Embracing Our Girlstache
I clearly remember the day when I started to become ashamed of my ‘girlstache’. It was 2008 and my cousin and I decided to have a photo shoot. I got all dressed up, put on lip-gloss, eyeliner, took my dad’s sonny camera and went outside to take pictures 📸. When we were done, my cousin and I picked the best pictures and excitedly waited for our parents to come home so we could show them the pictures.
The only comments I remember from that day is how my aunt and dad said that I had a moustache like my grandmother 👵. When I looked at the picture again all I could see was my moustache! From that day on, I became obsessed with getting rid of this grotesque patch of hair on my face.
I would spend hours looking for DIY methods to get rid of my hair permanently because I got to a point where I was tired of waxing and shaving 🪒. I have also burned my upper lip from applying a home-made honey wax that was too hot.
Meenakshi Bharathan and I have known each since primary school. We would spend Fridays bonding waiting for our fathers to pick us up 🚗. Our late Friday afternoon conversations were always the highlight of my week. Over the past couple of years we lost touch due to distance and time ⌚. A couple of weeks ago Meenu posted a stunning picture of her and her girlstache.
When you have friends that are journalists, I don’t think you will ever be save from an impromptu interview 😂. This how my interview with Meenu went 👇.
What has been your facial hair experience?
I can definitely relate to that. There has been several instances in which both adults and my peers have pointed out I was abnormally “hairy”. It’s tough enough being a teenager, and when you have more facial and body hair than “normal” you tend to feel even more isolated and paranoid. Well, that’s been my experience. I remember this particular instance in highschool, I raised my hand to answer a question; when I heard a girl whisper to her friend behind me: “She has so much hair on her arms.” I was instantly embarrassed and from then on, constantly aware of the conspicuously thick black hair that covered my body. I hated it. I hated my body for producing so much hair. Thus began a tedious, fortnightly, purging of what I thought would make me more beautiful, less masculine, more acceptable. The irony was, every time I removed my ‘girlstache’, my upper lip would become red and somehow at odds with the rest of my face. A boy in class pointed out that I looked like a man who had just shaved off his moustache. It made me look even more like a man, it seems, to some people. Thus, I was never able to escape the taunts, the humiliation, the pain, myself. 👩🦱
I personally think there is a huge stigma around facial hair in South Asian communities, what has been your experience with facial hair experience like in your community?
I think there’s definitely is a stigma around facial hair in South Asian communities. The first thoughts that come to mind are my experiences in “beauty parlours”. I’ve always felt that the moment you enter one, the staff are constantly looking for hair they can remove. I’ve gone in, to get my ‘girlstache’ removed and in the process received offers to remove my forehead, cheek and chin hair. The first time I was offered this, I remember thinking to myself, “is that a thing? Do I have that much hair on these parts?” What surprises me now that I think of it, is that many South Asian women don’t think twice about the pain and lie back perfectly still, for their facial hair to be threaded out. However, I feel stigma around facial hair is stronger in our communities because genetically we are more prone to body hair and also black hair is more conspicuous. In general, I feel the stigma around facial hair is present in several communities around the world.
What has been your childhood experience been like with body hair?
During my childhood, I don’t think I thought much about my body hair. I even remember my Dad and I bonding over the fact that we had hairier arms compared to my mother and brother. I used to be proud I think. Even now, I don’t remove my arm hair because it is a reminder of those happy times. I think I was aware at some level however, that “beautiful” women did not have facial hair. But I think I was more preoccupied with growing my hair in emulating “beautiful” women I saw on television. 📺
What made you decide to grow out your ‘girlstache’?
I think there are a couple of things. No matter how much I want to take full responsibility for the decision to grow out my ‘girlstache’ and think of it as a “rebellious” act, I think, to some extent, convenience and COVID- 19 had a huge part to play. Most of this year was spent indoors. I didn’t have to interact with people on a day to day basis and I think that sort of put ‘girlstache-removal’ to the very bottom of my to-do list along with wearing a bra and shaving my legs. Haha, and I think, as it began to grow, and I allowed it to grow over time, it began to grow on me. haha. I mean, I didn’t mind the way it looked on my face. In fact, I began to like the fuzz. I’ve also been lucky to have people in my life who are bold and have challenged the prevalent gender stereotypes. As well as an amazing partner who loved how I looked with my ‘girlstache’ and would urge me not to bother removing it. It was suddenly okay to be how I am👩🏿🦱. I didn’t have to hate my body. In fact, I began to love my body and the hair that covered it. And most significantly, I feel beautiful. It was such a relief to let go of this nagging voice at the back of my head. And I couldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for all the brave, kind and beautiful people out there.
What made you decide to post your ‘girlstache’ on Instagram? Were you nervous about posting?
I am so happy to say that I’m pretty sure a large part of the reason I posted that was because I genuinely felt beautiful in that picture. Another reason was to solidify that acceptance that I felt towards my body and my body hair. If I was comfortable to post such a picture, it was because I had genuinely accepted myself. It was an expression of self-love I guess❤️. Then again, I think I also wanted to normalise body hair and let others feel more comfortable with their own bodies.
What was the reaction like? Did you get any comments you did not like?
I got two types of comments. One; was of praise for being able to post such a photo; as well as people telling me that they thought I looked amazing. The other, though not negative as such, were people who found it funny. I got the feeling that they thought I was being goofy or silly. It was as if, the only purpose of my ‘girlstache’ was to get laughs and to make them laugh. I don’t think these people had any bad intentions honestly. I think that it might not have crossed their minds at that moment that there exists a painful😧 stigma around facial hair for women and that it takes a lot of courage to post something like that.
Why do you think it’s so important to break the shame and taboo on women and body hair?
I think it is important for several reasons but most importantly, the need for everyone to be able to love themselves and be comfortable and happy with their bodies.
I view myself as a feminist. I believe that feminism is the freedom to be who we want to be! I recently shave my hair because I was just personally tired of being defined by my hair and, I wanted to define my beauty without my hair. I had a conversation with someone that said that they did not want to be a feminist because they like their hair and don’t want to ever cut it! I found that very bizarre because feminism isn’t letting go of your femininity, it’s about embracing your femininity on your own terms.
What is your take on feminism and hair? Do you think there is a wrong potrail in the media? If so, in your own opinion what can we do to break the stereotype?
I think I can definitely understand the need to break that association that gets placed between “being a woman” and having hair of a certain length. I also understand why people might associate being a feminist with perhaps going bald or not removing facial hair. And I love how you put it, that “feminism is not letting go of your femininity, it’s about embracing your femininity on your own terms”. I think there is a misconception that there is set way of being a feminist, and predominantly an association of feminism as being more masculine and less feminine. Perhaps these misconceptions derive from the use of the word “feminism” that remind people of this, what I feel is a restrictive dualism of “masculine/feminine”. Perhaps the idea that in order to challenge this dualism and gender stereotypes, and consequently be a feminist requires you to take “bold” and for some, undesirable steps. I think there was a time I thought that. During this time, I had the idea that being a feminist was only so that I, as an individual could rise against those who I felt oppressed me, and made me insecure about my body. But now I feel that being a feminist does not have to be just about me, about what I want. That would just be me imposing my conceptions of beauty and what was “good” and “bad” on other people. I think being a feminist is not just about challenging present stereotypes and going so far as to create new ones, but, more importantly, about creating a space for others to be who and how they want to be. I see feminism in not only acts such as shaving your head, but also in the support you get from people for doing that. ☺️
In my opinion, I think it’s important to raise awareness of what it means to be a feminist. By making sure not to ostracise people for example who feel comfortable and beautiful once they do remove their ‘girlstache’.
What would say to women in the process of growing out their ‘girlstache’?
Go for it! You are not alone! 🎎