Let’s talk about facial hair; in particular, let’s talk about facial hair on women.
Over the weekend, I posted a selfie to Instagram. I was having a good day, trying out some new makeup, and was feeling myself. It occurred to me, after taking a few shots, that my upper lip hair looked more pronounced than usual. Which is not uncommon in the winter months, as that’s generally when I tend to notice my upper lip hair, as there’s not as much sun around to do its natural bleaching.
After a brief moment of wondering whether I should retake the photos, or if I should run the chosen one through FaceTune to try and disguise my lady ‘tache, I decided against it. I thought I looked good, plus I didn’t have much time to waste editing or taking new photos, — I was on my way to go to the cinema. So, I whacked on a filter, uploaded it with a self-aware caption, and thought nothing more of it.
When I got out of the theatre (I went to see The Shape of Water btw, it was very, very good), I received some interesting responses to the photo. I got a few likes, which is always a great ego boost when posting a selfie. But I also got a couple of DMs (and a text from my mother) expressing concern along the lines of: why don’t you bleach/get rid of your lip hair?
The short answer was simple: Because I’m a woman with dark hair, and I’m sick of constantly pruning and preening to pretend that I don’t. The long answer has more layers to it, because I’ve not always thought that way.
When I was at school, a group of boys in a Science lesson made fun of me for the hair on my arms, and threw affectionate nicknames at me like ‘yeti’ and ‘hairy beary’. I don’t think I had that much hair on my arms, but because I have dark hair and light skin, it makes it more noticeable. I quipped back a witty retort that the hair on my arms was a thing called puberty, and that they would understand once it hit them. But inside, I was horrified. I was already being bullied and ostracised on a daily basis, so this was another thing to add to my list of insecurities.
I would then spend my teen years periodically buying wax strips and removing my arm hair every couple of months or so.
As I got older, and puberty indeed carried on doing it’s thing, the hair on my face began to darken too; namely my upper lip hair and my sideburns. My mum was the first to notice, and suggested that I buy hair lightening cream to use on my face. And I started doing so, but half-heartedly. I was already getting sick of waxing my arm hair — on top of shaving my legs and underarms — so maintaining the hair on my face felt like another chore to ensure I was deemed an acceptable-looking woman in society.
But honestly, part of me was scared of stopping the hair lightening beauty regimen. I was worried that the hair on my face made me look masculine; I may not have had a full-on beard going on, but anyone who got close enough would surely see the shadow above my lip. And they had — there were a couple of incidences at parties when someone (usually a person I fancied, conveniently) pointed out that I ‘had a bit of a moustache going on’. Not great for your self-confidence when you’re trying to be charming and cute.
However, mostly, I was oblivious to it, especially when I moved to uni. I was too busy worrying about other things (first year: my terrible flatmates, second year: juggling uni with extra curriculars, third year: my crippling depression) to worry about whether anyone other than me noticed the dark hair on my face. Mostly, I just lightened it before I was due a visit back home, so I could get my mother off my back (obviously, she was never malicious about it and always meant well, but sometimes I just didn’t want the hassle of talking about it over and over again).
My attitude to body hair on women in general has shifted over the past few years. I feel less inclined to shave my legs and underarms regularly, no longer bleach the hair on my face, and (TMI alert) I’ve certainly never been someone to be all bare ‘down there’. The fact is, women have body hair. HUMANS has body hair — everywhere! From fingers to toes, boobs to butts, we’re covered in the stuff. Some of us just have darker hair than others. And I, as a Portuguese woman with an African mother and grandparents, fall into that category.
I am so sick of pretending that I don’t have something as natural as body hair. Surely if women weren’t meant to have body hair, our bodies just wouldn’t grow it, right? I’m sick of being made to feel like less of a woman just because I don’t want to spend valuable hours plucking, shaving or bleaching ‘unsightly’ hairs, when I could do something much more fun, like reading or eating pizza. If anyone finds me less attractive for that, then so be it. I probably wouldn’t like them anyway.
That’s not to say I don’t condone, or look down on, any one who does want to remove hair they aren’t comfortable with. It’s a personal choice, babe. Whether you want to wax your entire body smooth or let it grow, bleach your face hairs or embrace the dark fuzz, it’s completely down to you. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for what makes you feel good. Just know that body hair, whether you have it or not, has no bearing on your worth.
As for me? I know the DMs and texts were meant with good intentions. But I don’t feel bad about that selfie – which is why I posted it! I don’t feel bad about my body and all the hairs on it. And I won’t feel pressured to take it off, unless I want to. I’m just gonna carry on doing me, baby.
Read more about Ayqa Khan’s work here.