Kulfi x Parachute: A BIPOC perspective on the beauty of embracing body hair
By Chantal Vaca, Guest Contributor
Sitting in the shade of my elementary school’s playground, I twiddled wood chips from the ground as one of the little girls I sat with pointed out my arm hair. I was eight years old. I had just moved into town, and I was still considered “the new kid.”
My arm hair wasn’t news to me, but I felt mortified that one of my classmates pointed it out.
I’ve always had dark hair, and against my light skin, my arm hair is visibly noticeable. Up until then, I’ve never had anyone point out my arm hair to me. I can’t remember how I responded to her comment, but I’m sure my cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
My story and relationship with my body hair isn’t unique.
It’s one shared by many, especially within the BIPOC community. As I reflect on my body hair acceptance journey, I’ll include the experiences of other BIPOC women.
Up until that moment on the playground, I never had an issue with my arm hair. But, as soon as my classmate pointed it out, I suddenly became hyper aware of it. Whenever I wore short sleeves or a tank-top, my eyes always looked to my arms first. Whenever there was a picture taken of me with my arms out, I zoomed in to see if my arm hairs were visible. Everywhere I went, I would do an audit of the women in the room to see which ones had arm hair and which ones didn’t. I was borderline obsessive.
Seeing arm hair on others, especially members of my family, made me feel better about mine, because I looked up to them and saw them as beautiful beings.
And, if they were beautiful with their arm hair, why couldn’t I be?
Although I’ve never had a family member draw attention to my body hair at a young age, it’s a common experience for many BIPOC.
Yara Cruz, a Chicago-based cat rescuer, said, “My family would tease me about my hairy arms as a child. I think I was about seven or eight.” Similar to Cruz, University of Oregon student Elizabeth Loera Zamarripa said she became aware of her body hair at 10-years-old. “My family members pointed out my hairy legs a lot,” said Zamarripa.
In some cases, people did more than point out body hair. Mariana Hidalgo recalls a moment in eighth grade when that happened. She said, “A boy told me I should shave my legs, and I slowly started feeling uncomfortable.” Julieta Montes Aguilera, a high school student in Mexico, said when she was 12-years-old, her dad told her, “You need to shave your legs.”
As a child of two Mexican immigrants, I wasn’t surprised to hear that Aguilera’s dad told her to shave her legs (to be fully transparent, Aguilera is my cousin). Mexican culture is too comfortable with making comments on others appearances, whether it be about body hair or weight.
While the comments may not be ill-intentioned, they stick with us for many years.
I’ve called my parents out on it, but they still fall to their ways, because it’s so ingrained in the culture.
Even though I can’t always count on them to change their ways when it comes to making comments about people’s appearances, I’ve decided the cycle ends with me. I love my culture and heritage, but it is never acceptable to make comments on anybody’s physical appearance. I don’t care if you're my mom or tía, it’s simply not okay.
Once I made it to middle school, I considered getting rid of my arm hair.
I spent a couple of afternoons after school googling all of the ways I could get rid of it, but I was too embarrassed to bring it up to my mom. One day, a friend of mine showed up to our gym class with shaved arms. Several girls, including myself, surrounded her as she let us feel the smoothness. I longed for the same sensation on myself, but I never dared to do it because I didn’t want my arms to feel prickly once the hair inevitably grew back.
At around the same time, I started to notice my leg hair and knuckle hairs. Whenever my teachers assigned me to work in groups where I was chosen to be the team scribe, I hoped nobody would look at my hands and notice my knuckle hairs. The day I no longer could withstand having more leg hair than my crush, I took my mom’s razor and shaved my legs, along with my knuckle hairs. I was ecstatic.
I felt like a woman. I felt beautiful. I felt confident.
From that transformative day on, I was shaving my legs anytime there was any sign of hair. Despite my frequent shaving, I avoided razor burn because I was liberally applying my Skintimate Raspberry Rain shaving gel. Hidalgo was shaving frequently too when she started. She said, “I shaved my legs every week. I didn’t like it, and I felt ashamed when I forgot.”
My shame arose whenever I found a patch of hair I missed while wearing shorts, a skirt or a dress. I felt like I made a mistake. At 13 years old, I held myself to ridiculous standards, just for the sake of being accepted by my peers, especially the boys I had a crushes on. I cringe now at the thought of altering myself to be accepted by anyone (let alone a love interest), but I forgive myself for it because I know that all I wanted was to fit in.
I no longer seek validation from anyone other than myself.
I can’t say exactly when I began embracing my body hair, but I know it happened sometime within my freshman year of college. I noticed several women in my dorm let their arm hair and armpit hair grow out. Seeing them embrace their body hair encouraged me to feel comfortable with mine. I still shave my armpit hair and leg hair, but not nearly as often as I used to. I let it grow out for weeks and only shave if I’m feeling it.
Even though I feel more comfortable with my body hair, I know I still have a ways to go with fully embracing it.
Many of us still do. NYC resident Myra Rivers said, “Objectively, I’m so detached and like to think I’m progressing, but I know I’ve internalized the misogyny.” I relate to Rivers’ comment a lot. I hate to admit it, but I still don't feel 100% comfortable rocking leg hair with a dress or skirt. I know I’ll get there eventually, but for now I’ll work on unlearning the misogynistic standards I was conditioned with.
We all have our ranges of comfortability when it comes to our body hair, and we should respect each other’s choices when it comes to letting it stay or not. Whatever the choice, we are all beautiful.
About — Chantal Vaca is Parachute Media's beauty section editor. She is also a part-time radio producer for an Illinois public radio news show and a self-taught makeup artist. She enjoys writing about beauty and culture and incorporating fun colors and shapes into her looks. This fall, Chantal will be pursuing her Master’s in Journalism at Columbia University. Follow Chantal on IG @babichanti to keep up with her writing and makeup looks!
About the Kulfi x Parachute Series —This article was written in partnership with Kulfi Beauty and Parachute Media. We are here to uplift narratives in the media that consider our lived experiences and allow us to feel seen in our complexities. For the month of April 2021, you will read articles and interviews on Kulfi Bites and Parachute that highlight BIPOC & South Asian perspectives on topics we’re curious about within beauty, identity, career, and media.