Girl-hate and jealousy is something I am working very hard to overcome. Per the grrrlVIRUS ideology, I believe that many of the problems, traumas and violence that women experience today are not just a product of the modern patriarchal society, but also because women participate and perpetuate the roles and ideals set up for them (or rather against them) by the system. But it’s hard to fight girl-hate or animosity when society thinks that any woman or girl who does not abide by these societal rules should be doomed to a life of ridicule, humiliation, abuse, and outright hate not only by oppressive men, but also by oppressive women.
I’ve known such oppression from my peers and my family. I’ve also known it from the media and society in general, but since I stopped listening to popular radio, don’t watch TV as often as most people, and sure as hell don’t read magazines (unless they’re feminist, independently-produced, grrrl zines), I don’t keep up with any fashion rules whatsoever.
I was born to a beautician mother. So standards of beauty were established pretty early on for me. My mom never overtly forced me into shaving this and shaving that and tweezing here and zapping there. It was in school where I was taught to be ashamed of my body hair. When I was in grade six, 12-years-old, my best friend of the time was once called “moustachu” due to her slightly hairy upper lip. I was so scared that I would also be called names due to my facial hair, I came back home that day and asked my mom to wax my upper lip. It was so painful that I gave it up for some time, and bleached it instead.
During that same year, my friend and I went swimming. My underarm hair started to grow, and I hadn’t even noticed it until my friend came up to me and whispered in my ear: “You know, you have a lot of hair on your armpits.” Then gave me a grave look that meant she said it for my benefit.
That day, I came back home and looked in the mirror for a long time. I started noticing thick hair on my legs, my arms, my belly, my chest, my back, my neck and even on my chin, my cheeks and along the sides on my face.
I have sideburns! I thought with growing horror and disgust at my body. Other kids in class noticed it, too. By grade 7, I started waxing my legs, my underarms, my belly and my back. By grade 8, I started tweezing my eyebrows. My facial hair was still visible and I’ve been told by girls and guys alike that I need to shave my face. I was called names and ridiculed in the halls. Some guy in my class started calling me “Hadass Ben-Hairy,” and hit me on the back of the neck so hard I started seeing black stars and almost fainted.
I never told my parents about any of that. I was too ashamed to tell my dad because he’s a guy. And I was afraid that if I told my mom, she would simply say: “Come to the beauty room. It’s nothing that wax can’t fix.”
By grade 9, I stopped wearing my hair up in a ponytail and let it grow down to my midsection so that it would cover my face and my neck completely and shade it from the sun. On particularly sunny days, I would walk through alleyways and take long detours to avoid walking against the wind for fear that it would blow my hair back and my face would be exposed in all its hideousness. I would see girls on the bus or in the metro, wearing their hair up or tucking locks of their hair behind their ears without shame that their cheeks are showing, and I burned with jealousy.
Every time I travelled to Israel during that time, I knew that it would be sunny all the time and too hot to not pick up my hair. So I started waxing my face. The whole thing – cheeks, chin, neck, sideburns, upper lip – simply everything. Every pull felt like a violent slap to my face, and would leave me as red and puffy as a cartoon character on the verge of explosion.
At grade 10, I was well into my goth stage and started wearing all black. One guy in class once told me: “Why are you such a freak? You have black hair, black clothes, black shoes. I bet you got a big black bush, too.” Everybody laughed. I went back home and cried in silence. Again, my parents knew nothing. I didn’t even give them the benefit of the doubt. I had my reason. One that was so traumatic, I don’t wish to discuss it here. But one that made my body my ultimate arch-nemesis. My body became the embodiment of everything that hurt me in my life. It was a source of shame, pain, humiliation, disgust and repugnance. I hated everything about it.
At some point, I got laser treatment for my facial hair. Though it was no less painful than waxing, I was glad to be rid of my awful sideburns. Today, I have a bit of a duvet left on my cheeks, but it can only be seen from a close range and under fluorescent lights.
I still had, and still have hair on my arms. Since I’ve been doing such a good job of waxing, shaving, tweezing, zapping, epilating, bleaching and using hair removal creams on everything else, I’m happy I never touched my arms. I’ve been getting many negative comments about my arm hair from my peers and my family as well, but I was all waxed out and wasn’t about to attack my arms as well.
My female cousins and aunts keep harassing me about it. They keep saying how “nice and clean” my arms would look if I waxed them. As if having hairy arms somehow decreases my level of personal hygiene.
“Hadass, it’s not nice,” my cousin said one morning as we were sitting outside on the porch over a cup of tea. “At least wax the back of your hands and your fingers.”
“If I did that, then I would have to wax the rest of my arm, because it would look like I have a sleeve of hair,” I responded. Though I knew the real reason was because if I waxed my arms, I wouldn’t know where to stop because my arm hair stretches all the way to my upper arm to the back of my shoulders and all across my back. And also because I was already waxing half my body weight off, I wasn’t about to start being a slave to the hot, sticky goo and the strip of cloth on any other part of my body. My arms are just fine, thank you very much.
After discovering feminism and riot grrrl, then moving to Israel, going through three years of intensive psychological therapy, then joining the grrrlVIRUS movement, I slowly stripped away more and more issues of my defective body image. I’ve discussed in previous posts the many changes I made to improve my self-esteem and care for my body, but one of the major changes was the way I started viewing body hair.
I started seeing it as utterly beautiful and as an object of awe and inspiration. Though my family keeps saying how gross and ugly body hair is, I look at these girls with the hairy underarms and hairy legs and think how much I wish I was as brave as they are.
My issues with my body hair are far from over. I still remove hair from my legs and underarms, and women in my family keep tell me to shave my arms. They don’t say it in a condescending tone, but in a rather “caring” tone, like they’re trying to save me from getting any more shit about being hairy from guys who may not be as “gentle” about it as they are.
“It’s for your own good,” they say. But to me, it’s still offensive and hurtful. If they really wanted to provide me with a blanket of support and encouragement, they should say: “Don’t pay attention to these asshole men. What the fuck do they know? They got more hair than you. Your body hair is beautiful. You want to be strong, brave and pretty? Wear your hair long and proud – on your legs, arms, eyebrows, armpits, back, stomach, chest, shoulders, and pubes! Stop hurting yourself. Stop abusing your body. You don’t need to ‘discover the goddess you are’ by shaving. Love yourself the way you are – the way the Goddess made you.” What I wouldn’t give to hear these words coming from someone other than my inner child.
So, it was definitely refreshing to join grrrlVIRUS and meet so many grrrls who were not ashamed of their body hair and who were actually brave enough to let it grow, taking pictures of it and talking about it so openly. It was such a drastic change from the girls and the women I’ve known, who were always chasing after the growth of their body hair, trying to shave it before it emerged once again, and telling off any girl who wasn’t doing the same.
One of my male cousins recently posted a status that read: “Girls should know when to shave their arms.” This was followed by a long back and forth between me and him about why this statement was offensive to me and how it can affect the body image of girls in general (I was, of course, speaking from firsthand experience). My cousin’s girlfriend also intervened and wrote the following:
“Hadass, what is wrong with it? Just like women don’t want to go out with men who are hairy like gorillas or a carpet (unless it’s their fetish), the same goes for boys. I don’t understand your comment about if he views a woman as hairy as a wolf being at all related to women who starve themselves. Personal hygiene is not an obscene word. And feminism or not – a woman should not be a carpet.”
I was even more offended by that comment than all the other ones that my cousin made, especially because it came from a girl. From the time my cousin started dating this girl up until this point, I kept trying to work up the courage to talk to her. She seems like such a sweet girl and my family took a great liking into her. But with that comment, I was back to square one. On one hand, I wanted to talk to her in person about why that comment was offensive, and hope to move past it. But I was so afraid she would just hate me even more. So instead, I wrote a long spiel responding to what she wrote, and when I saw her during this past holiday, she ignored me completely.
How can I stand up for myself when girls tell me off? What can I say that will not be taken as a personal attack on them? I love girls. I don’t want to hurt them. But what if they hurt me first? What if they do it without even realizing it? How do I wake them up to the realization that they are perpetuating the oppressive beauty norms of the patriarchal order? How do I prove to them that they are buying into society’s plot to divide and conquer womankind?
I want to tell them so much. But I’m so afraid to be hated for that by members of my own gender. I’m open to suggestions as I am fresh out of ideas.
Peace, love and brush, comb, braid.