There’s a very simple India Arie lyric that I enjoy: “My Creator made no mistakes on me.” But I’m sorry, Ms. Arie, I think the jury is still out on body hair.
What’s the issue that affects Middle Eastern-American more regularly than overt racism, gender oppression and discrimination? Hair.
Yes, people, hair. It hurts me to say it, too. And I’m not talking about the kind on the top of your head. I’m talking about the kind that’s everywhere except on the top of your head.
I’m an Iranian-American woman who grew up blessed with a genetic makeup that is the byproduct of thousands of years of evolution in which hairiness developed to somehow help my people better survive in their environment. I guess. My only explanation involves sand. (Is that racist? Wait, am I being racist toward myself? God, I’m confused.)
I understand that every group has their own self-image issues. But there are subcultures that encourage women to embrace their natural beauty, from hair texture to curves. There are anthems for praising natural features that buck western beauty norms. Some characteristics, like being thick, are at least celebrated with lip service by people. But when was the last time you heard a “I Like Big Butts”-like ode to the hairy? The answer is never. Now hide in your house until you find a good esthetician.
I firmly agree with the sentiment behind India Arie’s lyric. But nowhere is being hairy celebrated -- and if you find such a place, please alert me so I can move there and be their ruler.
Like many Persian girls growing up in America, I was a strand of stark, jet black hair in a sea of blonde and undetectable-to-the-naked-eye strands. Many girls learn beauty regimens from their peers, but mine never had to deal with this problem. Thus, it made me stand out as an oddity as I clumsily discovered tweezers and razors. Life-altering moments include graduating college, falling in love for the first time and realizing that a person should have two eyebrows rather than one.
In order to emotionally survive all of this mess, I assigned my difference to my heritage and told myself that these people and this community didn’t understand my hair struggle. I figured if I went to Iran and was around my kind, they would sympathize, take me into their hairy arms and soothe my emotional scars, saying, “We understand. Now let that unibrow grow, sister.”
Um, I was wrong.
Years ago I visited the motherland, and I had never encountered a group of women who so openly and blatantly told me what I needed to remove and how to remove it. At this point, I had already undertaken regular hair-removal regimens and my appearance was socially acceptable by American hair standards (for instance, two eyebrows). But that wasn’t enough for these ladies; they went to the extreme in removing nearly every strand of hair from their bodies. I had nightmares that Frida Kahlo was reincarnated as a 21st century Iranian woman and her family waxed her mustache and eyebrows while she was sleeping, forever ruining her iconic appearance. No, not the art!
What’s worse is the stance Persian men take. There is a joke they just love to tell: “What do you call three Iranian girls taking a shower together? Gorillas in the mist.” I’m sorry, Persian men, but have you looked in the mirror lately? I’m fairly certain there is a carpet on your chest and it is permanent.
I felt lost, confused and without a hair-home. So I took the path I normally take, one of moderation, doing what I needed to do to feel good about my appearance without going overboard. But was I being true to who I really am? For example, I have naturally curly hair that I rock with pride rather than spending an hour each day frying it with a flat iron. (Also I’m lazy, but attributing my hair texture to a social principle makes me feel less shallow.)
Body hair has left me in a precarious situation. Not being hairy isn’t really who I am. Also, I’d like to not pay someone lots of money to basically torture me -- plus tip! Who tips their torturers?
And I don’t want to spend all my time waxing, plucking, lasering, when I could be working on other things, such as, oh, I don’t know, developing a personality. The last time I got my eyebrows threaded, I thought to myself, “I could be reading a book right now.”
Perhaps there is some sort of bizarre, twisted strength hidden in all of this. Just know that, for the most part, whenever you see an Iranian woman who is seemingly hairless with perfectly shaped eyebrows and all, what you are actually witnessing is hours of hard work, stalwart dedication, immense strength and a tolerance for pain that is matched by few human beings. So if I can’t take pride in being hairy in of itself, perhaps I can take some sort of pride in what the hair allows me to discover about myself.
But I’d still like to hear “I Like Hairy Girls, And I Cannot Lie” in the club.