This is an early version of my thesis on body hair, race, queerness and mental health. In my first relationship and close contact with a man, I would watch, as he would routinely wake up, rub his hand over his face, and leave the house to begin his day. I have always worn very little make-up myself, and tend to let the hair on my head do whatever it decides to that day, but still, the disparity between us in freedom of movement and freedom of mind was clear — and I began to see this disparity everywhere I looked, in advertising, in the lives of my friends, in the university sanctioned reading lists that were considered exempt from criticism.
It was around then that I stepped into the shower to perform my regular shaving ritual, and a small thought pushed its way to the front of mind: Danni Paffard was the enabler of this transition, and my experience watching her is the basis of much of my strength of feeling around the importance of the image.
Danni lived in the room above me and was always running. She would run up and down all the stairs of the four-floor shop-turned-house and would leave the house at 6am every day without fail to run the streets of London.
Danni is loved by men. She wears lots of mascara and has an asymmetrical fringe. Danni Paffard blew my mind. I remember sitting opposite her for the first time, watching her tie her hair up with both hands, desperately trying, like a child, to catch a glimpse of her armpits.
I believe that much of her ability to live like this comes from an inherent confidence which is undoubtedly tied to social factors. That she is a white, middle class, able- bodied, heterosexual female cannot be overlooked, but neither can it discredit her role in my personal awakening. Besides, there are many, many women who share all her identity markers, and who do not challenge beauty norms in this way.
It was the fusion Danni Paffard represented hairy social deviant meets outgoing stylish babe that created a new level of understanding within me, and perhaps her being white and fulfilling so many other traditional beauty norms was part of that. One implication of this, which is not directly spoken, is that sexually attractive heterosexual women cannot display facial and body hair.
These fusions are so powerful because they present the hair as an active choice rather than an involuntary byproduct of old age or illness or lesbianism.
In short, images can remind women they have a choice, and what is feminism, if not the pursuit of the right to make empowered, agentic choices? As Lesnik- Oberstein writes: My body provokes many conversations with women, usually after a few drinks, and these have become the conversations I enjoy the most, as there is a real feeling that a psychological burden is being unloaded between the women participating, as personal stories that have often never been told before are being vocalized.
These conversations are not always easy, however. Sometimes women feel judged or chastised by the sight of my body and the jarring reminder that there is another relationship we can have with our hair. I am met with a great deal of defensiveness that I try to dismantle, often by telling a few stories of my own, about my moustache and the other parts of my body where hair growth still disgusts me.
Still, these conversations, by and large, become about choice, and by making something which is barely allowed to be seen so strikingly visible, that conversation has been achieved. I began to realize that the experience is different for Women of Colour in a way I did not have the language to express, or was frightened to.
But as feminism became more of a diverse space, and crucially, via social media, one that was easily accessible by diverse women, this very dilemma began to be played out.
And as I read more, it transformed my understanding of my instincts. Then in August of last year, writer Mikki Kendall called time on these double standards when she started the hashtag, solidarityisforwhitewomen. It exploded, inviting Women of Colour globally a chance to grab the microphone. The look has been persistent over the years and communicates so much more than a feeling of disgust or judgment that I have come to expect. I could not help but feel that as a Pakistani woman who grew up in a racist s Britain under constant threat of attack, there was a deeply racial and particularly social element to her discomfort with my choice, though that was never said.
This line of thought was reawakened while studying under photographer Deborah Willis. As part of this course she offered an extra credit for female students willing to grow their body hair and male students willing to remove it and document their experiences. For example, Ana compared the quality of her body hair with her white classmates: When I compared my hair to the hair of the other girls in class, there was an obvious difference.
My hair grew in thick and coarse. The other Latina women in the class understand that the white girls had it easier because their hair was thinner. Body hair for some women of color became a marker of racial status, which made it harder to assimilate into white middle-class educational settings.
This is discussed by Foucault who describes it as a process by which regulation of the body comes to be seen by us as self-care, rather than as a process which may reflect gender or economic power relations — or racial ones. These comments reflect the association of body hair with both a lack of femininity and a lack of respectability, as women of color implicitly faced judgements about how their bodies circulated in public spaces as indicators of their racial or class statuses.
Women of color constructed their bodies as having more at stake in this supposed loss of respectability. In a study by Rabinowitz et al on hirsutism and anxiety, women with hirsutism had significantly higher levels of anxiety than the control group. In , Barth et al measured psychological morbidity in pre-menopausal women with hirsutism.
The results found that there was a measurable correlation between hirsutism and social dysfunction in women, which in turn led to overall psychological morbidity in hirsute women. Women with unwanted facial hair experience high levels of distress and that hair removal constituted an immense time and emotional burden for these women.
In addition to the time burden, it appeared that many women had concerns about their appearance, felt ashamed, and lacked self- confidence. Thoughts about unwanted hair were constantly in the minds of most women, demonstrated by their frequent checking for hair, and 2.
Although a large number of women perceived their facial hair to be severe, a finding more pronounced in mixed race and Asian women than white women, this perception was found to have little bearing on their psychological health. What about women who do not display signs of mental distress? What about black women? This is not a medical phenomenon, it is a social one. There is clearly a mental onus around body hair rituals that exist outside of the realm of having a full blown mental breakdown which can be measured on some sort of psychological scale though that obviously counts too.
I am interested in the small stuff. When there is open critique of beauty rituals, this often revolves around the cost of them, the time they take and the pain that must often be endured. This is a neat retelling of the experience. This quote, found in one study on psychology and hirsutism is particularly harrowing: It has to be planned and timed around social events, wage delivery and potential sexual encounters.
For example, if Layla has a work event on Thursday and a date on Saturday and wants to wax her moustache for the work event, she may encounter a problem as the hair will not grow back fully before her date on Saturday so she may not be able to remove it again before then, but the stubble will be showing, which is unacceptable for a date. Worldwide, darker skin is considered undesirable and dirty, with many practices employed by women such as scrubbing and bleaching, in efforts to lighten the skin Craig, Many racial slurs imply dirtiness.
So what is actually going on when women of colour take their hair off? What does it feel like to live with a daily triple burden of brown skin, body hair and a history of sexual abuse, as so many many women do?
This framing around the concept of dirt helps to understand why so many women may become so observant of hair removal practices, which are closely related to ideas of cleanliness and purity. This shit goes deep. These ideas were also found in the testimonies gathered by Fahs: I never thought that it could be a choice. I found myself wearing makeup more often, at first unconsciously.
Although framed as a competition, this was a highly politicized online campaign, including the statement: Many people consider it personal hygiene or etiquette for girls to shave their body hair, be it leg hair or underarm hair. In the UK, 23 year old Harnaam Kaur has made big headlines this year due to her decision to keep her facial hair and speak very publically about it.
She has polycystic ovary syndrome and began growing hair on her face aged After years of intense bullying, shaving, waxing, bleaching and a few suicide attempts, she decided, supported by her brother and close friends, to grow her beard out fully. For her there was a religious element too, that appears to give her strength in her decision. She began growing her beard shortly after being baptized as a Sikh and therefore not cutting the hair on her head anymore. She also has her own YouTube channel on which she talks, directly to her audience, about her experiences.
It has had nearly views and has a constantly renewing flurry of mostly positive comments underneath. The video is powerful, funny and very thought-provoking. Like, a natural, womanly, womanly, sexual, sensual, aura to it. I have hair on my vagina. Every last bit of it. And I love it. My hairs are coarse, curly, and thick. I know a lot of Black women or mixed women or Latina women or Irish women, or Italian women can relate. Below are some responses I have received so far: I had totally internalised this idea until you asked about it.
I found that growing up asian girls were taught that straight hair is desirable. Even now hardly any asian girls and even black girls embrace their natural hair luckily there are some websites like naturallycurly.
Shauntell — — — In conversations I have had about body hair I have been told I am a killjoy, that I should just be grateful I still have my clitoris, that I should shut up. In conversations I have had about race, I have been told that I have never experienced racism, that it is all in the past, that I am making people uncomfortable, that I should shut up.
My hair gives me voice that is louder than the haters, it is a radical re-scripting and a crucial daily reminder to me and the people around me, that the choices offered to us are not the only choices available. Before we can make a true choice, we have to remember we have one. ASU professor encourages students to defy body hair norms.
Psychological morbidity in women referred for treatment of hirsutism. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 37, — University of California Press, Gender trouble feminism and the subversion of identity. Invaded Spaces and Feeling Dirty. Oxford University Press, Health Care For Women International,