It was the night before an interview. Normally, one would expect that I’d be preparing for the interview, going over the company details, refining my resume, but no. I was wondering what outfit to wear that will cover my arm and leg hair. My week had been extremely exhausting with household errands, work, and assignment submissions that shaving was the last thing on my mind.
As an Indian, I am blessed with thick, long hair — unfortunately, on my face, arms, and legs too. But being a freelancer meant I could work from home and not have to deal with ‘looking the part’ to get the job done. Going to a workplace, however, was a completely different deal. So, I dug through my closet and decided on a full-sleeved shirt and a pair of full-length office pants. Who cares for the 40-degree heat? As long as I look ‘presentable’.
This wasn’t the first time I felt conscious about my body hair. I remember reaching to uni for a team meeting, having prepared a brief for an important project, only to realise I had worn a half-sleeved shirt and forgotten to shave. All the late-night preparation came down to, “Everyone will see my hairy arms.”
It might seem ridiculous to men because they never had someone stare at their hands while they spoke. But every time I worked at or entered an office, all the women were hairless, had some amount of makeup on, and perfectly blown-out hair. The men were dressed in business casuals too, but it was okay for them to show their zits, dark circles, or their unkempt hair. If a woman ever chose not to shave, it was often seen as radical.
The reality is that this has become second nature for many women, especially women of colour, who have naturally black, thick body hair. I know friends who only shave the areas where the knee is exposed when wearing ripped jeans. Because despite how time-consuming and uncomfortable it can be (i.e., stubble dots appearing right after you shave or in-grown hairs), women would rather shave than have someone be distracted by their body hair and not pay attention to what they’re saying.
This conversation starts at home from the moment girls hit puberty. Two of my relatives were explaining why we should always shave our legs, even if they were covered.