Why are we so afraid to talk about body hair? Why is it shocking that women actually grow body hair? Who decided that hair is a 'manly' thing to keep? Why are we being shamed for something so natural? Why, why, why?
I have so many questions about the beauty standards imposed on us by society. Standards which, if believed and followed, would result in a population of manufactured, fresh-off-the-conveyor-belt copies. I find it baffling that it’s nearly 2018 and I’m still here, challenging society’s sad views on what makes a woman beautiful.
Growing up, as a young Panjabi, I quickly came to realise that I was very different from the other girls in my school. I was able to grow a lot of body hair as a result of being diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome. I started reading a variety of magazines aimed at my age group, all of which convinced me that bodies should be hairless and 'clean'. Portraying bodies as hairless always seemed odd to me, because I knew that hair was natural. I rocked shorts in PE until I was bullied for having hair on my legs and then out came the razor and I lost hours of my life trying to remove the hair that was natural for my body so that other people would feel more comfortable.
Razor brands have on a number of occasions been called out for using hairless women in their hair-removing commercials. Hair on a woman’s body, we are told, is so unsightly that it can’t even be shown to sell a hair-removal product! How can the sight of hair put women OFF buying a razor? Can you even begin to imagine what this does to a woman’s self-esteem?
Beauty and cosmetics companies constantly suggest ways for us to change our bodies so that they can then profit from insecurities that, half the time, we didn’t even know we had. First they shame us for our natural bodies, then we make them millions for a product that 'corrects' our so-called flaws. These products, we’re taught, are necessary in order for us to be seen, to be listened to, and to be valued as women.
Growing up around these adverts, which almost exclusively starred white women – tall, slim, white women – made me wonder whether I was even worthy of being represented.
While diversity has triumphed in recent years, with lots more brands featuring women of colour in their campaigns, far too often it comes as a reaction to being called out in the media. Then it becomes a statement, a branding exercise, going back to tick a box that before, they wilfully ignored.
I was reading about Arvida Bystrom recently – the brilliant artist and model who proudly documents her body hair – and how she became the target of vicious online abuse after being photographed for an adidas campaign that showed her leg hair. Men feared their masculinity and sent her rape threats; women feared their low self-esteem and gave her verbal abuse. People came together to utterly shame this woman for being confident in her body. A society which celebrates fake women and outright abuses those who are true to themselves harms everyone.
The least I can hope for is that body hair becomes another ‘real woman’ trend for advertising companies to follow in 2018. I hope that somewhere, in the making of these images and campaigns, the order to airbrush out every hair on a woman’s face and body stops coming. To progress society and normalise what is normal, and to stop girls getting bullied into submission at school and throughout their lives by cruel people, this has to happen.
Keeping facial and body hair visible is a necessary act of defiance for many women. For others, it’s an act of spirituality – a way to connect with yourself in your most natural form, with God, Mother Nature and the universe. Whatever your reason for keeping your body natural, know that it is valid.
I live my life by one rule, and that is 'My Body, My Rules'. I am confident showing my body hair, and showing myself without it. I choose what I do with my body and how I represent myself, and I don’t need anyone else’s opinion on that. Be true to who you are and watch your world change.