Women, in general, are always expected to do things in a certain way. The generalised beauty standards continue to be the reason today. It is almost like a routine for women to go to parlours and get their body hair removed. Shaving, waxing, lasering and plucking hair from legs and armpits have become so obvious for them that if you don’t get it shaved, people will judge you, severely.
Why is it like this? Why do people have such a constricted view of beauty for women? It is absolutely okay for men to have their body hair and feel proud of it, but why is it not okay if a woman wants to keep it natural. Why?
Shailee Koranne is here to answer all the questions. Shailee is a writer and a student living in Toronto, Canada. She writes about pop culture, politics, bodies and identities, etc.
I was very inquisitive to know her views on body hair removal and why women are so much pressurised by society. The interesting thing is Shailee has stopped removing her body hair and likes to keep it natural.
- What was the turning point in your life when you decided to embrace and love your body hair?
The turning point was when I started reading poetry and articles by other people talking about body hair insecurities. It felt very validating to hear that other people felt the same way I did—talking about such things openly is already difficult, but it feels more difficult when you are unsure if there will be support for you if you are honest. Knowing that people were ready to listen to me was empowering.
- What encouraged you to get over your hair, brownness and love the way you are?
Funny enough, the thing that encouraged me to “get over it” was understanding that I shouldn’t try to get rid of my hair and skin colour, but that I should learn to love it. I don’t think that we should encourage people to “overcome” their issues with their body, because then you make your body the hurdle. Even though I’ve made big strides, I still struggle with body insecurity every day, and the way that I remember to be kinder to myself is by thinking of all the people who benefit from my insecurity and other people’s marginalisation. Taking that perspective also helps me understand that there is nothing wrong with me, but the way that our larger society views body hair on women.
- Do you feel the society puts a lot of pressure on a girl or a woman as compared to the men?
Absolutely. In every society, girls and women face much more pressure in everyday life to look, act, and behave certain ways. Women of colour, women of minority religions, transgender women, and disabled women have it especially tough because they are dealing with multiple discriminations. I encourage everyone to read about Kimberle Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality to better understand this principle.
- What all challenges you faced or are facing now when it comes to body image?
Now that I have had honest conversations with my inner self and faced my personal insecurities, the larger problem is convincing those around me how harmful it can be to fixate on a woman’s body and reduce her to her appearance. For example, some Indian societies are quite insensitive when it comes to weight, and many Indian women can be outwardly judgmental about other Indian girls’ and women’s weight. This is so damaging to young girls. The Indian-Canadian writer Scaachi Koul has a great article called “I Shouldn’t Have To Lose Weight For My Wedding. So Why Do I Feel Like A Failure?” about how she internalized our culture’s body image problems and how she copes with it.
- What changes you feel in yourself after you decided to look the way you are and embrace yourself?
I am much more confident and open-minded than ever. I used to think that the only way that I would be confident would be if I became model-thin, hairless, and somehow got perfect, smooth hair instead of being a US size 12, hairy, frizzy brown girl. But learning to appreciate everything I can do regardless of the body I have has given me that confidence I was looking for. Being honest, vulnerable, and open about my issues was all I needed to become freer.
- What comments you would want to make on the Indian society when it comes to issues against women?
From the perspective of someone who lived in India until she was eight years old and has been living in Canada ever since, I am troubled by how much the North American media makes India seem like a backwards and repressed place, especially for women. I know that sexism against women in India is a very real issue, but I wish the way it was reported on in Canada did not demean the issue by turning it into a race problem, because sexism is absolutely everywhere. The issue in all places is not entirely the cultural traditions or the religion the society follows, but the patriarchal systems. Canadian women deal with as much sexism as Indian women, and just like Canadian women fight back every day, so do Indian women. I wish I heard more about the stories of the strong Indian women who fight against sexism in India—I seek this out myself by reading news online, but the media bias against South Asia is real in North America.
- Do you want to share any incident from your life that made you upset but eventually you learned something good from it?
Thinking specifically to body hair, when I was sixteen, I started removing my facial hair regularly, and I noticed that more boys started paying attention to me. This actually scared me—I was afraid to stop removing my hair, because I was afraid that if I stopped, I would go back to being “ugly.” For years, I spent so much money and time maintaining my appearance. I eventually learned that the expectations placed on me as a woman to look a certain way was unfair and no matter how much I worked on my body, people would always find something wrong with it, so I should be happy with its natural state and spend my energy on something productive!
- What message do you want to give to the young Indian girls who are so conscious about their body and body image?
Your body is yours, not anyone else’s, so make it your home. Don’t be ashamed if you wear certain things or do things to yourself to be more “attractive,” because adding shame to that only makes it tougher. Just know that other people are capable of loving your natural self, and more importantly, you are capable of it too.
- Do you think that hair is political?
Yes. I think hair can be a political statement in many ways. My writing covers how body-shaming related to hair can force people to act in ways that is beneficial to patriarchy. However, as a brown cisgender woman, my femininity is much less up for debate than that of Black people, trans people, and trans people of colour, for whom hair is a much more violent form of bodily policing.
Many Black people in North America have shared stories of how their employers have asked them to manage their hair or style it in certain ways because their natural hair is not a part of the dress code, which is absurd and very racist, so many Black Canadians and Americans wear their natural hair with pride as a symbol of their race and cultures.
For transgender and LGBTQ+ people, hair is political as well. The gender non-conforming performance artist Alok Menon is a hairy brown person who chooses not to remove their body hair; on their Instagram, Menon has documented the transphobic and racist comments they receive for defying bodily expectations. Alok’s posts about the harassment they face are also filled with comments from trans people of colour who share Menon’s experience and appreciate them speaking out about their body and their experiences.
After knowing Shailee Koranne’s views, it struck me how we are constantly reminded of “The perfect body” especially when it comes to women, and the way we should look just because the society demands.
It’s saddening how we define the entire race of women in a same way, so much, that if somebody tries to stand out, they are being reminded of right and wrong or how she is ‘supposed to behave or live.’
Hair, a small little fiber, which naturally grows on our body, is being victimized and is frowned upon for what purposes? Because one-day society decided to bring down women who thought that natural beauty is what it is? How is it even a punishment? It’s not. So rather than being talking about such issues, we should talk about something which will actually help us in the betterment of our country.