I remember sitting in literature class, reading a poem about a bearded lady; everybody cringed in disgust. Some even said she was an “abomination” or worse, a man in the guise of a woman. I remember trying to keep still so that, perhaps, people will forget that I too, had little strains of hair on my chin and a fur-coated face and that my legs had curly black hairs that were thick…I hoped that they would not notice or that perhaps it was normal – but being in a girl’s school with skirts as a uniform – I knew it was NOT normal.
Perhaps it was my silence (being the normally chirpy girl that I am) or my head bowed low that made one of my classmates say – bearded lady like her (my name)! The whole class burst out laughing. My teacher intervened, “don’t be mean class, it’s called hirsutism”. And since then, I was named the Hirsute girl. My legs were seen as an example of nature gone wrong, of a woman who was actually meant to be a man. People looked at me in utter revulsion – physical exercise time was my worst nightmare. It meant that I had to change from a skirt to shorts. Even more legs showing, even more shame.
And because I was Sikh, I wasn’t allowed to remove my hair. I used to come home crying and my mother used to tell me – who cares what people think of you? You are beautiful to me. Or she would invalidate my feelings and tell me that my legs weren’t hairy or that her legs were as hairy as mine and that indian girls just have hairier legs; just because they are chinese, white (not indian), that’s why they think you’re not normal. It never made sense. The indian girls I knew had smooth and silky legs with minute invisible strains of hair – nothing like mine. I spent nights trying to reconcile my religious beliefs with my physical ostracism. It just wasn’t fair. WHY ME? Why was I born this way? Why would God let me go through this ordeal? I was a woman. I considered myself more feminine than other girls! I loved the colour pink, I wore makeup, I loved wearing dresses! I even had big boobs and long hair…then why would people call me a man?
I hate to admit it. But one day, I succumbed. I broke against the strong pressures of society. They told me I was hairy and therefore not beautiful. I was defeminate; deprived of my womanly opulence merely because of the hair on my body. I wanted, with all my heart and soul, to be beautiful (and feminine). And if that meant that I had to go against my religion, my parents or my believes, then I WILL. I bought a shaver. And cut cut cut. The hair on my legs were gone. Tweeze tweeze, pluck. The hair on my chin was gone. I went to school the next day, proud as a lion. In reality, however, I was weak as an ant. I had lost my pride and glory. I chose rather to denounce myself and the people I loved for the world who didn’t seem to care. No one noticed my legs were different. No one even cared to look. My name still stuck – Hirsute (My name). I felt ashamed. I felt foolish.
A week after, my hair came back – this time, darker, thicker and coarser and more visible. The cycle repeated itself. I plucked and plucked and shaved and shaved. My mother scoffed – I told you so. Was my beauty so transient that it depended on a few moments of hairless days? Evanescence beauty – disappearing once the hair comes back. It cannot be. I was more than that. I AM more than that; I am a Sikh with long tresses. God gifted me with words to use as a weapon. God made me different but that did not mean I was less human.
The hair on my face does not define who I am.
The hair on my body does not make me a man.
My life is for me to live.
The society can go and take a piss. I
am beautiful, yes I know I am.
Today, I take a stand;
Take me as I am, or give me a miss;
it doesn’t make a difference to me cos
Guruji loves me just the way it is –
with my Goldilocks hair and my sweet little smile,
my blazing heart
and my gentle style.
I will not shave, pluck or cut away my mane,
Nor wax my legs; oh so much of pain!
I will not give in to society’s whims
I am a Sikh and that is my NAME
– Anonymous, Sikh.