I made my first big purchase in this COVID-19 year. I bought an epilator. Actually, I replaced my old one that finally gave way in May, in the style of all essential devices going kaput right under lockdown.
I felt really guilty about missing my epilator so much these past few weeks. I truly tried to live my hairy truth, rationalising that under isolation it would be easier to get used to as well. After all, my expensively coiffed hair that was ruined with a bad haircut last year, has been growing out at odd angles and I’ve resisted the urge to take my gardening scissors to it. Doesn’t the beauty complex reek of turning women into slaves of our body image? It does.
But my vanity does not. Like the line in my poem, vanity really is my superpower. When I look good, smell good, feel good to myself, I am motivated, cheerful, happy, buoyed. Right now we’re in the worst state of guilt, fear, gloom and anxiety that anyone alive has ever faced. These positive boosts are not small.
I’ve been a regular swimmer at various periods in my adult life so hair on my legs has ceased to be a vanity issue. It’s not practical to hide them till the grow out, as the beauty parlours advise before a wax. That would mean I’d only swim for 2 days a month or have to wear full tights in Mumbai’s sweltering weather. Nuh-uh. I love the water too much to care. When the bigger body shaming issue of darkening skin hasn’t stopped me form swimming, why would a few hairs on my leg do that? And anyone who tells you hairy legs aren’t as aerodynamic (I’ve heard this shit) is lying. I don’t care how the swimsuit looks on me. No, that’s not true. I care about how everything looks on me at every moment of my life. But when it comes to the swimming pool, being a fluid, smooth swimmer is the essence of ‘good’ far more than photograph-worthiness ever will be.
It’s also not because I care about male validation. I learnt a long time ago men have no opinion on women’s bodies (especially if they get a chance to see them naked or touch them). And there’s no reason to give them a chance to have an opinion. My body, my rules and everyone else will shut up. I’ve never known a man to actually notice the hairiness of a woman’s legs.
I did know one man who was sensitive to textures. One time, when he put his hand on my arm, he lingered, his voice softening and said,
“You have such soft skin. It’s healthy and glows. A lot of women are fairer but they have sort of scaly skin when you touch it. Yours feels so good to touch.”
I’ve never forgotten that. It’s one of the nicest compliments I’ve received on my physicality. Yes, it might matter more because my body image issues have also revolved around my skin. But my arms aren’t that hairy and because of my skin colour, hair doesn’t show up as starkly on them.
This episode does point to something else though. My vanity about my skin is in the feel of it, not the look. It’s not even vanity, it’s sensuality. I love how my body feels right after I’ve come out of water – a swim or a bath. I love the way drops feel on my skin. I like the feeling of limbs that are supple and flexible, of skin that gleams with health & care. And hair removal is a part of that. I don’t like the hair on my legs. Admittedly, this is not exactly self-love. But this is not how the hair on my legs always was. Over two decades of waxing, threading and razors have rendered the growth longer and thicker than my natural body hair used to be. It grows out in a way that I do not like to feel when I place my palm on my knee or pull on a pair of tights or socks. It doesn’t make me hate my body; it just feels like a little something that’s less than perfectly wonderful.
I’ve been listening to a podcast titled The Guilty Feminist so I feel a bit better about myself for not living up to the penultimate of feminist ideals. And I remember that I do this for myself. Today was such a good day. I inaugurated the new epilator and my legs feel like they can carry me through most things and curl up in softness tonight. Feeling good has to be a feminist ideal.