This personal essay is authored by Sahana Sehgal, a design enthusiast, creative writer, and poet living in Australia. To see more of Sahana’s work, visit her Medium page.
Stereotypes in My Life
It was a regular lunch shift at the restaurant where I work. There was a lady sitting by herself at a table by the window, she kept catching quick glances at me. I thought she wanted something but she would look away as soon as I stepped towards her. This happened a few times before I finally walked up to her and asked if she needed something. Turns out she did not need anything, however, she knew what I absolutely was in need of- laser treatment. This stranger then proceeded to talk about my facial hair at length, particularly my sideburns and swore by some products that would help with the reduction of facial hair. I really hoped she was a salesperson, like one of those Amway or Tupperware aunties, otherwise, she had absolutely no business getting entangled in my hair, pun intended. However, I cannot say I am surprised. I could not even find it in myself to be properly annoyed. This really is not the first time and this certainly will not be the last time.
Initially, the comments about my facial hair would affect me greatly. I would try to wear my hair a certain way so it would cover my sideburns or I tried to bleach my face so it would be more golden but as Russell Peters so rightly pointed out, it is not the color of the facial hair that is bothersome but the very existence of the hair. Truth is, women are required to be as smooth as a baby’s bottom. As such, I keep an arsenal of products at my disposal: a roll of thread, my trusted plucker, and a pack of wax strips. If I do have access to a parlor, I get threading done on my face. For those who do not know, threading is a monstrous concept where one feels like an anthill has been let loose on your face, where each hair is plucked out from the root. And even while I am being subjected to this torture, the woman at the parlor would ask me why I have so much hair on my face and if I have tried laser treatment or some other product. While this is a beauty practitioner, how many other people can you ask to mind their own business? So instead, I went on a pity gathering spree. I would tell those absolutely concerned that I had hormonal issues and should not be judged. The result is a pity that saves me from further judgment. However, letting people know you have hormonal issues opens up a new can of worms. So many suggestions! Eat this and eat that, dunk your face in cow’s piss, have you tried garlic and lemon water, and some new tea that will absolutely save me. As it turns out, hormonal issues also affect body weight.
Once, I was walking along the footpath and an older gentleman sitting on a bench told me to eat garlic to reduce weight. This other time, I was traveling in the local train and one of the women who was sitting by the footrest told me that the leggings I was wearing made my thighs look even fatter. Thanks, random Uncle and random Aunty! I love you both and you absolutely saved my life. It is indeed true that hormonal issues can be controlled by a healthy lifestyle, however the hair and the cellulite that has already sprung in full gusto will not just pack up and leave. That said, sucking garlic is not going to do much except maybe relegate me to the outskirts of society. I must also note that I have mostly been the recipient of unsolicited advice in India, given to me by my country people. We are just one big, happy family, are we not?! All up in each other’s business. What’s more, having facial hair is considered a sign of masculinity and therefore not a sign of femininity. As it stands, I was never known to be what was considered and accepted as feminine. Quick backstory.
From ages seven to eleven, I studied at an all girls boarding school. When I started at a co-ed school, I was on the cusp of teenage. It was then that a very important fact about myself was brought to my notice, I was not feminine enough. As a twelve year old, I was not quite girlish. Back then, I was unable to question just what was ‘girl’ enough. My mother and sister, two very strong women, were very much like me. My role models, both of them, were what women were supposed to be, as far as I was concerned. However, my constant fighting in school due to an ungodly temper (depending on which god you looked at) made me quite unpopular or popular for the wrong reasons. The word ‘tomboy’ preceded my reputation. Coupled with that, I was always cellulite friendly, even as a teen. Fast forward a few years, I started having the aforementioned hormonal problems. Anyways, between my late teens to early twenties, my facial hair started causing quite the stir. To the point where I was asked to start shaving (at the time, it was not a fad and was meant more as an affront). The more I felt targeted, the angrier I got and the more I was asked be more of a woman. Oh, Catch 22. That said, it would be unfair to suggest that all my anger was a consequence of the public debate on my body. By nature and nurture, I was inclined to fight but the constant unsolicited guidance by strangers made me spit fire. I still was fine, mostly. I did not actually kill anymore, at least not outside the confines of my mind. But then, something very important changed. I started looking at boys differently and started finding them attractive. Which in turn led me to question if they found me attractive because if you are told something about yourself long enough, you start to believe it. I was fat, hairy and angry. An absolute fantasy! Now nearly ten years, two degrees, five jobs and five boyfriends later, I am finally able to caress my sideburns in peace and feel relatively confident in my skin.
Confidence In My Skin
It has been a long journey. People are always suggesting a new clinic or laser removal or something else. I do not grudge them their interference. Societal conditioning is to blame. Facial hair, body weight, a loud voice, the need to argue and fight does not define any gender. Today, I chuckle and put the thought out of my head. Who I am and who I choose to be cannot be defined by facial hair. However, I worry. I worry young adults, teenagers and people insecure about their bodies do not know this. They do not know that facial hair and cellulite or the lack of these do not matter in the least. Maybe they know it but are unable to accept it. It is not for me to change the way I look or behave so other people can be comfortable. It is for whoever to be okay with whatever I want to be and do. Often, when I have this conversation, I am immediately asked why I get waxed or get my eyebrows plucked at all then? Be hairy all the time, why don’t you, they ask? And then I have to dive in to another conversation about choices. I like shapely eyebrows and I do not like chin hair however I also have a full-time life to live and cannot be bothered with constant hair removal. I would like to be fit and it would increase the quality of my life but I am still not discussing it with everyone. Because quite simply, the way people look is not up for discussion. Writing this, I myself can think of times when I have made comments that I am not proud of.
In conclusion because I would now like to conclude and get on with my day. I really can get rid of my sideburns but I will not. Because, what I have learnt is, if you are not actually bothering anyone, let people get used to you.