Forget Mills & Boons — the hottest love story to emerge in recent times is between my body hair and the pandemic.
It’s been 600 days since this pandemic showed up at our doorstep and 500 days since it barged into our homes and ruined our routines. And in all that time, I have been to the salon twice.
BC, or Before COVID, maintenance of my crop of over-the-lip, under-the-arm, and other sproutings of hair was a fortnightly affair. Once we were locked in place, my body hair had newfound freedom within the 4 walls of my home. It could now grow unhindered, unimpeded, unobstructed, and unhampered. While the rest of us were feeling trapped, my arm hair was on a roll. The last time it had felt this free was as a 14-year-old gawky teenager with an I-care-two-hoots-about-what-others-think attitude.
In no time, I was cultivating a healthy moustache that the in-built laptop camera couldn’t quite highlight. I felt the pressing need to tell my friends how I was the proud to-be owner of a Gabbar Singh ‘stache’, and it was only a matter of time till I’d be able to curl the ends. Of course, I was exaggerating, but there was a cheap thrill in being able to boast about this through the safety of a screen.
The monetary benefits of not pulling, plucking, trimming, and lasering hair aside, what I found deep satisfaction in was the emotional emancipation I experienced.
Keeping up a hair-free existence was an anxiety-inducing experience. I used to dread parlour appointments; postponing them until the final hour of the weekend, fast-tracked just before a date or an important meeting. And in all the hours leading up to it, I’d be checking the clock, calming my nerves and debating whether to bunk it, hating to spend even an hour from my precious downtime on this torturous exercise.
So when the shutters fell on March 24, 2020, I could proudly go ahead with what the Gods and Genes intended for me ﹘ living with an Amazonian undergrowth. And it was transformational.
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The New Norm(s)al
While the world was embracing the joy of working in pyjamas, I was using my body hair as an accessory. I refused to work in pyjamas or sweatpants. I refused to languish. I woke up, showered, and dressed every day like I would if I were going to work, barring the shoes and the hairlessness. I put on lipstick, brushed my brows, and wore jewellery.
For me, the act of not removing my body hair was not equivalent to working in pyjamas. It was not an act of laziness.
Every time I wore a neatly ironed cotton saree, I chose to wear a crisp sleeveless blouse. And I deliberately didn’t shave my arms. The days I wore shorts or a skirt, I didn’t shave my legs. I wore lipstick but didn’t pluck my upper-lip hair. I filled in my brows but didn’t tweeze the stray hair.
Somehow, the act of dressing up and simulating a going-out experience ﹘ but with body hair ﹘ made the entire act that much more empowering. To me, it was a deliberate and conscious effort at negating societal norms.
Even on days when I stepped out for a get-together or to go shopping, I didn’t cover up my arm hair with a full-sleeved shirt. A part of me was almost proud of the seeming “imperfection”.
My body hair was a part of me. And I felt that if I could live with it peacefully, so could those watching me.
An Appointment With Patriarchy
The two times I did visit the salon could be construed as a step back in my march towards embracing my body hair. You wouldn’t be completely wrong in that assumption. This journey is a work in progress. Yet, I admit that I would wax, thread, and laser again. I still love the feel of my skin after. I still enjoy rediscovering what my body looks like without hair. Hairless me is also me. It doesn’t increase or decrease my self-worth.
Is there internalised misogyny at play here? I don’t know.
The Time Before
For me, the act of visiting a salon is more than just an attempt at enjoying smooth skin ﹘ it’s also a nostalgic experience.
It’s reminiscent of the time before. The two times I waxed were two journeys I took on a time machine to the time before COVID-19. It brings to mind days when there was an important event to get ready for. When evening dresses were worn. When the air was heavy with anticipation. When going out was an occasion that didn’t come attached with a mask and sanitiser. When bodies could nonchalantly brush against each other in bars without fear. When a smooth, hair-free arm on a Monday was extra motivation to dress up extra slick for work. When hair-freeness infused the day with promise.
Booking an appointment at the salon is at once an attempt to relive the time Before COVID, as it is a deliberate effort at experiencing the joys of smooth skin. The only difference is that now I ring them up with the same frequency I’d book a table at an expensive Japanese restaurant ﹘ on rare occasions.
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