Conversations People Have With Me About My Body Hair

photographed by Brayden Olson.
A conversation with my mum (Jamaican and Indian), when I was 11:
Mum: You’re coming with me to my electrolysis appointment.
Me: What’s that?
Mum: To get rid of my hair. Going to zap it all away.
Me: Why do you want to get rid of your hair?
Mum: Because it’s not nice.
Me: Are you going to be bald?
Mum: No! The hair on my body! My arms and legs, look how thick it is.
Me: I hadn’t noticed.
[After the electrolysis]
Me: Why are you crying?
Mum: It’s really painful, Can.
Me: So why did you get it done?
Mum: You wait until yours starts growing properly, you’ll want to get rid of it too.
Me: Not if it makes me cry, I won’t.
Mum: I’ll tell you what, you’ll cry when people start making comments like they do to me and your aunts. We’ve all been called ‘werewolf’ by different people at various points in our lives. You wait.
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A conversation with an aunt (Jamaican and Indian), when I was 15:
Aunt: Do you think you’ll laser, like I do?
Me: …like laser tag?
Aunt: No, to get rid of all of my body hair! Arms, legs, back, face, [quietly] private area, everywhere.
Me: No? Why are you telling me that?
Aunt: You’ll need to do it one day, I’m just letting you know! Just being helpful.
Me: Leave me out of it.
Aunt: You’re lucky. Me, your mum, our sisters, we all have to do it. Grandad is Indian, Can, didn’t you realise it runs in the family?
Me: No. I wasn’t looking.
Aunt: We were bullied horribly at school, all the white girls in the class used to laugh at us. It’ll come for you soon, then you’ll be asking me how to get rid of it.
A conversation with my nan (Jamaican), when I was 19:
Nan: It’s happening.
Me: What? Are you okay?
Nan: [Leaning closer to my face] The family moustache is finally coming through.
Me: Oh, right. I didn’t realise that was our 'thing'.
Nan: We all thought you’d dodged it, but here it is.
Me: Alright! Where’s yours then, if it’s such a thing?
Nan: I’ve been waxing it since the year 1800, nobody has ever seen it. But it’s lurking beneath, trust me.
A conversation with a room of retail colleagues (all white), when I was 20:
Me: So you’re saying they took everything away from you? Everything?
S: All of it. Every single hair. No gross bush for me.
Me: Wasn’t that painful?
S: A bit, but it was worth it. Haven’t you ever had a wax?
Me: No. Shall I try it?
K: You’re telling me you’ve never had a wax?
Me: No?
K: [Grabbing my arm and inspecting its hair] Never?
Me: You’ve got arm hair too!
S: But your hair is so dark, has nobody ever said anything about it?
Me: My family, I guess?
K: But what about guys? You don’t want to scare them off with your arms before they get down there.
Me: Okay, okay, I’ll book it. It’s quite fancy, though, isn’t it expensive?
S: It’s alright, we get discount, tell them you work next door.
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Overheard, a conversation between my first waxer (white) and her manager (also white), when I was 20:
Waxer: …Is there nobody else who can do it?
Manager: No, everyone else is in with clients.
Waxer: I don’t think I’m best to do her, though, shouldn’t she have someone who knows how to work with someone like her?
Manager: It’s good experience for you, you’ll have another coloured client soon and at least you’ll know what to expect.
A conversation with my first waxer (white), when I was 20:
Waxer: [Sighing] Now, if you could just take your tights and pants off, hop onto the bed and cover yourself with that towel?
Me: Okay, sure. Sorry, this is my first time, so I’m a bit nervous. How much is it going to hurt
Waxer: It depends. For someone like you, probably quite a lot.
Me: Someone like me?
Waxer: Black. You’re always hairier than white women.
Me: Oh, right. Sorry.
Waxer: It’s okay. [Rolling up her sleeves] Good for me to get the experience, I guess.
Me: Okay, ready.
Waxer: [Lifting the towel] Oh! Phew! It’s not so bad!
Me: Not so bad?
Waxer: I was expecting loads of hair, but this is fine! It’s still more than I’m used to, but it’s not, like, a jungle.
A conversation with my ex-boyfriend (white), when I was 23:
Me: Oh!
Him: What?
Me: [Shoving my hand in his face] Look at this!
Him: What am I looking at?
Me: I’ve got loads of little hairs on my knuckles. I wonder if they were always there?
Him: EW.
Me: Pardon?
Him: Gross.
Me: That’s not very nice.
Him: Sorry, I guess. But it’s not normal, is it?
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A conversation with a waxer (Pakistani), when I was 24:
Me: So as I said on the phone, I’d like a Brazilian and half-leg wax, please. If that’s okay? And how much will it cost? And how long will it take? And what do you need me to do? Sorry for the questions, I’m quite nervous.
Waxer: Please remove your trousers and underwear, and get on the table.
Me: Okay. Sorry. I haven’t had a wax for ages.
Waxer: No need to apologise, madam.
Me: No but I don’t want to give you a shock.
Waxer: You’re in good company, madam, don’t worry. Just relax.
A conversation with a best friend (white), when I was 25:
Me: You’re telling me you get your friend to wax you?
T: Yeah? Why not? That used to be her job.
Me: You don’t mind her seeing you like that?
T: She’s seen it all before, I guess. And I’m one of the most hairy, she says.
Me: You aren’t that hairy, though.
T: Yeah, true, so it’s over in about five seconds.
Me: Why do you bother then?
T: Good point. Look at Heather and Helen, they’ve got loads of body hair and nobody ever says anything. Hold on, you get waxed too! Why don’t we both stop doing it?
Me: You’re all white, though. You lot can step out with unshaven legs and nobody can even see it because it’s either blonde or it’s so fine, if I don’t shave my legs the hair looks like trousers.
T: Yeah, fair. Your hair is...definitely different.
A conversation with a colleague (Portuguese) six months ago, when I was 27:
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Me: I never, ever sleep with a white boy without getting a wax first. Not after my ex-boyfriend told me how gross he thought the tiny hairs on my knuckles were. Don’t want to traumatise anyone with more hair than they’re used to dealing with.
F: Where do you get waxed?
Me: I go to a place in Norbury. Big southern Asian community there, they do not bat an eyelid when I go in.
F: [Discreetly] Ah, I know what you mean. You should try the place next door to work. We get a sort of neighbour discount –
Me: – Ah no, I’ve heard that before when I worked in Brighton. My colleagues told me to go to the place next door, it was a salon full of white women and they wouldn’t even give me the discount because they said they had to use extra wax on me.
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