I have a love hate relationship with hair removal. My love is for the soft, sexy skin that follows.
The kind you can slather up with coconut oil or a thick shea butter, making me feel like a woman that can afford to show a little skin.
My hate comes from the fact I have to buy into the socially constructed, man-made ‘sign of beauty’ to get that feeling. What’s worse is the obsession with bare skin is reinforced by us women. We can’t simply accept our beauty comes from just how we are – thick or thin hair, dark black or slightly brown, on the face or even on the back.
My advice about hair removal? I’m going to come at this from the perspective of a 30-year-old woman who now understands that hair removal isn’t everything its chalked up to be and sure isn’t worth most of the pain women all over the world go through to get it done.
Nor is it worth the stress our South Asian community places on other women and even our own children to be the image of Bollywood perfect. However, given (a) I still crave that “sexy bare skin”, (b) I know my community can’t stand hair “where it doesn’t belong” and (c) it is the source of unbelievable stress and anxiety among parents and their daughters, I want to share with you information to answer questions like when, where, and how.
When? This has got to be the most difficult question to answer for parents of daughters who are still young but ‘oh so eager’ to show the world they are women. If I think back, I probably started shaving my legs and my underarms when I was around 12 years old. It was a little after I started my period.
I remember the idea of going to gym class with hairy body parts was absolutely appalling to me. Not only was I one of the few girls of color in my entire school, I had thick black hair that did anything but hide. My mom was pretty supportive about helping me find shaving cream and the right razor. I wonder what the conversation would have looked like if I had wanted to shave at an earlier age, such as at 9 or 10 – a time when children are still children, but eager to act like adults.
My advice is to have an open discussion about why your child wants to have hair removed if you feel it is too soon. Ask her why she thinks it’s not soon enough. You may find it is to avoid bullying at school or the psychological distress of being so conspicuous in an unwanted way.
If it’s to impress friends at school, ask her more about what having no hair has to do with impressing her friends. How does she see herself in relation to her friends? Often times a frank conversation will encourage your daughter to think more about her motivations – a skill she should be developing at this age anyway.
This will also allow you to see more clearly the rationale behind your daughter’s request. In addition, consider if her desire to remove unwanted body hair is related to recent onset of puberty. Once your daughter begins to notice pubic and underarm growth, she is likely to have questions about whether and how it should be removed. This is a great time to bring up the conversation privately and in a sensitive manner so as not to make her too uncomfortable.
On the flip side, if you are concerned about your daughter’s body hair and want her to remove it, ask yourself what the motivations are behind your anxieties. How will this help your daughter? Is she beautiful just the way she is—that is, whether she wants to remove the hair or not?
I cannot tell you how many of my friends have felt hurt by comments from their own Tiger mothers who have scolded them for the ‘unsightly hair’ on their bodies. Rather than being a part of their beautiful bodies, body hair became a disease that needed to be removed.
Hair on the face was a topic of conversation rather than something nobody who cared would even notice. There is a fine line between helping your daughter remove unwanted hair and projecting your own insecurities onto her.
So when you bring up the conversation, do so with sensitivity. She is still learning about her body as well as her own identity. Do not risk muddying up her own sense of self and self-worth with your ‘concerns’ about how she ‘could look better’.
Akka is a first-generation Indian American woman in a clinical doctorate program for nurse-midwifery. She is a licensed RN, certified family planning and HIV counselor, and has an MPH in International & Maternal-Child Health.
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