மயிரு புடுங்குறது @Hair Plucking by Janaki Raman

மயிரு புடுங்குறது (Pronounced as Mayiru Pudungurathu) | Hair Plucking 

Sounds explicit, doesn’t it? There are so many other worthy and bigger issues to write about, yet I chose to write on something like this for my first post. Why? I don’t know. I guess I will eventually come to the bigger issues. But this is a good start. A trivial issue that everyone dismisses. But it outlines a bigger problem.

Kids ask the most brilliant questions. The kind of questions that leaves us stunned. While I was teaching science to my primary school tutee, she asked me if all humans are supposed to be mammals or just male humans. Before I could answer her, she continues, “All mammals have hair. Humans are mammals. That means that humans have hair. So it’s normal to have hair. For both males and females. Correct, right?” “Yes, you’re right”, I replied, wondering where this was leading to. “Some of my friends were making fun of my hair. On my hand. But it’s normal right? Having hair on your body is normal right? Should I cut them?”, she asked curiously as her eyes shifted to my hand which was evenly populated by hairs. I looked at the clock. The tuition lesson was supposed to end in five minutes, but I knew that the conversation which I was going to have with this eleven-year-old girl was going to take 15 to 20 minutes. But it was an important one. One that I wish someone had had with me back when I was a kid.

Face, underarms, back, bikini area, legs, and arms. Women have hair everywhere. Just like men. It’s only human to have hair. I hope that that didn’t scare you too much. But don’t worry- you wouldn’t see much of it. Because most women will remove any visible body hair. Shaving, Depilatories, Waxing, Electrolysis, Laser hair removal. Those are some tools available. This isn’t a recent phenomenon. Hair removal has existed in ancient Egypt, ancient Turkey, ancient Rome, and ancient Greece. The means to achieve hairless body was different. It was not shaving using G-razors but scrapping using clamshells, shark teeth, etc.People remove their hair for three main reasons. Hygiene, self-care, beauty enhancement. I find all three reasons troubling.

Firstly, how does removing your hair make you any cleaner?  Going by that logic, do you mean to say that hair is an impurity or dirt. Only if that’s removed can you be clean.  Did you ever think about how hair was thought to be dirty/ugly/uncivilised? It has got links with how 19th-century scientists view that body hair could indicate the status-inferiority or superiority of an individual. This was to the disadvantage of people with thick hair. Thick hair was seen to be animal-like and linked to criminal violence. Then shouldn’t you be removing the hair on your head as well. Go bald. Keep your entire body clean.

Secondly, how is removing your hair caring for yourself? Doing yoga, jogging, swimming, going for a massage, therapy, removing yourself from toxic people are caring for yourself. In any case, hair removal can cause pain especially if you’re waxing or shaving. If it does make you feel better, it’s because of the belief that hairless legs are beautiful which has been planted in your head since you were young. By the way, in the past, people have been injured/disfigured/killed in the pursuit of hairless skin. This was owing to unsafe methods like X-ray hair removal, epilators containing thallium acetate like Koremlu, etc. Thirdly, how does removing your hair enhance your beauty? It makes your skin look smooth. Smooth is a conventional feminine quality. Only men have “poky skin”. But who decided that? What if someone decided that skin with hair is the standard of femininity and beauty? What happens then? Would we stop removing our hair? It’s 2018 and women are still limited by ridiculous beauty standards.

Why are Indian women especially affected by this? The obvious reason is that Indian women generally do have more hair. The hair is also thicker and darker. But I don’t remember seeing my mother, aunts or grandmothers removing their body hair. Have you? I suppose there are several reasons for this. Perhaps, this hairlessness norm is a very western idea which penetrated into the Indian community only quite recently. It could also be because the dressing was much more modest back in those days and clothes covered most of the skin and hair. It could also be because they used to use Turmeric for showering. Turmeric naturally has hair removal properties and that could have helped them shed some hair. However, such standards in the current day are problematic. On top of colourism and the natural burden(and boon) of menstruation and pregnancy, Indian women now have another problem of hair removal.

I know what you’re thinking. This is just like the expectation laid upon men to groom their beard and moustache. What’s new? Stop over-reacting! But let me tell you what’s different. For most jobs, you’re not expected to completely remove the hair. You’re not expected to leave no trace of hair. You still can have some hair.

Women are expected to completely have no hair at all. Articles on grooming for professional settings like interviews actually explicitly state that women should remove visible body hair. Furthermore, men are only required to do grooming work just for their face. Women need to do grooming work for so many other sections of their body. It takes so much of time. It’s tiring. It’s costly. It’s unproductive.

Even the strongest of women who identify themselves as feminists fall for this trap. Well-meaning men who believe that both the genders are equal sometimes fall for such thoughts too. You can’t blame them. It’s years of social conditioning and subtle programming by advertisements. They had been making money out of our insecurities. Both genders need to be reminded that this hairless norm should not be a norm. They need to unlearn these negative messages. They should not engage in acts which perpetuate such ideals. They should support women who embrace their hair as it is.
I have a dream. I dream of a world where men and women are equal. I dream of a world where women won’t be pressured into removing their hair. Where little girls would be confident of their body as a whole.

For so long we have been told that there’s something wrong with the way our bodies naturally are. We have been made to feel inferior, inadequate and insecure. We have bought that bullshit for the longest time. We can’t do that anymore. I can’t teach my daughter in the future to hurt herself so as to conform to ridiculous beauty standards. This needs to change and it starts with me.

Janaki Raman

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