before heading out for a college party, a friend cribbed, “Ugh! I SO want to wear a skirt. But, legs are hairy. What to do?”
“Umm… You gotta shave, obviously,” I responded in a somber know-it-all tone. Almost immediately, I realised the internalised misogyny evident in my remark, and apologised profusely – more to myself, than to her. She casually dismissed it saying she knows it’s her choice, and she wouldn’t have chosen to sashay around in bare hairy legs anyway. “Also, I prefer Veet”, she added.
To shave, or to wax – is a question of Shakespearean proportions that the modern woman must answer.
My first waxing experience literally ended in a bloodbath. Much to the chagrin of my mother, who had explained several times that there’s nothing repulsive, or even unsightly, about a woman’s body hair. Regrettably, my adolescent self was repulsed by any good advice.
In the eighth grade, I read an interview of a leading Bollywood actor in a leading English daily, where he joked about how it was an instant turn off for him when this gorgeous firangi (foreigner) woman he had been hitting on took off her shirt and revealed her hairy armpits. If I recall correctly, the word ‘gross’ was used. Closer home, I had heard my male school friends ridicule some of our female peers for being hairy. And, understandably, I wasn’t keen on taking that risk. I mean, look at the everyone on the Internet making a big deal about Domino’s hairy armpits in Deadpool 2.
Thus began my tryst with the omnifarious crafts of hair removal. The stench of Veet put me off from the very start. So, I cursed my olfactory receptors, clenched my teeth and … went ahead with it anyway. I had heard that women in ancient Egypt used depilatory creams prepared from donkeys’ fat, she-goats’ gall, powdered vipers and bats’ blood. Veet, surely, couldn’t be worse.
However, I soon switched to razors. For one, they were cheaper. And, getting rid of Veet’s stench before my parents could catch a whiff of it was pretty wearisome. Cleaning up the mess was another backbreaker of a task. Unlike the pretty pictures painted by ads, we don’t actually sit on satin sheets covered with feathers and rose petals while our manicured hands slide that trademark spatula over already silky smooth skin.
I have anyway stuck to shaving, although I am yet to detect an iota of difference between men’s and women’s razors despite the difference in prices. I shave, even though it makes my bruised, exposed skin burn under water and under air, and also by the tiniest brush of fabric for days.
‘I’m exercising my choice,’ is what I tell my feminist mind every time I grudgingly sit down to shave. But, who are we kidding? ‘Choice? Really?’ the oft-ignored, logical part of my brain retorts.
Our aversion to women’s body hair is clearly a gendered double standard perpetrated, passed from one generation to another since the early 1900s. I wonder if I would even have perceived my silky, golden, admittedly sparse body hair as repulsive if it hadn’t been for the beauty industry.
Incidentally, Veet’s new #Unpose ad preaches seeking beauty in our actions, not our looks. Curious, I ignored the ‘Skip Ad’ button. Unsurprisingly, I was disappointed. Soon after Shraddha Kapoor trumpets the idea of living carefree and ‘un-posed’, the ad displays bold and clear – ‘You + Veet = #Unposed’.
Sadly, even though I’ll deliver the occasional sermon criticising the patriarchy, deep down, I’m still a weakling who doesn’t dare to venture out in all her hairy glory. Maybe, one day, I won’t be so much of a chicken anymore. Maybe, Zazie Beetz will inspire me more than Deepika Padukone or Shraddha Kapoor. Maybe, one day we’ll observe a #HairyFebruary in India.
For now, I’ll continue to reach for my razor, and shed a drop of blood here, another there as I sacrifice my good sense to arbitrary beauty standards.