CHENNAI: I hit puberty when I was 13. Just like any other adolescent girl, I began experiencing hormonal changes and, developing facial hair and body hair was part of the package. At school, I was treated like a ‘bro’ (like, literally!) and even had some of the boys look at me and sing meesakara nanba, a popular song from the 90s that epitomised both friendship and well, the moustache.
The easy-going person that I was, laughed off, hid my embarrassment and moved on. But, I saw friends and peers succumb to the pressure, becoming conscious of their looks.
Fast forward to 2017 and things have gotten worse! From 13-year olds getting their legs and arms waxed, upper lip and eyebrows tweezed and threaded at beauty parlours, the brutal beauty standards have become harmful for people of all age and genders. Sruthakeerthi Mohan Ram, founder, Teal Zeal, had her first brush with body shaming when she was in class eight.
“I use my hands a lot while talking, to express myself. While I was talking in class, I noticed a bunch of girls sitting beside me look at my arm and snigger. That was the first time I realised I had hairy arms. I didn’t know how to process it and I was so embarrassed!” recalls Sruthakeerthi. “Another incident was when a peer, a guy casually made a comment about me having a moustache and I ended up consciously covering my mouth the whole time.”
From waxing, shaving, tweezing, threading and laser treatments, Chennai women have done it all! A 15-year old Sameera* has been visiting a counsellor because of low self esteem. Her mother tells CE that she was shamed by a peer and refused to go to school without waxing. “She has a normal amount of body hair. But children these days have started waxing early and it makes the others (who aren’t exposed to it) feel left out and embarrassed,” she rues.
But it’s not just the women who are shamed for facial and body hair. The society’s patriarchal views of an attractive and acceptable body have affected people of all genders. Suren Kannan, an engineer, became the butt of all jokes among his friends after they realised he had excessive body hair. But he doesn’t let it bother him. “I have never felt uncomfortable about my body hair/facial hair. People have always tried to make fun of it, comparing me with bears and other such hairy beasts. That has never affected me, neither have I let that be a reason for me to hide it,” he shares.
While women with less or no body hair are worshipped, it’s not the same for men. The society that drools over the perfectly waxed and groomed Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor also shames a man when he doesn’t have ‘adequate’ body hair. Men with beards, especially if they’re well-groomed are considered attractive than those without.
B Arokiyaraj, a 70-year old, shares that men with more body hair were considered the epitome of manhood. “Back then, we didn’t have to shave it off. I see my grandson shave his body and he says that he needs to be clean. Body hair was considered healthy…I don’t understand kids these days,” says the puzzled septuagenarian.
Jabez Kelly aka Gabrielle Jasmine, a city-based drag queen, was also shamed for body hair. “When I travel for drag shows to other countries, I am treated like an outcast because of body hair. That’s one of the reasons I began doing drag shows — to put an end to gender stereotypes,” says Jabez.
The artiste also tried multiple hair removal techniques before coming to terms with his body. “I realised that I wasn’t alone and decide to embrace my body. Though it may sound cliché, my advice to everyone struggling with body hair and/or facial hair is to just be yourself!” opines Gabrielle.
He also adds that trolls and memes like: ‘The hairiest person in your gang is intelligent’ is disgusting. Memes of Anil Kapoor and actor Sathyaraj showing off their glorious chest hair and comparison of hairy women to chewbecca has also been silently promoting body shaming. “It has become a thing of mockery and it’s not funny at all!” he avers.