Thursday, March 31, 2016

Letters to Tomorrow ~Hair, There, Everywhere

Dear Tomorrow,

vestige [ves-tij]
noun

(Biology) a degenerate or imperfectly developed organ or structure that has little or no utility, but that in an earlier stage of the individual or preceding evolutionary forms of the organism performed a useful function. 

Hair. 
As cilia it performs a useful function. Heck, even pubic hair seems to protect against devastating dirt particles making their way into places I don't want them. I'll even give it to eyelashes - when they're not in my eyes, they help keep alien dust and genetically modified tobacco beetle larvae (calling Scully - are you reading this?) out of my eyes. But what really is the purpose of hair on my legs and arms? And if this hair is so purposeful, then why is there so much pressure to get rid of it all?

Hair today. Still there tomorrow.
I was 14 when I first tried to tweeze my hirsute eyebrows. The boy I then had a crush on noticed right away (much to my dual consternation and delight) - "Something's different about your eyebrows today." Immediately, I felt a pretty serious twang of guilt. No, it was more like remorse. Like I had lost a part of me that I wasn't sure I wanted to say goodbye to. The upside of my confusing feelings was that hair always, without fail, grows right back - right from the place I uprooted it from. If soil could work like follicles, we would never run out of green beans. My future boyfriend (previously mentioned crush) never cared that my skin (all over my body) had a protective layer of hair. Again, I was confused by this. Glad that he didn't care. Confused why I cared that he didn't care. I was 16 when I first waxed. It was a big coming-of-age kind of deal in which for some reason my father had as much say as anyone else. My excitement was discernible from the neighboring city. I changed into the "gown" the salon gave me and they shuffled me off into one of the many dimly lit stalls with one gurney-style bed and a solitary table topped with a bowl of hot wax, a few callously arranged strips, and enough charm to make prison seem inviting. I laid down on the cold blue plastic covering of the bed with dwindling excitement and awaited my fate. What followed was a movie that replayed every single time I went to get waxed. Soon after the opening scene I painted for you, our lead antagonist walks in to inform the protagonist - me - that she, alas, doesn't have enough wax strips for the humongous quantity of hair sprouting from all my orifices and spanning the entire expanse of my body. I hope very much that the vermillion heat in my face is hidden by the poor lighting of the room. She then returns armed with more wax strips and (behold!) a companion to assist her in the herculean task of ridding my body of its pilose carpet to reveal the smooth hardwood floors that lie dormant below. At some point they have to leave the room to giggle about how much I'm tearing up with every ssstrip of the wax strip. Sometimes, one of them is kind enough to bring me some kleenex. With every snap of the strip, I feel less whole. I feel stripped off of my courage to be who I am. After the process, I feel absolutely no delight promised by hair-removal advertisements while running my hands over my red, naked, and stinging legs. 

It's hairy business.
In case you don't notice right away, I'm a brown-skinned, dark brown-haired desi ciswoman. I am grateful to the US for a lot of things, among that list is the lack of pressure (in contrast to my Indian cultural counterpart) to get rid of arm hair. I couldn't afford waxing as a graduate student and didn't want to deal with the prickly wiry sprouts that would turn up to claim their rightful land within a few days of shaving. So I just let them be. Colorado's winters (read: long sleeves) helped hide my hairy arms. That dealt with arms. One woman I knew as a graduate student, showed me her legs once and I noticed in the blonde bushiness that layered her skin that she hadn't shaved in years. I was inspired. I would try to not shave. I did it for a number of years. I would walk around in shorts, skirts, and dresses with my dark brown hair adding a few extra shades of brown to my skin. I met another woman in Berkeley who caught sight of my hairy legs one day and suggested I strongly consider either covering them up or getting that hair lasered out permanently. I went home that day and researched laser hair removal. I couldn't justify spending that kind of money on something I didn't fully believe in - that women have to be hairless. I still felt like a hypocrite for researching the possibility. On a trip back to India, another woman gawked at my arms nearly shouting, "Oh no! You forgot to wax your arms!" Nope, I didn't forget. 

Hair, there, everywhere.
So while my arms and legs were living out various stages of metamorphosis, my facial hair was being subjected to lab-like experiments with the help of many scientific tools: hair-removal cream. Tweezing. Shaving. Waxing. Threading. Trimming. Bleach is as yet an untested variable. As painful as some of these were (while getting threaded, I feel like someone is taking a serrated knife and mistaking the skin around my eyes for a tomato), they don't compare to the things I heard while holding my eyebrows taut or rolling my tongue tightly against my upper lip to tighten and aid threading. 

"You shouldn't have waited so long to come back." 
"I got them to shape, now you need to come back here every week to maintain the shape."
"Stop crying. It's hurting because you're so hairy and you waited so long to get them done."
"Gosh! You have terrible skin! Have you considered ___insert-uninvited-suggestion___?"
"Do you want to wax the rest of your face? You'll look so much prettier if you do."
"Ah! Don't you feel lighter getting rid of all that hairy weight? You sure look lighter."
"You've become fat."
"You're not as thin as you used to be."
"When you don't do your eyebrows, it makes your face look fatter."
"Let me get rid of this weird hair line you have. It's really ugly."
"Wow! It would be so much easier to thread if you didn't have so much acne."

Hairecy. 
It took about 5 years of repeatedly hearing these messages until I realized I didn't have to give a hair about what people, especially people I was paying to cause me pain in a salon, thought of me. On my wedding day, my aunt said she'd never waxed or threaded her eyebrows. I just thought, "You're lucky you're not hairy." My mother is not hairy. Neither is my sister. I think I could grow a beard if I let myself. Recently I am relocating some of my misplaced courage to be myself. It might be a little heretic by some cultural standards, but I think we'll all survive and the world will spin just fine even if it's a slightly hairier place. 

I dread locks.
I fear being locked in stereotypical heteronormative -ist boxes. So every few years I succumb to the urge of rejecting feminine associations with long hair and chop off my head-hair. I have gone through many cycles of not shaving and being my whole hairy self. I always find it amusing how blonde white women or men tell me, "Oh, it's not a big deal. Just don't shave." Well, it's different when instead of looking like a smooth cozy carpet of luscious blonde, your leg looks like someone forgot to vacuum leftover brown colored confetti from the dance floor. Or when you aren't judged by the quantity of your facial hair.

Hairbrained Ideas. Or are they?
When I bring a child to this world, when you are here, Tomorrow, I want to be prepared (among a gazillion other things that I will of course try and fail at being prepared) to answer the question, "Ma, why are you doing that to your eyebrows?" or "Why do your eyebrows look different from that other woman's?" I don't have an answer today. But maybe some day, maybe Tomorrow, I will.



Hairrowed but still lovingly,
-Suparna


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