I vividly remember the moment I decided to stop shaving my armpits, back in 2020.
My arm was lifted in mid-air, razor in hand, soap covering stubbly regrowth, when my eyes caught my reflection in the mirror.
What if I just… didn’t?
I didn’t need to think twice as my arm lowered. After splashing warm water on my armpit, I took a deep breath and re-entered the world as the hairy woman I always have been.
Soon, I stopped shaving my legs, bikini line, stomach and bum.
Even though It took a little longer for my chest, now I don’t remove any body hair at all.
Except, it was only a matter of time before I realised that my body hair was a kink to some people.
Growing up, I never saw myself in the media – and almost all images that were reflected back at me were hairless, even adverts of hair removal.
I would watch seasons of Lost and not see one single strand of body hair. One of my favourite films, Mad Max: Fury Road, depicted femme bodies that were smooth in an apocalyptic world.
The Walking Dead suggested that people found time to shave while fighting off zombies.
It was infuriating because, as a storyteller myself, I couldn’t place myself in these scenarios.
I was self conscious because the world presented me with hairless femme bodies as the norm, and I believed I existed in isolation from it.
As a South Asian queer woman, while my body hair grew thicker and longer, I became stranger and lonelier. So, unless I spent hours of my day removing hair, I was not normal.
But when I stopped shaving, I felt liberated from the constraints of patriarchal standards of euro-centric beauty. I wanted to share this liberation with others, so I posted my body on Instagram.
The intention was for young, queer, people of colour to see my photos and feel represented.
Except, every time I post a photo of myself on Instagram with my arms raised, or body hair on show, I get hundreds of horny comments, direct messages, emails, Instagram video and audio calls.
I was once sent a link of my Instagram photos on a porn site.
Or, I get disgust in my comments and DMs. People pretending to throw up, while others send racist, sexist and cruel messages.
The first time it happened, I was torn. I didn’t want to be sexualised by the cis hetero men flooding my inbox, but I didn’t want cruel comments either. What I wanted was to exist freely, while being able – like anyone else – to post photos of myself.
But the messages on my Instagram were explicit, unsolicited and sexual. While the odd comment from a young woman would find itself to me, it got lost in the sea of horniness.
As well as making me extremely uncomfortable, it made me realise one thing: cis heterosexual men think I exist for them.
If I existed, shaved or unshaved, it was for their disgust or desire. It was never for myself. I realised that they believed that everything I did was for them. I noticed the way they’d furiously message me if I put up posts that didn’t show any body hair, flooding my DMs with requests for ‘more hair!!’
While many are blocked, ignored or reported, much of it filters through. Not just on Instagram but in my mind, too. It affects the way I feel about myself.
Being objectified in a sexual nature when you’re merely existing, makes you question every move you make. I look around on the underground, when my armpits are on show and wonder who is getting turned on from it.
And from that shame, I feel the need to hide myself.
When at first I felt liberated from the constraints of the patriarchy after deciding to give up shaving, I now feel like I serve men as a sexual object, no matter how I choose to live.
I simply want to post photos of myself in the park, at a party or event and not have to think about the sea of disgusting messages I’ll receive when I reopen Instagram.
I don’t want to feel like, no matter what I do, I make someone sick or turn them on. There’s no in between.
I’m a proud person – of my culture, my queerness, my body and history. I don’t like being told I exist for a stranger because they believe my body belongs to them.
Despite what the world shows us: I exist and I am beautiful. And if I have the power to save one young person from feeling bad about themselves, then I’ve done something important. I want to show that we should be able to exist as we are, for ourselves.
So, I do. I simply exist and they fall at my feet, begging for more or begging for me to stop. But I don’t deliver, because I’m here to make just me happy.
Now, I just need them to understand that it’s not about them – it never was. It always was and always will be about me and my representation.
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