I have hairy legs, and the person who hates them the most is my father. While in Pakistan I covered my legs anytime I went out and they were only showing when I was at home. Now mind you I wasn’t in shorts, just harem pants where the tiniest sliver of hair from mid-calf down was visible and my dad was horrified. Every time he saw the hair he brought up getting it waxed, and why? He comes from a country that is literally covered in hair, every woman, man, and child has hair all over, and mine is too much. It’s because though Pakistan is a country made of hair, they excel at removing it. They thread their eyebrows, mustaches, and cheeks. They wax their legs and arms. They remove hair like it’s an evil plague that manifests itself as dark strands marring their skin.
The funniest part of all of this is women cover the majority of their bodies with clothing, so the only hair one might see is that on their face, lower calves, and perhaps arms. No one except the people they live with even see their body hair and they continue to remove it religiously.
What traumatizing thing then happened to me? I was brought to a salon where they stole all my hair. I don’t mean some of it, I mean all of it. My glorious leg hair was literally ripped from me with hot wax. I tried to tell them I didn’t want it, but only one woman spoke a bit of English and kept saying it was bad and ugly and they were going to get rid of it whether I wanted it or not. I laid there for what felt like a century as three women ripped the hair away, over and over again, like assassins that knew every hiding place for hair and vanquished it. You know that armpit hair I’ve been so proud of? Yeah, the woman told me it was disgusting and they waxed that too. It was like everything that I had worked for and was proud of was taken from me. What made me, me, wasn’t there anymore.
Now for those who are saying to themselves, “Dramatic much?” I am, I know. If this had happened to me even a few years ago I would have been ecstatic, because I used to feel the same way. The thought of the unsightly hair on my arms and the stubble that reappeared minutes after shaving my legs was the bane of my existence. It was a constant reminder that I would never be beautiful and flawless and have the skin of the women in fashion magazines, because I was ugly. I could strive for perfection in the form of hairlessness and wouldn’t be able to reach it because my dark strands were a constant betrayal. But they would take it all away from me? With just a few rips and tears and all the hair would be gone? I would have cried tears of joy at the thought.
It has taken me my entire goddamn life to not hate the hair on my body. Even now I’m nervous to not have unshaven legs during the summer months. My hair wasn’t my shame, but my armor, it made me powerful and feel like I could take on the world. I was no longer conforming to societies beauty standards, but accepting the way I am. It was the way I was born, it was my heritage and culture and didn’t have to be hidden. But now as I stare at my smooth legs I miss the woven tapestry of dark and kinky hair that lined my thighs and calves. It was a part of me and now I just feel like a naked mole rat.
So let’s ask ourselves why is body hair so offensive? Pakistan is a nation of hairy people who refuse to embrace their hair. The only women who have excessive hair are those who are poor and usually servants or beggars. Just as those with darker skin tend to be laborers while richer Pakistanis have fairer skin and straight hair. It’s a matter of privilege. I was attending a BBQ where a little girl said she hated my curly hair and only liked straight hair. She comes from a well off family, and was carrying make up and an expensive purse. Even at young ages what is beautiful and what is ugly is instilled in young children. My entire existence there was offensive. My hair is too curly, I don’t remove enough body hair, and to top it off, I have tattoos.
There’s a reason I don’t live in Pakistan. In Pakistan you are under constant scrutiny as a woman that even I can’t handle. One of my dad’s friends from growing up, who frequently reads my blog, said I was a completely different person [from my blog.] I scoffed to myself. I’m different because I have to be. I can’t be loud and crass, I can’t wear my short skirts and thigh highs. I respect that culture of modesty when I am there, but I couldn’t live like that forever. I feel like I am treated like a child, even though I’m an adult, with an education, and a knowledge of culture and the world. There, I am my father’s daughter who smiles and nods politely when introduced to strangers but is not regarded as a person with thoughts and opinions.
I may not like America, even in the slightest, but at least I have the illusion of choice when it comes to my body. People may not like my hairy legs or tattoos, so perhaps I get a few Instagram trolls, but overall everyone is free to do whatever they damn well please. I may be a offensive human being in Pakistan, but my partner doesn’t tell me to shave, my lovely friend Claire and I share tips to make our curls that much more fabulous, and my tattoo artist offers me ways to weave new pieces into the ever-growing sleeve on my arm. My uniqueness is accepted and my voice is heard.
So ask yourself this? Did you hate my leg hair. Did the sight of it make you shudder in revulsion, even though you say you’re fine with women having whatever body hair they want? There are stereotypes of what it means to be beautiful ingrained in our subconscious like worms burrowing in deeper and deeper with every image that flashes across our screens. Pakistan may be behind in the times and have a stronger push for beauty standards, but we don’t. Here you have a choice, an option to stop perpetuating negative imagery of women in society. Women can can be stunning with hair, without hair, with makeup, without makeup, and it’s none of your concern.
Being in Pakistan made me appreciate the opportunity we have to be more accepting and understanding of the differences people have. The best thing you can do as a person is stop equating women with their looks. We are people. We are intelligent, we are vicious, we are unforgiving, we can be whatever we want to be, when appearance stops being what we get complimented on the most. Tell her you like her thesis, tell her she’s glowing, tell her that she walks in heels like a goddamn gazelle. Don’t call me cute. Don’t call me adorable. Don’t condescendingly tell me I should shave because it’s unsightly.
I’m not unsightly, you are.